As CEDIA said a few years ago, “Own the network, own the home.”
Control4’s relatively recent acquisition of Pakedge puts the company in a unique position. There aren’t any manufacturers out there offering both control systems and networking gear under one roof. This end-to-end capability gives Control4 capabilities to embed control system remote management into their networking gear. They were kind enough to send me one of their new Pakedge WR-1 Wi-Fi routers to test out. What follows is a tale of nerdy peaks and troughs. Read on if you dare...
No big surprises here. Packaging is fairly utilitarian, but this is a product meant for professional installation, so ease of opening is key. Pakedge nails it here. A Quick Start guide is placed conveniently underneath the router. Fighting my male instincts to throw it away, I cracked it open.
The Quick Start guide is straightforward but a bit puzzling. The first step prompts me to connect to the router via an Ethernet cable (most routers offer an app, Bluetooth, or other wireless options). After plugging in the WR-1 to power, I could see two wireless networks pop up on my iPad as available. It’s frustrating in 2017 to be faced with configuring anything via hardwired connection, so I decided to attempt a connection to one of the default networks. I searched the user guide for the password. No dice. I tried pakedgea (Pakedge’s default password on many of its other products) to no avail. Since I couldn’t connect via Ethernet even if I wanted to (I traded in my laptop for an iPad in 2010), I called the technical support number listed in the Quick Start guide.
24 minutes and 21 seconds later….
That’s right, I was on hold for 24 minutes. Yikes! Jeff with Pakedge picked up the call and asked how I could help. I explained my situation, and he put me on hold again after a few of his initial password suggestions didn’t work. It turns out (and maybe I can save you a call to tech support), the default Wi-Fi password for the WR-1 is pakedgewireless. Once I typed in the correct password, I was taken to the router’s configuration page and able to continue on my journey. I thanked Jeff (who said he would add my Wi-Fi setup suggestion to the Quick Start guide — a move I thought demonstrated professionalism and speaks to Pakedge/Control4 culture) and began the setup process.
This is the first time I’ve seen a router home screen that seems aware of the bigger picture including home control devices. Control4 is beginning to show its hand around BakPak (their remote management platform) and a more services-oriented future. Make no mistake, they seem bent on enabling much more sophisticated remote support for their dealers, and the WR-1 does a great job of facilitating an easy network setup and will introduce many Control4 dealers to BakPak Lite.
A Tale of Two BakPaks
For some reason, Control4 decided to hobble its BakPak offering in the WR-1 (Control calls this BakPak Lite). You can manage and configure the WR-1 remotely, but if you want more capabilities (like managing your Control4 system and other devices), you’ll need to upgrade the hardware to the RK-1 or NK-1 with full BakPak. I find this thoroughly confusing. I hope Pakedge/Control4 considers a software upgrade strategy rather than forcing hardware upgrades down the road. I find it hard to believe that the horsepower needed for full BakPak wouldn’t work on the WR-1. Then again, what do I know? I have a journalism degree and tons of passion for home technology (the tech equivalent of Saturday Night Live’s Brian Fellow). Maybe others can make sense of this this arrangement and clue me in.
Next up came the Wi-Fi network strength test. If we’re going to consider using the Pakedge WR-1 at Livewire, it needs to a good job delivering solid Wi-Fi across a wide array of construction types and square footage. For testing purposes, I installed the WR-1 in a 5,500-square-foot house. As I walked around from room to room, I noticed very little drop off in signal. Only when I entered the garage did I see the signal drop at all. Very impressive. This tells me that the WR-1 is good for most installations and will work hand in hand with Pakedge Wireless Access Points on jobs where we need more coverage.
I like the Pakedge WR-1, and we’ll start testing it at Livewire with our Control4 installations. At $299 MSRP, the WR-1 hits a good price point where there’s no longer a reason not to, “Own the network, own the home.” Watch out for its top speed rating. Maximum WAN to LAN throughput caps out at 500 mbps (not suitable for clients with 1 Gbps or greater WAN connections). I love the idea of end-to-end control and no “finger pointing” scenarios in a tech support call. What do you think of control system companies like Control4 offering their own network products? Should Savant, Crestron, and Elan follow suit?
Stay frosty and see you in the field.