Ever had this problem? You're sitting down to watch a show or load up a game and suddenly you get buffering messages and slowdowns. You call the internet provider to complain your 100MB connection is really slow on your ipad or Playstation and they ask you to plug a computer directly in to the router and run the speed test. It works fine and the helpdesk says that's all they can do, have a nice day.
The problem is your WiFi. Your router can't break the laws of physics, factors like the construction materials of your home, the number of people around you with their own wifi, and even what channels your router uses all impact performance.
One router in your home isn't going to cover the whole place with fast, reliable signal. Businesses know this, which is why they invest in expensive WiFi appliances to ensure staff can work everywhere in the office. While doing something similar for your home was always possible, it was often too complex and expensive for most consumers. That has changed.
There are three new players in the space who are making fast, reliable WiFi in your home very easy to achieve.
First we have eero. Eero self-manages, so once you plug it in you can ignore it. The system tunes itself for better performance and upgrades it's software in the wee hours of the morning when you're not using it. It was elegantly simple to install, and is managed using your smartphone. When I tested it the set-up took about 5 minutes to get all three eero units configured and running.
Next there is the challenger luma. Luma promises similar performance but adds enterprise-grade security options to help you keep your devices and family safe online. With luma you can actually control what kind of websites each device can visit, including ipads, home media centres, etc. The rating system uses a simple drag interface and categorizes sites similar to movie ratings. Don't want the kids seeing anything worse than a PG rated website? No problem, drag the slider there and you're done. I'll review set-up if I get my hands on one.
Finally we have Plume. This company uses a different approach than eero or luma, and their product claims to always be learning. With Plume you buy small "pods" that plug in to an electrical outlet and scatter them about your home. Plume says their system will figure out the best way to connect each pod, ensuring maximum speed to every area covered.
So what are the differences? Well eero is in production, you can buy it and it ships today. Luma is still getting their distribution channel organized. Luma also claims to offer more advanced security and protection for your devices. Plume is still in pre-production, meaning you can order it now for $39USD/pod with a minimum of 6 pods (So $234 now, $294 later) however they don't plan on shipping until fall of 2016. Once Plume goes to release the cost will be $49/pod.
If you prefer Luma's approach you can still take advantage of discounted pricing, which offers you a 3-pack of Luma appliances for $399US instead of the planned release price of $499US. By comparison the eero 3-pack is also $499US so the real difference will be in the features once Luma is shipping.
Wait, did he just say $399-$499?! A new router is WAY cheaper.
That was my initial reaction as well, but let's put it in perspective. You're probably paying between $65-$90/month for high speed internet to your home, and it's likely you only get 10%-15% of that speed on your laptop or tablet. Not sure? Try running a speedtest when you're not beside your router. Systems like eero or luma fix the coverage, and you can finally use what you're paying for. In less than a year the money you were wasting on speed you couldn't use pay for the hardware while you (and everyone who uses your WiFi) are much happier.
I see a shift in home connectivity, speeds that were once reserved for large corporations are now affordable for the average consumer. Gigabit to your home is a reality, and it's only going to go up from there. Traditional television is dying and being replaced by apps on smart TV's and set-top boxes. As we continue to add more and more connected devices to our homes systems like eero and Luma are going to become indispensable. Your friends will be asking "How come your WiFi is so much faster than mine?"
You can just smile and tell them to read this blog.