The wireless router reinvented: Eero brings mesh networking to consumer Wi-Fi

Eero Wi-Fi router
Credit: Eero

Note: Eero has announced that it has delayed shipping the Eero router until Spring 2016. You can read the full story here.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A brand-new company says it’s designed a Wi-Fi router that’s going to change the way consumers think about and use Wi-Fi routers. This new product is will solve all the problems the average consumer has with their home network, from eliminating dead spots to preventing their kids from getting to the seamier side of the web. And it won’t cost a fortune.

Yeah, I’ve heard this story more times that I can count. But something tells me it’s going to be different this time, after CEO and co-founder Nick Weaver showed a prototype of the Eero router to me last week. 

Eero Wi-Fi router Eero

Eero embraces a minimalist aesthetic: The router has just one LED; you'll learn everything else about its status on your smartphone.

So what makes this router so special?

On the surface, the Eero sounds much like any other router. It’s a dual-band 802.11ac model that operates independent networks on the 2.4- and 5GHz frequency bands. Unlike the typical Wi-Fi router, however, Eero is also equipped with a Bluetooth radio. I’ll dive deeper into the hardware later, because it’s the software that Weaver promises will deliver the goods.

For most people, the biggest problems with home Wi-Fi are dead spots in certain areas of the home and/or not having enough wireless bandwidth to stream music and video everywhere in the home. But most of the time, you don’t realize this until you’ve already purchased your router. Then you find yourself going back to the store for a range extender, or a wireless bridge, or a MoCA or power-line Ethernet adapter and then figuring out how to set that up.

Eero Wi-Fi router Eero

Paying $499 for a Wi-Fi network isn't that outrageous when you consider you shouldn't need to deploy anything else to remedy dead spots. 

In a best-case scenario, that could mean having two different access points with different SSIDs and login credentials. In a worst-case scenario, that could entail stringing new cable. Either way, you need to know at least a little about networking to get everything to work together the way you want.

Eero’s solution is to take a page from the Z-Wave and Sonos playbooks: Deploy a Wi-Fi mesh network that throws a blanket of connectivity over the entire home. This envisions using a system of three Eero routers. You plug the first one into your cable or DSL modem, and then launch an app on your smartphone. The phone communicates with the router using Bluetooth and then guides you to the best spots to place the other two Eeros, which automatically configure themselves as wireless access points. When you’re done, Weaver said, you have one SSID, one password, and one contiguous Wi-Fi and Bluetooth network throughout your entire home.

When you want to allow a guest to access your network, you can either send them the login data from your smartphone app; or if they have the Eero app on their device, you can simply touch a button to grant them access.

About that hardware

Each Eero is outfitted with two Wi-Fi radios, Bluetooth 4.0 with Bluetooth Low Energy, a 1.0GHz dual-core processor (Weaver declined to disclose which one, other than to say it’s an ARM variant), 512MB of memory, and 1GB of flash storage. Router nerds might be disappointed to learn that the Eero has only two auto-configuring gigabit Ethernet ports (one to connect to your Internet gateway) and only one USB port (and that’s USB 2.0).

Eero Wi-Fi router Eero

Beauty shots like this blissfully ignore the fact that you need to connect this beautiful router to a butt-ugly cable or DSL modem.

Fred Bould, famous for designing the Nest thermostat, designed the Eero’s enclosure, and it’s quite small: 4.75 inches square and 1.26 inches high, tapering to 0.85 inches high. The router’s custom-designed antennas are hidden inside the enclosure, and one gets the sense that the Eero team doesn’t want its pretty router festooned with cables.

In all likelihood, Eero is using the same—or very similar—hardware as Netgear, Linksys, D-Link, and many other router manufacturers are using. So how is Eero able to operate a mesh network with it? Weaver tells me it’s because his team wrote every bit of software—the firmware, the device drivers, the quality-of-service instruction set, the parental controls, and the Android and iOS apps—from scratch.

Mesh networks must be self healing, but the Eero appears to go beyond that. Weaver said it runs regular self-diagnostics, automatically checks for and installs firmware updates, and will even reboot itself if necessary. The router will also send you an alert each time a new device joins your network, and it will send you a weekly network activity report. I would have liked to share some screenshots of this software in action, but Weaver says the company isn’t quite ready for that.

Getting ready for retail

Weaver told me we’ll get a set of Eeros for testing later this spring. If you want to take a leap of faith—as well as take advantage of the early-bird pricing the company is offering—you can preorder them today: $299 for a three pack or $125 for a single unit. Those are significant discounts from the regular prices of $499 and $199 respectively.

The company is taking preorders now so management can determine how large its first manufacturing run should be. The Eero will ship sometime in "the early summer."

That's right: This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky crowd-funded product that won’t reach the market for a year or more. The wisdom of the crowd can be a powerful thing, and crowd-funding has delivered some awesome products. But it’s easy to make big—and sometimes unrealistic—promises to people who are investing just a few bucks each. All three of the company’s founders hail from Stanford, and the university joined several Valley venture-capital firms—including First Round Capital, Menlo Ventures, and AME Cloud Ventures—as early backers. I have to believe VCs are much more rigorous when it comes to due diligence. 

And in case you’re wondering about the name, Weaver told me Eero is named after 20th-century Finnish architect and industrial designer Eero Saarinen, who designed the grade school Weaver attended: Crow Island Elementary, in Winnetka, Illinois.

This story, "The wireless router reinvented: Eero brings mesh networking to consumer Wi-Fi " was originally published by TechHive.

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