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June 13, 2017

Eero upgrades its mesh WiFi system with more power

by John_A

Last year, Eero launched an all-in-one WiFi solution that aims to rid your house of dead spots forever. Each Eero hub combines the functions of a router, a range extender and a repeater, and once you combine two or more together, you essentially create a wireless mesh network for the home. Since Eero’s launch, multiple other companies have jumped on home mesh networking — there’s Google, TP-Link, Linksys and Samsung, just to name a few. But that hasn’t slowed Eero down. Instead, it’s improved even more. Today, Eero is introducing two new devices: a second-generation Eero plus an entirely new product, the Eero Beacon. Oh, and It’s launching a brand new Eero Plus subscription service as well.

Let’s start with the hardware. The second-gen Eero doesn’t look like much — after all, it shares the same exact form factor as the original. But the design is the only similarity it has with the first-generation device. For one thing, it now offers tri-band support, which offers even more coverage than ever before. “It has double the bandwidth capacity,” says CEO Nick Weaver. “And double the range.” With an entirely new thermal management system, a new mechanical architecture and a new antenna array, everything inside the second-gen Eero has been completely overhauled. It uses a USB-C connector for both data and power and it has two Ethernet ports.

Next is the Eero Beacon, which is half the size of the regular Eero, and it plugs in directly into the wall. The Beacon isn’t quite as powerful as the second-gen Eero, but Weaver says it has 30 percent better performance than the first-gen version. “People really wanted something simple,” he says. “Over half of Eeros are plugged into places like kitchens and hallways where you don’t want to have a bunch of cords.” It should be said that there are other WiFi products on the market out there that have this form factor, but they’re mostly range extenders, not mesh networking devices.

Plus, the Beacon has one other feature that most other plug-in WiFi products don’t have: A programmable night light. Indeed, the Beacon actually has an ambient light sensor that comes on automatically every time the room gets dark. But if you want, you can actually go in the Eero app and program it so that the light goes on or off at a certain time each day. Or, you can just toggle it manually by tapping a button on the side. It’s a silly little feature perhaps, but it’s a touch of whimsy that’s pretty endearing, at least for a WiFi hub.

Both the second-gen Eero and the Eero Beacon also come bundled with Thread radio compatibility, an emerging low-power connectivity standard for the internet of things. The Thread protocol is especially useful for devices like smart lights, door knobs and locks, which often run on batteries and would therefore need a low-powered solution. And since Thread itself uses a mesh network to connect its products, the integration of Thread with Eero makes sense.

Still, it was difficult. “Doing the coexistence between 2.4 GHz WiFi and Thread was really challenging,” says Weaver. “It’s taken a better part of a year to get right and integrated.” Typically with a lot of these smart home products, you need a bridge or a hub; with Eero, that isn’t necessary. “Our view is that Thread is the future,” says Weaver. “Everything should be integrated into the infrastructure.”

If you’re worried you have to chuck out your old first-gen Eero, don’t. Both the second-gen Eero and the Eero Beacon are backwards-compatible with the first-gen models — just connect them to your existing network, and they should play well together right out of the box. And just like the current Eero hubs, the new hardware offers features like intelligent backhaul that switches frequencies according to network demand, over-the-air updates, data encryption, WPA-2 encryption and profile protections with one-time passwords. You can also shut off the WiFi of certain devices, which is useful if you want everyone in the family to come to the table for dinner.

Last but not least, Eero is also announcing a special subscription service for those who want a little more than just the standard security. It’s called Eero Plus, and it offers even more robust protections than before, with technology that actively blocks you from accessing sites with malicious ransomware, phishing scams and viruses. Importantly, it blocks your smarthome devices from being infected with them, which is good because a lot of IoT products are woefully vulnerable to such attacks. For parents, Eero Plus also offers more robust parental controls, which includes features like content filtering. Eero Plus will be available for either $9.99 a month or $99 a year.

The new Eeros will be available in a few different packages. The entry-level version bundles one Eero and one Beacon for $299, while the next step up bundles one Eero and two Beacons for $399. According to Weaver, the entry-level package is good enough for a 1-2 bedroom home, while the one with more Beacons is better for 2-4 bedroom homes. If you’re a pro-level user or if you just want access to an Ethernet port in every hub, you can get upgrade to the “Pro” WiFi system that bundles three second-gen Eeros for $499. You can pre-order them starting today from Amazon, Best Buy and Eero’s website. The Eero systems will also eventually be for sale at Walmart and select regional retailers. If you want to buy individual Eeros, you can also do so on Eero’s website. Eero will also finally be available in Canada for the very first time.

“We really look at Eero as more than just connectivity — this is about fixing the foundations of the home,” says Weaver. “Ultimately every home is going to have a brain, an operating system. We’ve been building blocks for delivering that.”

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