Linksys, D-Link, Netgear, and Belkin. Those are the brands that most consumers choose when it comes time to set up a home Wi-Fi network. But no matter which product you buy, getting wireless internet working in your home — your entire home — can quickly turn into a miserable experience. More often than not, it's an exercise in frustration; a test of your patience and resolve. That's assuming you're talking about an average-sized house or apartment. Throw some long hallways or brick walls into the mix, and suddenly all bets are off. You can buy any number of ugly boxes (Wi-Fi extenders) that claim they'll fix the problem, yet still end up with dead zones in certain rooms, or you'll constantly be pestered by Netflix's buffering screen — even on the ultra-fast broadband connection you're paying the cable company fistfuls of money for.
Put in enough work, and you'll ultimately get there. But why should building a seamless Wi-Fi network — something so essential to our everyday leisure and productivity — be so profoundly difficult? Today, a new company says it's found the answer and is here to stop the insanity. Meet Eero, a startup that insists it's ready to help you prepare for a world of 4K streaming. A world where dozens of devices and smart appliances will simultaneously be relying on your Wi-Fi to function 24 hours a day. Eero's making bold promises, as startups tend to do, but we won't get to put it to the test for a few months.
A new way to Wi-Fi
Yeah, it's a router. But Eero is probably one of the best-looking routers you'll ever see, though its founders don't want you to think of it in the same way as the throwaway D-Link box hidden beneath your desk. Eero is instead positioning itself as the world's first "Wi-Fi system" that promises to deliver reliable connectivity in every part of your home.
Starting today, you can pre-order a single Eero for $125 (shipping begins this summer), but unless you're living in a closet-sized New York apartment, that's not a good idea. Eero claims its box can outperform any router from Apple, Asus, or other companies. Even so, the reality is that you'll almost definitely need more than one. Three is the magic number for most homes, according to Eero, and it's offering a three-pack for $299. That's going to strike most people as pretty expensive, and it's way more than some Netgear box from Best Buy. You could buy an Apple AirPort Extreme and an AirPort Express for around the same — and those products are backed by a proven reputation (and extensive customer support options). Eero can't lay claim to either of those things.
But in exchange for that money, Eero claims it will deliver a mesh network that blankets every corner of every room with strong, robust internet connectivity. Is saying goodbye to Netflix interruptions worth $300? The mesh network is seen by your devices under a single name (no picking between 2.4GHz and 5GHz, for example), and it'll automatically hunt for the best frequencies and channels to cut out interference. Above all else, Eero is vowing that you'll never have to pull out the power cord or reset the hardware yourself. It's all automatic. Everything. Again, that's in theory; we haven't been able to try Eero yet, so temper those expectations for now.
The one router you'll never have to reset
It all sounds great, sure, but the most broken part of setting up Wi-Fi is the setup process itself. Eero promises to make that dead simple. Plug the first unit into your cable modem, connect to it from your smartphone over Bluetooth, and then plug the others into power outlets throughout your house. They all communicate automatically. Name your network, pick a password, and you're pretty much done. Eero assists with common tasks like port forwarding, and even lets tinkerers wipe out its default firmware in favor of popular open-source options on the web.
This looks like something Apple would make
But back to everyday users. How do you know exactly where to place your other two Eero boxes? The company's smartphone app — which is how you'll control the entire system — will intelligently sense areas with weak signal and tell you to put a box there. And the Eero hardware, built in collaboration with Fred Bould (who designed the Nest thermostat, Roku's streaming boxes, and other nice things), won't be something you'll want to hide or cover up. It looks like something Apple would make, and that's about the highest praise we can offer. It's white and it's sleek without some unsightly antenna sticking out; it'll never attract unwanted attention on a shelf.
Once you're set up and you've chosen a network name, Eero promises its devices will handle most everything else on their own. Each router regularly connects to the cloud to automatically download and install security updates. The network will even run its own speed tests (never while you're downloading something or streaming a movie) to gauge performance. If Eero detects an issue, it'll notify you with an alert to your phone. It'll work to fix whatever's wrong and will automatically reboot itself. That's what co-founder and CEO Nick Weaver recently told The Verge, anyway. Everything should be hands-off on the user's part — until you feel like taking control yourself. We won't get to test how well all of this holds up until we get our hands on a review unit. In concept it sounds promising, but we can't predict how well Eero will execute on these features once it enters real homes.
When you've got company, the Eero app can fire off a text message with login credentials so you won't have to memorize a complex, secure password or write it down somewhere in plain view. If visitors install the company's app, they won't even need a password; secure login happens instantly. Eero's smartphone app keeps you aware of what devices are connected to your Wi-Fi and how much bandwidth each one is hogging up. If a friend is using your FiOS connection to download a massive torrent, it'll be pretty obvious.
Your days of troubleshooting hell could be over this summer
Eero says it's set up to handle homes of any size; up to 10 boxes can be chained together to form a bulletproof network. But will consumers care? Today, "good enough" for most people means dealing with occasional buffering and a Wi-Fi network that falls short of the speeds written on the router box. Are you tired of being the IT expert for family and friends? Eero's whole promise is this: buy anyone in your life a three-pack, and you'll never be pestered with questions about Wi-Fi problems ever again. Apparently a lot of people believe in that promise. Eero's already raised $5 million in venture funding, and eventually you'll see it in retail stores. Once that happens, it'll be priced higher; a single box will cost $200, and the three-pack will shoot up to $500. Lined up against a $50 Belkin router, that won't be an easy sell.
Wi-Fi is already the foundation to most everything else we do at home. It's the life blood for Netflix, Spotify, your web browsing, Xbox Live gaming, connected thermostats, and who knows what else. And that's right now. Pretty soon, it'll need to handle even more without crumbling down and sending us into troubleshooting hell. Eero says it can obliterate the stress that would normally come with preparing for that future. Can it really stand up to companies that have been at this game for years, though? Belkin and Linksys have stuck around for a reason. We're looking forward to seeing if it delivers on those lofty ambitions (and is worth the serious investment) in the months ahead.
Update February 3rd 1:05PM ET: Article has been updated to emphasize that The Verge has not yet been able to test Eero's claims.