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For the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to use one of the new Cisco Valet Plus routers in my home/home office.These devices were just announced publicly by the company (http://home.cisco.com/en-us/press/articles/us/release_valet_033110.aspx).The premise of the new products is to make home networking easier – to appeal to both current home network users that would like to upgrade as well as those consumers that have yet to install a wireless network.ABI Research estimates that only 30% of US households have a wireless network, despite the fact that around 70% of households subscribe to a fixed broadband Internet service (cable, DSL, or fiber).

At private demos during CES in January, a number of home network equipment vendors including Cisco and Belkin were showing off their new product lines, with the emphasis on ease of use.ABI Research has found through numerous consumer surveys that wireless network setup and maintenance is considered to be a difficult process and that even current home network owners would be more likely to upgrade their routers if the process was made easier.

Based on my experience with the new Valet Plus router, I have to say I think Cisco has nailed it on this one.I have used wireless networking equipment for a long time, and this was the first pleasant experience I have had involving setup.I always say that I can only imagine the problems the ‘average’ consumer has when trying to setup a wireless network since even with my understanding of networks and network terminology I still struggle occasionally.

The setup of the Valet Plus was very straightforward.A USB key is included with the router, and I was instructed to first plug that into the PC.The Cisco Connect software walked me through each step, first plugging in the power and then the Internet connection from my cable modem.After a few moments the software had identified the router, assigned a name (SSID, but I didn’t need to know that term) and setup security (WPA/WPA2, but again I didn’t need to know any of these terms).By the way, for those who like to tinker with all the settings, you can still access all of the router settings and details in the same way as a traditional router.

After getting the first computer connected, I was then instructed to take the USB key to any additional PCs.I did that for my wife’s laptop, and once again only a few minutes were required to get online with the new router.The USB key retains all the settings, so any computers I want to add in the future simply require plugging it in and running through the steps.Since that time, I have not experienced any dropped connections and online speed testseven show a faster connection rate than I had with my old router.

I think one of the most interesting features of the new router is the ‘guest’ feature.In the past, if I had a friend over that wanted to use their laptop on my wireless network I would have to go and find the 26-key security code to get them online.With the Valet Plus, a separate guest network is enabled and you can use an easy to remember password.Friends can get online without having any access to the rest of my network computers.This will become a more important part of home networking as people travel and visit friends with more Wi-Fi enabled devices including smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc.

Overall, I believe the efforts by Cisco and Belkin are important for the future of wireless home networking.There is still a tremendous market potential as more broadband consumers see the need for a home network to connect the traditional PC devices as well as new Internet enabled TVs, Blu-ray players, game consoles and more.I think we are finally seeing a more consumer-friendly approach from the home network equipment vendors, and I say it’s about time.

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