Consumers are requiring more and more bandwidth for Wi-Fi devices in their homes and residential Wi-Fi mesh systems are one solution that device makers, service providers, and equipment vendors are all looking to offer. Some of the latest offerings were showcased at CES 2018.
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Wi-Fi Vendors Announced More Residential Wi-Fi Mesh Systems at CES
Wi-Fi device makers, including ASUS, D-Link, Linksys, and Netgear, made announcements of new versions of residential Wi-Fi mesh systems at CES 2018. ASUS announced Lyra Trio, a dual-band Wi-Fi mesh system with three antennae. D-Link announced a new Wi-Fi mesh system with a trio of router packages, and Linksys announced a new Wi-Fi mesh router that is cheaper than its existing Wi-Fi Velop AC2200, tri-band Wi-Fi mesh system. Netgear announced the outdoor satellite Orbi mesh system.
Residential Wi-Fi mesh systems are wireless access points that coordinate with each other using the same SSID, allowing end-user devices to seamlessly switch from one access point to another. They were first introduced in 2015 by brands such as eero and Luma, targeting the retail market. Many Wi-Fi equipment vendors have now added Wi-Fi mesh systems to their residential Wi-Fi products, targeting both retail and service provider channels.
What Is New with CES 2018 Wi-Fi Mesh Systems
ASUS: ASUS’ newer Wi-Fi mesh system, Lyra Trio, supports 802.11ac dual-band 3x3 MIMO with three Wi-Fi nodes. The system covers up to 5400 sq. ft. It is accompanied by the Lyra mobile app for configuration, network management, and security control. ASUS also announced Lyra Voice, which is a router-speaker with a tri-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi mesh system feature. Its interesting feature is the built-in Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant for voice interaction. Both devices will be available by 1H 2018, but pricing has yet to be announced. In addition to Lyra Trio and Voice, ASUS also recently announced the AiMesh system, which allows those using existing ASUS routers to create a residential Wi-Fi mesh network. AiMesh is available as a free firmware update to select ASUS routers: ASUS RT-AC68U, RT-AC86U, RT-AC88U, and a few more models. The software upgrade enables users to create a Wi-Fi mesh system, so the AiMesh system saves the cost of replacing existing routers with mesh nodes.
D-Link: D-Link announced two new Covr Wi-Fi mesh systems at CES 2018. The higher-end system, COVR-2202, with two routers costs US$320, supports tri-band Wi-Fi, and covers up to 6,000 sq. ft. It also includes built-in compatibility for Amazon’s Alexa to enable Amazon Echo users to configure the home networks using voice command. Alexa compatibility is a new feature that was not included in D-Link’s older Covr models, which was D-Link’s smart move in the smart home space at CES where a number of vendors showcased voice control-enabled devices, including light switches, smart home cameras, counter appliances, etc. D-Link’s less expensive Wi-Fi mesh model, COVR-C1203, with three Wi-Fi pods supports dual-band Wi-Fi, covers up to 5,000 sq. ft. without Alexa compatibility, and is priced at US$250. D-Link has scheduled the commercial launch of the COVR-2202 model in 2Q 2018 and the COVR-C1203 model in 1Q 2018.
Linksys: Linksys first revealed its home Wi-Fi mesh system, AC2200, in 2017, which supports 802.11ac tri-band Wi-Fi. It is available for two-unit and three-unit packs at US$350 and US$500, respectively, and a starter router only costs US$199. The newer Wi-Fi mesh node AC1300 is interchangeable with Linksys’ Velop AC2200 tri-band system and supports 802.11ac Wave 2 dual-band with MU-MIMO configuration. Similar to AC2200, each AC1300 node can work as a router, extender, or access point, and supports up to 1,300 Mbps. They can be set up using Android/iOS mobile devices and the Linksys app, and they work with Amazon Alexa. AC1300 will be available in spring 2018 at a price point cheaper than the AC2200 system, possibly more than half the price of AC2200, according to Linksys.
Netgear: The key feature of Netgear’s new Orbi mesh satellite unit is its ability to enable outdoor use, designed to withstand rough outdoor weather conditions, including sub-zero temperatures. The outdoor unit can be mounted on the side of a house, garage, terrace, or shed for outdoor Wi-Fi coverage in residential homes. It supports 802.11ac tri-band Wi-Fi and will be available at US$330.
Mesh Systems Continue to Gain Strong Demand
Residential mesh systems were initially sold through the retail market in order to solve Wi-Fi coverage issues. Purchasing a mesh system from the retail market is costly, usually around US$200 for two-unit packs and more for systems with more than two units. However, consumers’ demands for reliable Wi-Fi networks are growing, due to the increasing number of Wi-Fi devices and bandwidth-consuming applications in every household. That is driving the number of Wi-Fi-related technical support calls to broadband service providers. Some service providers have taken advantage of Wi-Fi mesh systems; for example, broadband operators in the United States, such as Midco and Frontier, and Singtel in Singapore have launched Wi-Fi mesh systems for their broadband customers at an additional monthly cost. Wi-Fi mesh systems not only solve the home Wi-Fi network problem, but also generate additional revenue for operators. Increasing numbers of operators are interested in providing mesh systems to residential broadband customers. Comcast recently rolled out Wi-Fi mesh system xFi Pods that work with Comcast’s xFi gateways to create Wi-Fi mesh networks. xFi Pods are currently available to Xfinity service customers in Boston and Chicago, and Comcast plans a nationwide launch in 2018.
Mesh systems provided by service providers are less costly for consumers, because they are usually subsidized by service providers or a device rental option is available. Furthermore, when a subscriber is using a service provider’s CPE, the service provider has better control over the residential Wi-Fi network to assist whenever the subscriber needs technical assistance. Wi-Fi mesh system announcements at CES highlighted that there is strong demand for whole-home Wi-Fi coverage. Service providers will be able to increase ARPU by providing Wi-Fi mesh systems as a premium device selection, improving the user experience. While mesh systems are available to consumers in the retail market, consumers can take advantage of lower purchasing costs and managed Wi-Fi service by getting them directly from the service providers. There is a good opportunity for CPE vendors to sell Wi-Fi mesh systems to the service provider segment. The ability to partner with service providers will enable CPE makers to gain market share in the residential Wi-Fi mesh market. CPE vendors will need to provide Wi-Fi mesh systems with lower price points to achieve mass adoption in the retail market.