Date
25 March 2019
A deconstructed Echo Plus device sits on display during an Amazon product reveal launch event in Seattle on Sept. 27, 2017. The tech giant on Monday announced the acquisition of an internet router firm to aid its smart home push. Photo: Bloomberg
A deconstructed Echo Plus device sits on display during an Amazon product reveal launch event in Seattle on Sept. 27, 2017. The tech giant on Monday announced the acquisition of an internet router firm to aid its smart home push. Photo: Bloomberg

Amazon bets on mesh Wi-Fi for smart home push

With smart homes seen as a big growth opportunity, tech behemoths are focusing on networking hardware that would ensure optimal distribution of Wi-Fi signals in people’s homes. Routers that can help eliminate Wi-Fi dead spots are deemed critical if one is to push a connected device ecosystem.

A Wi-Fi router is now not just a device for providing wireless internet connectivity at home, it is also viewed as a gateway to control all the connected home appliances. For Google and Amazon, offering their own brand Wi-Fi routers appears to have become a key priority as they seek to offer a better smart home experience.

On Monday, Amazon announced that it is acquiring Eero, a San Francisco-based startup that has won plaudits for its Wi-Fi router systems that enable users to have full coverage at their homes by adding multiple access points to build a mesh network.

The new mesh technology overcomes the coverage issues and dead zones of traditional routers. That makes it critical for deployment of smart home appliances, which need to be controlled with high performing Wi-Fi networks.

Amazon’s move to step into the router market follows an initiative by its tech rival Google, which has been in the router market since 2015 with the launch of Onhub routers manufactured by TP-Link and ASUS.

In 2016, Google launched its own mesh Wi-Fi system, Google Wifi, using technology similar to that of Eero. Google Wifi became the best-selling mesh technology Wi-Fi system in the US in 2017. Linksys, which is now under the control of Taiwan’s Foxconn Group, is also a key player in the mesh Wi-Fi router market, through its Velop router.

Eero set off a wave of smart mesh router setups, where instead of a single router device, multiple access points are used to blanket an entire home or apartment with a strong Wi-Fi signal. And it’s all controlled with an intuitive smartphone app, The Verge reported. 

Google, Samsung, Linksys, Netgear and some other electronics firms have followed Eero’s lead and released their own mesh bundles, the tech news website noted.

The moves come as consumers are seeking to enhance their home networks as they use more connected home appliances. This has led to a massive upgrade to mesh Wi-Fi networks. In the US, mesh networking sales are expected to grow 88 percent from 2017 to 2019. By 2019, about half of every dollar spent in the consumer networking category will be on mesh Wi-Fi, according to reports.

In the smart home battle, Amazon and Google are taking a leading position in the smart speaker and mesh Wi-Fi router market respectively. It is clear that Amazon would like to use Eero devices to narrow the gap with Google in the router offering.

Meanwhile, Google is also trying its best to catch up with Amazon Echo smart speaker offering with the Google Home devices. However, both companies are yet to have a single product that can act as a hub for users to connect their home appliances and perform voice assistant function and Wi-Fi internet connectivity.

Connected home appliance users may be reluctant to change a Wi-Fi router once they have connected tens of smart devices and home appliances to the router, as it is quite frustrating for users to reconnect all the appliances and devices to a new router one by one.

Given this, it is important for Wi-Fi router makers to simplify the procedures for people to connect their devices to the router. 

Returning to Amazon, it will be quite interesting to watch whether it will leverage Eero knowhow to develop a smart-home-friendly mesh Wi-Fi router system which can automatically scan and connect all the devices and appliances at home through a Wi-Fi app. That could prove to be a killer app.

Amazon already has millions of Echo speakers and third-party gadgets tied to its Alexa ecosystem in homes, and acquiring Eero could help it bring everything together more seamlessly, The Verge pointed out. Some industry watchers even expect Amazon to integrate its Alexa service into the router to launch an Alexa-enabled router.

While there are expectations for a more convenient smart home network through the Amazon-Eero tie up, some observers are voicing concern as to how Amazon will use all the additional data on users’ internet activity. Amazon acquired smart doorbell maker Ring last year and bought home security camera firm Blink in 2017, stepping up its smart home push.

Eero has assured that it does not track users’ internet activity and that the policy will not change with the Amazon deal. However, we shouldn’t take those words to preclude the possibility that Amazon won’t seek to harvest the customer data for its services and businesses.

The potential data pie may actually have been the clincher for Amazon to close in on Eero.

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RC

 

EJ Insight writer

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