I still remember the first time I visited my parents house after moving away for school. I returned with a brand-new laptop and an expectation to use it like a laptop – on battery power and without an Ethernet cable plugged into it. My school has just recently finished outfitting all the dorms and classrooms with Wi-Fi and I had gotten used to the idea of a truly untethered internet experience. Long story short, I was disappointed to realize my parents weren’t as up to date in their network technologies as I would have liked. A few months later they had stepped up to the big leagues with the old black and blue Linksys WRT54G. If you bought a router in the mid-2000s you probably had the same one.
In the last ten years, Wi-Fi routers haven’t changed a great deal. Sure, they’ve gotten faster, cheaper, and added a few bells and whistles (Dual Band, guest networks, and a number of options you’re unlikely to of ever configured yourself), but the majority of homes are still using the same technology they bought years ago and are likely to replace their old router with the newer model if it ever actually dies or gets struck by lightning. For the most part, you place your router next to your modem which is likely next to your television or in a closet somewhere and hope for the best. Side note: both locations lead to less-than-ideal antenna placement. In the days of just email and web-browsing, this was sufficient. Signal strength and network speeds weren’t as important before Netflix, FaceTime and the Smart House. A few years ago, the only Wi-Fi devices in your house were your laptop, cell phone and maybe an iPad. This has all changed with the rise of Alexa, Google Home, and other IoT devices (think thermostats, door locks, smart bulbs etc.) As the sheer quantity of Wi-Fi devices has grown, our approach towards providing coverage throughout the home hasn’t adapted much. Enter the mesh network.
If you’re just here to figure out how to make your Wi-Fi not suck anymore, here is the Too Long; Didn’t Read (TL; DR): Rather than having a single Access Point that all of your devices connect to, you deploy several APs in different parts of your home. Instead of connecting from your bedroom to the router in your living room downstairs (all while going through walls, pipes and other building materials that suck up that precious signal), your Wi-Fi devices will connect to the Access Point located closest to it, likely on the second floor or in your bedroom. If you’re familiar with Wi-Fi bridges or extenders, it’s a similar idea at its core but implemented in a way that takes 99% of the thought and configuration out of the process.
Where Eero and other mesh networking systems differentiate themselves is the ability to dynamically reroute traffic. If an individual AP gets overloaded or goes down unexpectedly, Eero will reroute your devices to the other available access points so that you experience no drop in coverage. When traffic normalizes or the AP comes back online, it rejoins the mesh and begins operating normally again.
This technology has been around for years but has only recently made it to the mainstream with new entrants into the router space like Eero, AmpliFi and even Google. At the same time, industry leaders such as Linksys, D-Link and Netgear have shipped their own mesh systems to keep pace with the up-and-comers. These manufacturers all realized that covering an entire house in reliable Wi-Fi isn’t easy with a single traditional router. They each have their own merits (be it cost, ecosystem, or features) but Eero has become synonymous with Mesh networks in the last two and a half years. Introduced in 2015, the original Eero was the first mover in this space and was quickly met by an onslaught of challengers from startups and established industry leaders alike. Early adopters jumped in with both feet as Eero and their competitors created a new market for high-end Wi-Fi. With the market growing crowded and entry prices beginning to fall with each new option, the original Eero was beginning to lag in both functionality and performance. I had been eyeing a mesh Wi-Fi system for some time and was just about to pull the trigger when Eero announced their 2nd Generation Eero and the all new Eero Beacon. I had told myself that I was waiting for a ‘Gen 2’ product that I could trust and believe in and so Eero go my money. I pre-ordered on the first day and it showed up earlier this week.
I’ve done a fair bit of research into the main competitors here, digging through performance data, customer experiences, support options as well as ease of use and I’d have to say that Eero has nailed it so far. I’ve only had the device for a week but I can already tell you that the Out of Box Experience (OOBE) was one of the best of any technology product I’ve ever purchased. From opening the box to having the network up and running in less than 3 minutes and I had the whole home covered with the addition of a beacon in less than 6 minutes total (proof is in the screenshots below). I’ll walk you through the process, but I can tell you now that replacing your old, angry looking Wi-Fi router with antennas sticking everywhere should take you less than half an episode of Friends.
Let’s start off with ‘what is an actual Eero’. No matter what size home you have, you have to start with an Eero, the small white square thing your guests would never think is a Wi-Fi Router. Eero clearly spent a lot of time on the industrial design portion of this product, something that you probably never said about your old router. The Eero is designed to be placed on a hard surface in plain view, as though it were on display. The device needs to look nice for you to be able to leave it out and not tuck it behind the TV or in a closet.
Eero will walk you through placement of your first device, ensuring you keep it away from any other major electronics that could cause interference with transmission and reception.
The Eero itself has three ports on the back (Two Gigabit Ethernet Ports and 1 USB type C port for power) and a reset button. (On the off chance you ever do need to reset your Eero, they’ve done away with the push-pin style hole in favor of a more traditional reset button. You can now get rid of that paperclip you’ve kept on your desk for the last 5 years.) While a traditional router would have a port labeled WAN and others for local connectivity, the EERO is smart enough to know which one is connected to the modem and which one is connected to an Ethernet switch or an entertainment device. Eero calls these ‘Dual auto-sensing Gigabit ports’ which is really just a fancy way of saying the device knows the difference between the internet and an Xbox. Other than those ports and buttons, the device is clean with rounded corners and a glossy finish. While I’m sure there are those who would prefer alternative colors (read: Black) the Eero’s white finish is subtle enough to fit in with wherever you put it.
The other piece of the puzzle and the new star of the show is the Eero Beacon. This new addition to the family is half the size of the original while packing more punch than its predecessor. Eero says that after 18 months of interviews and feedback they realized that most customers place their second (or third) Eero in a stairwell/kitchen/hallway where having a power cord isn’t convenient. The Beacon has a power plug built in to the body of the device so that you simply plug it in and forget about it. On the design front, the plug is located far enough towards the bottom of the Beacon that if you plug it into the top outlet, there is plenty of room to still use the bottom one.
While there are no Ethernet ports on the Beacon (hence you must have at least 1 ‘regular’ Eero to plug into your modem) they did decide to include a nightlight on the device, which goes along with their comment about these being placed in hallways or stairwells. The nightlight feature can be controlled within the app, allowing you to turn it off, let it choose when to turn on/off or scheduling it to cut on/off at a given time. If you go the scheduling route, note that you can only create a single schedule for the entire week. Side note: It is really challenging to take a picture of a nightlight that doesn’t look awful.
If you choose to go with a mesh networking system, your success will depend primarily on how many access points you purchase and where you place them. Recommended quantity and placement are dependent upon your particular house, but in general Eero recommends one per floor or one per ‘living area’. As I live in a rather narrow three-story townhome, I knew I needed at least a single Eero on the first floor and either a Beacon or an Eero on the second floor. My biggest question was deciding whether I needed another device on the third floor to truly blanket my home in Wi-Fi. After looking through Eero’s example floor plans I decided I’d start with the single Eero downstairs and a Beacon on the second floor. Thankfully, I have an outlet in the hallway between the bedrooms on the second floor that was perfect for the Beacon. My thought process was that I could always add more if my needs changed or if the two APs weren’t sufficient. Therein lies the beauty of Eero – you can add to the system at any time by simply telling the app you’re adding a new device. It joins the existing mesh network and starts handling traffic and handoffs immediately.
While the Eero has a few more features than the Beacon (notably a second 5ghz radio and Ethernet ports) there are going to be situations where the Beacon makes more sense given the space than having to deal with power cords. In the same vein, the Eero’s two Ethernet ports come in handy for connecting multi-media, gaming or other devices that would benefit from a hardwired connection. After you connect the first Eero to your modem any subsequent devices are not required to use Ethernet.
In summary: the choice is yours! I would recommend checking out Eero’s chart below to best understand what best suits your home.
One of the most important factors in your Wi-Fi performance is how you set up your network. The majority of routers and devices on the market today support 2.4ghz and 5ghz radios, guest networks, and a host of other configuration items that you’re unlikely to ever go through the effort to configure. Eero says that with their system, you’ll ‘never think about Wi-Fi again’ and after going through their setup process, I tend to agree. The out of the box experience with Eero gives you multi-band Wi-Fi, WPA 2 encryption, and a quick app-driven access to create guest networks. Let’s take a look:
When you unbox your Eero kit, you’ll find a little piece of paper telling you to go download the Eero app from the App Store or the Google Play Store. Do this first (unless you want to take unboxing photos, if you’re into that sort of thing). When you run the app the first time, you’re going to tap Get Started. You will create an Eero account so you can log into your system and then the app reminds you to check that you have everything you need (modem, Eero, power cord, Ethernet cable) before you get started.
Eero then instructs you to unplug your modem from your old router and and from the wall. There is a certain secret handshake that needs to occur between your Eero, your modem and your Internet Service Provider (Comcast, Verizon, etc.) that works most reliably when the devices power on at the same time. You will connect your Eero to your modem using an Ethernet cable (either the one you were using for your previous router or the one included in the Eero box). Now plug both the Eero and the modem back in to power. Your app will then automatically connect to your Eero using Bluetooth LE (meaning you won’t need to go find and pair the device).
Once your Eero is awake and communicating with your app you need to label the Eero’s location. This is useful in the event you need to identify the AP in the future. The next step is the important one – naming your network and creating a password. Eero isn’t going to ask you any specifics on the type of encryption you want to employ, they’re going to use WPA2 Personal which is exactly what you should be using in your home. I’d recommend choosing your network name and password carefully. If you want the most seamless experience, use the same network name (SSID) and password from your previous router and most of your devices will connect automatically. If you’re using the same password you’ve used for the last 10 years or it’s something like your phone number, it’s probably worth getting a bit more creative. Choose something that’s longer than the minimum but also something you’re going to remember without having to look it up every time you need it.
Eero will then ask you to describe your house (is it square, long, and how many floors). After finding the fancy Eero model that matches your home the best, Eero will then ask you if you want to add another device. If you just purchased the single gateway, you’re done and skip this step. If you’re adding another Eero or a beacon, tap the appropriate choice.
Eero will give you a few tips on where to put your your additional devices (on a hard surface away from large electronics if its an Eero, place it between your existing Eero and your dead spots, and place one on each floor for ‘wall to wall Wi-Fi’. (I ignored the last piece of advice).
Once you’ve identified your ideal location plug in your second Eero or Beacon. As soon as you click Next your Eero will attempt to join the mesh network automatically. Once it has connected, Eero runs a placement test to ensure that your the Access Points have reliable connectivity between themselves. If you’ve done everything correctly the app will tell you that you’re a pro and ask you to set the device’s location. Once set, you’re done!
If you’ve added an Eero Beacon, you now have the option to configure the Nightlight. Your options are limited to:
· Ambient – Let Eero choose when to turn the light on/off based on its sensors
· Schedule – Schedule when the light turns on and off each day (note: you can only create one schedule so it will turn on/off at the same time every day)
· Off – Pretty self-explanatory – no nightlight for you.
If you have three Eeros, you can now add your third Eero following the same process as above. Once complete, Eero will perform a network speed test, show you the results, and let you know if there is anything wrong. You might see a notification that there is an update available. You can manually trigger the update from the Network Settings page of the app or just let it happen organically. If you don’t trigger it, Eero will automagically update whenever it detects that you’re not using it (read: when you’re asleep).
With that – you’re done! While it may sound like a lot of work, the entire process took me less than 6 minutes. All of my devices connected automatically (as I used the same SSID and Security key). I have flawless connectivity in every area of my home, including the 3rd floor. I’m actually getting the same download speeds in my bedroom that I get in my living room. Netflix isn’t buffering or lowering the quality when I’m watching in multiple rooms and downloading large files. While paying $300 to have your internet work the way you expect it to may not make a lot of sense, but when you’re paying $100+ month for internet and your experience sucks, how quickly does reliably Wi-Fi pay for itself? In the immortal words of the Eero marketing team, Happy Wi-Fi, Happy Life.
If you are struggling to fill the Wi-Fi deadspots of your house or don’t feel like you’re getting what you paid for from your ISP, it may be time to look into mesh networking. With the cost of broadband in the US being one of the highest in the developed world, you should make sure you get the full experience of what you pay for. Some of that relies on the ISP to deliver high quality connectivity to your door, but from that point, its up to you and your router. I can honestly say that in the week I’ve been using Eero, its been incredible. I can set up guest access on the fly from my phone text out a guess passwords and then kill it as soon as its done. I can check network health while I’m on the road (a huge plus) and just have a general level of confidence that it just plain works.
If you have any questions, hit me up in the comments section below! If you’re ready to forget about your router, head on over to Amazon to pick one up.