Getting really good Wi-Fi coverage is hard in most buildings unless you can place your access point in the center of the building and the building doesn’t have lots of metal in it to distort and attenuate the signal. A cheap solution is to use a range extender to improve the reach of your Wi-Fi but, unfortunately, many of these products use a single radio to repeat the signal which results in reduced bandwidth. There is, however, a better way: Eero, a company that’s been shipping their eponymously named product for just over a year, have the best solution I’ve tested so far.
The eero system (I must note here that the company and devices are named after the architect Eero Saarinen, famous for his clean, sophisticated design aesthetic, and Eero writes the device’s name in the style of e.e. cummings: all lower case, thus “eero”) creates a mesh network, each node having two radios so that they can send and receive simultaneously using adaptive routing to maximize throughput. The product really is nicely designed with the same kind of polished look and feel that characterizes Apple’s products (in fact, the design strikes me a much like the Apple TV does; solid, clean, and no fuss).
eeros are small (4.75 x 4.75 x 0.85 to 1.26 inches). On the back there are two auto-sensing Gigabit ports for connecting to your ISP’s service or for hardwiring to a local device, a USB 2.0 port (currently only used for diagnostics), a power port, and a reset button. Internally it has a 1GHz processor, 512MB RAM, 1GB flash, dual WiFi radios providing simultaneous 2.4GHz and 5GHz connections, and support for 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with WPA2 encryption.
Setup is impressively easy and consumer-friendly and eero's online documentation is excellent. After you download the eero app (available for free for iOS and Android), you create an account. Note that, at present, you can’t setup an eero network from a desktop Web browser though this is planned for the future.
The next installation step is to connect the first eero via one of its Ethernet ports to your ISP’s modem (or whatever you have), and plug in the power adapter; the app will then connect to the eero via Bluetooth LE. You next set a name for its location, set the network name (SSID), and set the network password and that’s it, you should be up and running sans wires. The app then guides you through setting up any other eeros which should be located within about 40 feet of another eero; the closer they are, the better the data rate . Alternatively, if your building is already wired with Ethernet, you can hardwire each eero and increase the separation between them to reduce interference and increase the Wi-Fi coverage area.
The eero app is well-designed and easy to use. Through the app you can add more eeros to get the coverage you need, find their network addresses (much good that will do you, they present no open ports or useful information). The app also conducts a daily speed test (which measures the performance of the eero network rather than your Internet connection) and displays the number of devices on the eero network.
The default configuration of an eero network, which will work fine for most installations, is to use NAT and provide DHCP service to the wireless network but if you need to, you can customize these settings (i.e. set a static external IP address for NAT, change the DHCP allocation range, set static DNS addresses, enable or disable UPnP, and configure reservations and port forwarding) or change the connection of the eero network to your wired network to be bridged. Because wireless security has become a big deal, eero systems watch for updates and notify you as soon as Eero makes them available.
The eero network system provides Family Profiles which allow you to assign wireless devices to specific groups and then set schedules for access but to use this feature the eero system has to be using a NAT configuration. With Family Profiles you can, for example, disable your childrens' access after 9PM in the hopes that they’ll get to sleep at a recent hour (though you might also find that you have a rebellion on your hands which, my friend, will be your own problem as neither Eero or I can offer you support on this). eero also provides an optional guest network feature and you can send invites with access credentials to both the main and guest networks by any of the native export services provided by the OS (for example, by email, SMS, and so on).
I set up an eero Wi-Fi network with three nodes in under fifteen minutes. I placed eeros in the office, the master bedroom, and the garage and the coverage and performance improvement was immediate.
Many products I test have something wrong or seriously wanting but when it comes to eero, there’s really nothing much to complain about. Sure, I’d like to see eero manageable from a browser, the USB port on the back of eeros made useful (using it to create network attached storage would be great), I’d like to be able to disable the white LED which is too bright at night (although a piece of electrical tape fixes the problem easily), and I’d like an API to get stats and configure the system. That said, all of those count as wants because what eero does, it does very well with hardly any fuss.
eero’s pricing is in the professional bracket: A single eero is priced at $199, a 2-pack at $349, and a 3-pack at $499. While that’s a little on the spendy side, you’re getting a level of simplicity, ease-of-use, and performance that makes eero a sound investment in your Wi-Fi happiness. eero gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.
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