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Startup Eero wants to wipe out weak Wi-Fi

Routers sold as a $300 three-pack are meant to bring fast, reliable network access to all corners of the house. But first Eero will have to convince you your networks need fixing.

Eero hopes its network devices will look good enough to be seen around the house.
Eero hopes its network devices will look good enough to be seen around the house. Eero

Eero thinks it's time for a new philosophy to tackle home Wi-Fi: strength in numbers.

You may think your home Wi-Fi is fine. But the San Francisco-based startup argues that trouble is coming for you soon, if isn't there already, as networks cope with more devices, more streaming video, the need to reach every corner of a home, and the obstacles and radio interference that hamper Wi-Fi signals.

Today's typical Wi-Fi setups center on a single router, but it's time for a new approach, and the big names in the business like Netgear, Linksys and D-Link aren't adapting, said Nick Weaver, chief executive and co-founder of the 15-person company. That's why Eero will start with a $300 trio of routers, with extras costing $125 apiece, and a smartphone app to help people set them up.

"Instead of one powerful device blasting a signal everywhere, you need to break it up into smaller pieces and distribute it throughout the home," Weaver said.

To succeed, Eero will have to convince people that they need an upgrade to their current networks. With even premium routers costing less than $200, some persuading will be necessary.

The sales pitch will likely appeal to folks who are envisioning range extenders that use Wi-Fi or home powerline networks to reach better throughout a home -- in short, the people who already think their Wi-Fi isn't up to scratch.

Eero also can take heart that customers are showing some willingness to buy premium electronic gadgets like Philips Hue remote-controlled light bulbs, Drobo storage systems and Nest Learning Thermostats. And where some of those may be viewed as luxuries, stable and fast network access increasingly is a necessity.

Weaver, along with co-founders Amos Schallich and Nate Hardison, convinced some backers that it's a good idea. Eero has raised $5 million funding from First Round Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Stanford University, Homebrew Ventures and more. With that money, the company expects to expand to 40 employees or so by the end of the year.

Weaver thinks more and more people will see their networks' shortcomings when it's time to stream high-resolution video everywhere in the home or to cope with dozens of household objects needing network access.

"Just go count all your light bulbs," Weaver said. "We can handle many devices as you can throw at it."

Shipping this summer

Eero plans to begin taking orders for its network devices on Tuesday, then start shipping them starting in early summer, Weaver said. Later in the year the company plans to sign up e-commerce partners and then sell the devices through brick-and-mortar retail, too. But when it reaches that general availability, the introductory prices will jump to $200 for one Eero device and $500 for three.

Eero thinks its designs are nice enough for its devices to perch on end tables in the living room.
Eero thinks its designs are nice enough for its devices to perch on end tables in the living room. Eero

Each Eero box is a white square with rounded corners, a slightly domed top, a single light on the front and power connector on the back. For the design, the company contracted with Fred Bould, who also created the look of the Nest Learning Thermostat and Protector smoke alarm, GoPro Hero 3 camera, Roku media streamer and Lively Activity Sensors. Eero is clearly hoping its routers will look good enough that people won't be ashamed to have them on bookshelves and tabletops.

The devices use Eero's own software, Qualcomm's processors and radio chips, and 1GB of flash storage. They communicate to find the fastest data and best radio frequencies for a given household. They'll also coordinate with a neighbor's Eero devices to avoid interference that occurs when wireless devices use the same radio channels.

The Eero system starts with one device attached to the modem that provides a home's broadband link. People set up the next ones with an Android or iOS app that measures signal strength and gives advice where the other two Eero devices should go.

The app also lets people quickly send login info to guests who want to join the network. And for better security, it'll notify people whenever a new device joins the network.

Weaver isn't afraid of being up against established players in the industry. "We have all these existing brands who haven't innovated on their products in years," he said. "There's a big opportunity to be a standalone company that is known for providing great connectivity in our all our homes."

Automatic linking

The Eero boxes link to each other and automatically tell devices like phones and laptops which particular device to connect to. They use a single network name, so no manual network changes are required as people move around their homes, Weaver said.

The company considered using powerline networking, which sends data over people's electrical systems, but the technology is hampered by modern homes' wiring setup. For example, many larger homes have one power panel for the kitchen and all its appliances and a separate panel for the rest of the house. Network signals can't be sent across the two panels.

Eero's wireless technology works well to bring the signal around a house. With median home sizes between 2,200 and 2,500 square feet, three devices is "perfect," though Eero will sell single devices for those who want, Weaver said.

Another technology that didn't make the cut is 802.11ad networking, which uses very high radio frequencies in the 60GHz band. That can be used to send a lot of bits per second across a network, but the high frequencies have very short range and are susceptible to interruptions, Weaver said.

At 60GHz, a person walking between a device and a router can destroy the network link, he said. "We're focused on 2.4GHz and 5GHz. At this point 5GHz provides more than enough bandwidth for any experience in the home."