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Arris adds another Wi-Fi 6 mesh router to the Surfboard line

It's one of several new mesh routers debuting at CES 2020 that supports the speedy new standard.

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The Arris SURFboard mAX.

Arris
This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.

There were a lot of new mesh Wi-Fi systems released in 2019, but not many of them supported 802.11ax, more commonly known as Wi-Fi 6 -- the newest, fastest version of Wi-Fi. Arris released two systems that supported the speedy new standard last year -- and now, at CES 2020, it's adding a third Wi-Fi 6 system for the portfolio, too. 

It's the Arris Surfboard Max -- and, you know, shame on me for not seeing it coming after the first two systems were called the Arris Surfboard Max Plus and Arris Surfboard Max Pro. It stood to reason there'd be a plain ol' Surfboard Max, too.

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Arris

Like the obvious-in-hindsight naming scheme might suggest, the regular Surfboard Max is, well, regular. As in, not quite as fast as the Plus and the Pro, which ring in as AX7800 and AX11000 mesh routers, respectively. The new, regular, two-piece Surfboard Max, an AX6600 mesh router, goes on sale in the second quarter of 2020, with pricing still to be determined. Two-piece Plus and Pro systems currently sell for $550 and $650. (They aren't available internationally, but $550 converts to about £420 or AU$800.)

So how much of a step down from the first two is system number three? Not much, from the sound of it. Like the other two, the Surfboard Max is still a tri-band mesh router with a second 5GHz band that the router and satellite use as a dedicated backhaul for passing data back and forth without slowing your connection down too much. That's certainly a step above "regular." It also supports Alexa, which lets you ask that assistant to pause the Wi-Fi or turn a guest network on, and boasts the exact same, fancy, cylindrical design as its two siblings, save for a white body in place of a black one.

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The new, white-bodied Surfboard Max is very similar to Arris' first two Wi-Fi 6 systems, but we don't know how much less it will cost yet.

Arris

The Plus and the Pro each have extra internal radios, and promise to provide coverage for homes of up to 6,000 square feet. The new, white-bodied AX6600 version promises to handle homes of up to 5,500 square feet.

With a third system (and soon, a third price point) for 2020, Arris appears to be taking something of a shotgun blast at the burgeoning market for mesh routers that support Wi-Fi 6. Judging from the sheer number of new systems making their debut at CES 2020, it looks like much of the industry is making the same bet that mesh and Wi-Fi 6 are going to make for a hot combo this year.

That's in stark contrast to Google-owned Nest and Amazon-owned Eero. Each released new mesh systems in late 2019, but neither company offers support for Wi-Fi 6 yet. Now, with Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems from TP-Link, D-Link and Netgear all debuting at CES for about $250 or less, you have to wonder if the two tech titans will feel a bit of a squeeze this year.

My question: How low will Arris go? The company likely wanted to wait to see what the competition brought to Las Vegas before locking down a price. And, with that tri-band, backhaul-based design, the Surfboard Max seems to be a cut above most of those dual-band competitors. That would seem to put it in the $350 to $450 range for a two-piece system -- but will the flood of surprisingly affordable Wi-Fi 6 mesh options cause it to go lower than that?

Time will tell. At any rate, we'll test the new Surfboard out just as soon as it's available later this year.

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