Amazon’s latest acquisition in its ever-growing WiFi technology platform is the mesh networking pioneer eero systems. The deal was announced on February 11, 2019.
Eero, along with Luma, was among the first home networking suppliers to optimize enterprise-grade mesh networking technologies for residential CPE. This innovation meets two goals: improving WiFi coverage by using a series of mesh-connected access points and providing an improved level of network control when compared to the clunky user interfaces typically found on WiFi routers.
Eero’s products and platforms address a growing set of problems with home WiFi. One common problem is that traditional home routers, while powerful enough to generate a signal for most of a home, often have limited and clunky user interfaces. This makes it challenging for users to set specific network parameters or preferences. A second problem in larger or older homes is that brick and cinder block walls can quickly dampen a WiFi signal, creating dead spots. Historically, these dead spots have been addressed through the use of WiFi extenders, which simply repeat the signal generated by the central access point.
However, the problem with traditional WiFi extenders is two-fold:
- The extender can only do its job when it can detect the original WiFi signal.
- Each time the signal is repeated or extended, signal loss occurs to the tune of a 30% to 60% reduction in throughput.
Mesh networking capabilities from Plume, eero, Luma, Google, NetGear, D-Link, and similar companies do a far better job of maintaining a clean wireless signal though they still rely on signal repetition. By spacing multiple units throughout a home, these systems effectively create multi-hop communications for wireless devices. Essentially, when a wireless device receives or transmits data, it is either the first leg or anchor in a WiFi relay race. The data transfer then hops from one access point to another until it reaches the primary access point, which is connected to the DSL, cable, or fiber gateway. The multi-hop attributes of a mesh network reduce the distance the wireless signal must hop from one point to the next.
Just as important as strengthening the home WiFi signal is the increased control users will have over their home WiFi experience. Eero’s access points and smart home manager app will allow users to control their WiFi networks, passwords, and devices. Control over the home network experience is being fought over by consumer electronics companies and broadband service providers alike.
Tying together the Amazon home experience
Eero adds a major puzzle piece to Amazon’s long-term plan to own the in-home IoT experience. Between Fire Sticks, Fire TVs, Ring video doorbells, Echo devices, and a growing list of appliances and consumer electronics with Alexa voice capabilities, pre-integrated, eero access points can ensure that these devices stay connected all the time.
Early on, eero differentiated itself from other mesh networking suppliers by including 802.15.4 radios on each of its access points. The 802.15.4 is an IEEE standard, designed for low-data rate and low-power consumption wireless communications. It is part of the 802.15 group of standards for what are called wireless personal access networks (WPANs). For example, 802.15.1 is for Bluetooth.
The 802.15.4 standard defines the MAC and PHY layers of the OSI model and provides a basis for other protocols and features to be added in layers 3 through 7. ZigBee, Z-Wave, WeMo, and Thread are common protocol stacks relying on the 802.15.4 standard. The eero devices currently use Thread, but nothing is stopping Amazon from incorporating its favored Z-Wave protocol on these devices. Z-Wave is Amazon’s home automation protocol of choice, as it is used in its Echo Show and Echo Plus home hub devices. Also, a much larger ecosystem of sensors, light bulbs, and other home automation devices relies on Z-Wave.
In fact, I fully expect Amazon to quickly provide eero mesh units using the Z-Wave protocol stack, so that the units could act as distributed home hubs. This would allow users to place smart devices throughout their home, rather than limiting them to areas near a home hub unit. Keep in mind that Z-Wave has a functional distance limit of 300 feet. In larger homes, for which eero access points are ideal, eero can eliminate WiFi dead spots, while also connecting bedroom light bulbs, window sensors, and other Z-Wave devices.
I don’t believe Amazon will integrate an eero-style access point into any of its Echo series of devices, as some have suggested. Amazon wouldn’t have bought eero if that was its strategy. Besides, the Echo devices already pump out their own limited WiFi signal. There is no need to raise its bill of materials (BOM) cost by adding a more complex WiFi chip and series of antenna arrays. After all, the purpose of Echo devices is to provide a voice-based connection to Amazon-hosted services and content, not to become expensive, all-in-one devices.
Eero gives Amazon a way to ensure always-on WiFi connectivity at home. This, in itself, is critical to the performance of Amazon services. More importantly, eero gives Amazon insight into how broadband customers use their home Internet service, which devices they use to access the Internet, and when and how the devices are used. Eero is invasive, for certain. As with any service, users will have to weigh the convenience offered against their privacy concerns.
But you can imagine a scenario where Amazon uses the data collected from eero access points to recommend smart light bulbs, DIY home security systems, window sensors, connected TVs, and other devices based on your data consumption habits and current network setup, among other parameters.
Beyond that, Amazon primarily wants to ensure that the content and services you rely on–including Amazon Video, Music, and Audible–all are performing at their peak. By providing home connectivity, Amazon can also more accurately identify the source of issues delivering 4K UHD video content. Is the problem at home, within the Amazon Web Services CDN, or in the broadband provider’s network? When you don’t own the pipe into the home but own everything else, being able to eliminate your network as the locus of the problem is absolutely critical.
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About the Broadband Access Market Research Report:
The Dell’Oro Group Broadband Access Report provides a complete overview of the Broadband Access market with tables covering manufacturers’ revenue, average selling prices, and port/unit shipments for Cable, DSL, and PON equipment. Covered equipment includes Converged Cable Access Platforms (CCAP) and Distributed Access Architectures (DAA), Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexers ([DSLAMs] by technology ADSL/ADSL2+, G.SHDSL, VDSL, G.FAST), and PON Optical Line Terminals (OLTs), as well as all Cable, DSL, and PON CPE (Customer Premises Equipment.)