I’ve been through my share of really crappy routers and WiFi before finally settling into equipment that works properly. I can’t even imagine the frustration an average consumer must feel at having routers that don’t perform well, need constant rebooting, and have complicated update processes. It makes sense that a company like Eero would seek to solve some of the headaches associated with crappy routers, but I’m having a hard time seeing what advantages they offer. In fact, it’s looking like a classic case of overselling a product before it’s even ready.
The biggest red flags popping up to me are the “easy” bits. You can configure the routers with your phones, they handle mesh networking without any consumer knowledge, and automatically download updates. Right off the bat, using Bluetooth for configuration seems pretty sketchy. For any half-decent authentication to work, you have to be able to exert some level of access control. This is at odds with the “plug and play” sales pitch from the product.
Automatic updates are also problematic. Forced firmware means you don’t get to choose to not apply a buggy patch, and it also creates an attack vector for someone who can compromise the update process. It also implies that, unlike other products, third party firmware will be a non-starter, a great option for people with technical know-how once a router is no longer getting updates from the manufacturer. I’ve even used it with my in-laws to kick an old Linksys router into high gear (and triple the range).
Even the range claims don’t jive with me. Each device is supposed to cover about 1000 square feet. Funny, but my D-Link R7000 is currently covering a 2200 sf home, a 0.30 acre lot, and several empty lots away for the same price. A repeater may make for a stronger localized signal in specific applications, but it also crowds the airwaves with even more signals from more devices, something that actively reduces performance. Mesh network also tend to introduce additional latency, something that has plagued Sprint’s cell network for years.
The pricing also gives me pause. The first device is $200 and a three-pack is $500. That D-Link I mentioned runs around $200 while offering much more coverage and is pretty darn easy to use. And that three-pack? You could buy a Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite and UniFi AC for $140 less and cover almost 17 times the area, 50K square feet. (In case your math is rusty, that’s something like 1.2 acres.) If the price were in line with the $100 crap they usually sell at Wal-mart, the story would be different, but this is almost Apple-like.
This is the problem I’m seeing: there’s a lot of brand being sold, but not a lot of value. For the cost of one of their devices, you can get a top-shelf consumer router that’s likely to be more secure, just as easy to use, and from a brand with history, not a no-name startup. For their three-pack, you could get the high-end Ubiquiti equipment, pay someone to professionally install and configure it, and still have money leftover to take the family out to dinner at Chili’s.
What’s really chapped my hide is that nobody in tech journalism is bothering to run through these scenarios and give it the healthy dose of skepticism it deserves. This is becoming an unfortunately common scenario these days, to print claims verbatim without running them through the fact checking wringer. It’s even worse when only those claims that butt up against a journalist’s existing biases. If you don’t have an immediate “BS” reaction to PR flacks, maybe journalism isn’t the job for you.