2016 was a great year for gadgets, with the explosive growth in niche gadgets on Kickstarter. We saw smart toaster, weed growing greenhouses, and wireless earbuds all take off. The most exciting area of growth was with routers, yes those little, ugly gadgets that provide us with Wifi. I know what you’re thinking, “routers are annoying devices that your internet company offers you for a monthly fee.” Well, you can buy a router from someone else than your cable company! There is a thriving market of routers for everything from daily use to more niche applications like gaming. These devices often look like little alien space ships with their antennas and otherwise obnoxious designs. The traditional routers we’ve come to know all have trouble covering 100% of your house or apartment. There are always dead zones and spots where the signal is slow or somewhat unusable.
The solution is a system called “mesh routers,” which use the primary router with multiple smart repeaters to cover your whole home – no more dead zones or slow spots. There is Google Wifi, Eero, Luma, Orbi, and a handful of other mesh routers that were released in 2016 or became popular over the year. I relate the craze and advertising push of these new routers to the rise of mattresses being sold online. Mattresses like Casper or Tuft have become popular, but have also started massive marketing campaigns. Almost every podcast I listen to either has an ad for an online, no frill mattress or a revolutionary, game-changing router.
2016 for better or worse made routers sexy again. We see routers designed that blend in with its surroundings. This means there are no ugly antennas or black boxy designs. Instead, they’re often white, small little devices that have no antennas. The systems come in packs of either 2 or 3, with more options for larger homes. They help cover 100% of the home or apartment because the signal cannot always get through metal lined or brick walls. The routers also come with easy to use apps to help manage and set up the new routers. Traditional routers from Linksys or Netgear have hard to use setup pages with too many advanced options, but with the apps from these systems – anyone can set them up in 10 minutes or less.
Mesh networks aren’t the only way routers were exciting in 2016 – some routers, most notably Portal, use “Fast Lanes,” aka different bands to send wifi signals out. This method is extremely helpful in crowded cities or apartment complexes that have multiple Wifi connections in a small area. I’ve used Portal and seen a vast improvement in my Wifi speeds. Portal can also use another Portal router for large homes, so they are essentially doing the mesh system too.
In the long run, mesh routers and routers like Portal are making routers easier to use but also more reliable. One day we’ll all look at an app to see what’s wrong with the router instead of just unplugging it and plugging it back in. Most consumers won’t see these new routers until companies like Comcast, Time Warner, Spectrum, and other internet providers start using these Mesh routers.