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Mesh-enabled WiFi router runs Linux, promises better coverage

Feb 4, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 4,253 views

The Linux-based “Eero” WiFi router uses mesh networking and self-correcting code to reduce dead zones and optimize speed, and offers mobile app access.

WiFi routers can be extended with WiFi repeaters or extenders to reduce dead zones and boost signal strength in large or multi-story homes, as well as long railroad apartments. Yet, these devise often don’t live up their claims, especially now that more and more people are simultaneously streaming video.

A startup called Eero is offering a new approach to the problem: mesh networking. Instead of having one main router and one or more repeaters or extenders, which often cut bandwidth by as much as half, you deploy multiple Eero routers of the same design. The routers continually ping each other to find the best available 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, and optimize for the best performance, claims Eero. In addition to promising better coverage and ease of use than most routers, Eero also offers a compact, stylish design that’s free of antennas.

(click image to enlarge)

If you have a small apartment, you can buy one Eero 802.11ac router for a special pre-sale price of $125, but the device is really aimed at owners of single-family homes. A typical household will need three Eero routers, available for a pre-sale price of $299, or you can chain up to 10 devices in larger homes. Final retail pricing will move to a less compelling $199 per router and $499 for three when the device ships this summer.

The Eero’s mesh networking improves performance because it allows for multiple hops with minimal signal loss, claims Eero. It is also said to be adaptive, so if interference pops up suddenly from a closed door or somebody using an interfering device, “Eero dynamically routes around it by taking an alternate path or using a different frequency band,” says the company.

Eero whole-home mesh

The Eero is touted as being superior to range extenders because it does not rely on the “Wireless Distribution System” (WDS), which is said to prevent daisy chaining of extenders. Some extenders incorporate repeater bridge modes, which use a separate wireless network, but this mean users have to “manually decide whether it’s better to connect to the main router or the extender,” says Eero.

An Eero network avoids such choices because the use of intelligent mesh networking lets them share a single network. (Mesh networking is also the driving technology behind Google’s 6LoWPAN-based Thread networking technology for home automation.)

Eero profile

According to Eero, the devices are much easier to set up than most routers and extenders. A mobile iOS and Android app and cloud service help out, along with the Eero’s mesh networking itself. The app, which communicates with the devices via Bluetooth, can guide you toward finding the best spots to deploy, and then you’re done, says Eero. The Bluetooth connection, which supports BLE, can also be used for other Bluetooth-only devices.

The Eeros set each other up automatically with the help of the cloud service. If there’s a power outage or other problem, the devices will reboot themsevlesand fix the problem, claims the company. Security patches are said to be automatically downloaded behind the scenes with auto updates.

The device also uses the app to let you know if there are problems on the network, including interference from neighboring networks, and when people are using bandwidth and how much. You can also use the app to text the password and connection information to guests.

All the ambitious claims, meanwhile, are given a bit more credence considering the impressive pedigree of the founders and advisors, which has helped to bring in $5 million in funding. Co-founders Nick Weaver, Amos Schallich, and Nate Hardison, all have extensive networking backgrounds, and many employees come from Google and mesh networking firm Silver Spring, according to an Engadget report on Eero. Advisors include ex-Apple and Palm executive Jon Rubinstein, as well as designer Fred Bould, who designed the Nest devices, the latest Roku boxes, and the GoPro Hero3.

Eero confirmed to LinuxGizmos our guess that like most WiFi routers, the Eero runs Linux. Other high-end routers we’ve covered recently include the fully open source Linksys WRT1900AC and the new D-Link Ultra-series 802.11ac with Wave 2 extensions. However, most people buy simpler, Linux-based Linksys, Netgear, and Belkin devices that go for under $50, and can be found for as low as $30. That makes the Eero a tougher sell for the average consumer.

Eero specs

The Eero is equipped with a dual-core, 1GHz processor with 512MB RAM and 1GB flash. There’s a USB port for directly connecting devices like printers and speakers.

One limitation compared to many WiFi routers is the fact that there’s only one LAN port in addition to the WAN port. Engadget quotes Eero CEO Weaver as saying that those users who do have a lot of Ethernet devices tend to buy port switch add-ons anyway, and by limiting the device to one, they were able to keep the device a compact 121 x 121 x 33mm.

We saw no mention of a development package or open APIs. However, according to The Verge, the Eero enables you to wipe the firmware and substitute your own router stack.

Specifications listed for the Eero include:

  • Processor — 1GHz dual-core
  • Memory — 512MB RAM; 1GB flash
  • Wireless:
    • 2x WiFi radios with simultaneous 2.4GHz and 5GHz
    • 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with mesh networking
    • Bluetooth 4.0 with BLE
  • Networking — 2x gigabit Ethernet (WAN and LAN)
  • Other I/O — USB 2.0 port
  • Other features — Android and iOS apps; up to 10 devices per network
  • Security — WPA2 Personal/Enterprise, 802.1X DHCP, NAT, VPN Passthrough, DNS Proxy, IPv6
  • Power — 100-240V AC, 50-60Hz; consumes 4 to 6W
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 35°C
  • Dimensions — 121 x 121 x 22-33mm
  • Operating system — Linux


Eero pitch on YouTube

Further information

The Eero is available for pre-order for $125, or $299 for a three-pack, with shipments due this summer. Retail pricing after that will bump to $199 and $499, respectively. Shipping is $10, but so is the refund you get for every referral. More information may be found Eero website.

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0 responses to “Mesh-enabled WiFi router runs Linux, promises better coverage”

  1. Max says:

    …and once again, the new “product” sold at an eye-watering premium is not better hardware, nor new functionality (as even they admit repeating can be done with existing tools), but “carefree convenience”. *Sigh*. You can see the exact same thing three times a week on Kickstarter, every time a new 3D printer hardly any better than the preceding one but even more expensive comes out, promising nothing much other than to “finally make 3D printing easy”. This time, for realsies! Honest! Meanwhile, sensible people keep buying commodity hardware slapping on some flavour of OpenWRT and keep building threaded-rod-framed cheap 3D-printers…

    • Matt says:

      I’d say setting up a mesh yourself is a pretty daunting task. Regardless of it’s availability in WRT based routers. What makes a good product isn’t about its capabilities it’s about how easily that product functions. What I’m really curious about is the performance.

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