I was pretty excited about the switch to Orbi: performance doubled and coverage was great. While it had an app, it also had a full web-based GUI for management and included a depth of configuration options. The fact that the web console was a bit clunky and hard to work with was fine because I could once again control my network from a laptop.
The the updates started.
With every firmware update two things were obvious: they did not do enough testing/QA and the solution to fixing their problems was always “do a full factory reset.” I muddled through the first update and it took me about an hour to get all of the devices back on the network. Satellites were not clearly responding despite being hardwired with an Ethernet backhaul. Eventually everything was back up to speed and I went back to living a normal life.
Then one day the office satellite stopped showing up. In trying to get it back online I realized that there was a new firmware update available. In a move of stupidity I thought “I’ll just apply the update to this one satellite and leave the rest of the system updates for later because I have some important work to do now.” BIG mistake. I manually updated just that one satellite and instead, the system updated everything, both satellites and the router. Now I had zero connectivity and work to get done. After an hour of trying to troubleshoot this situation and get it stable I gave up and put the Amplifi back online so I could get my work done.
Later that evening I put the Orbi back online and tried to figure out what was going on. What I realized was that they had a bug that would not allow 2 satellites to be online together. As soon as I brought the second one online the router stopped working. It turns out that this is a known bug of the firmware. How could you possibly allow an update to a 3-unit system when you know that only 2 units will be operational?
Eventually, through lots of work, I was able to get all 3 units online but the stability was lacking. I was looking at the list of connected clients. There are ~34 clients on my network (depending on whether something is in sleep mode at the time.) I looked at Orbi’s list of connected clients: 32 devices. OK. Then 17 devices. Then 19 devices. Then 26 devices. Then 31 devices. Then 14 devices. This was all in the course of less than a minute.
Something was going on and it was frustrating. When I inquired on the Netgear forums, the standard response was “well, as long as all of the devices are working, don’t worry about what is showing up.” But in my mind when something simple appears broken that is a sign that there is even more under the hood that might not be working.
With all of that data I decided that Netgear is not going to stay in the house. Too sketchy for my needs, when it was performing it was great, but getting it stable (and keeping it stable) was more work than I cared for. I can only imagine the difficulty that the typical consumer would have with this product.
I have been working with mesh systems for quite a while now and have some new observations. I had begun the journey with Google WiFi, a product that checked all of my boxes and had incredible performance, right out of the box. However, what I quickly realized with Google was that their business model and lack of flexibility really became the real issue and that led me down the path of unplugging it and replacing it with Amplifi.
I have been working with Amplifi tech support to diagnose some dropout issues for some time now. One of the things I was concerned about was a wireless HDMI repeater a few feet away. (Spoiler alert: the repeater had no impact, powering it completely off had no change on the issue.)
First, let me say that I have been using Google Wi-Fi for over two months now and it has virtually eliminated all of the Wi-Fi handoff problems and all of the dead zones in the house. Let’s get this out of the way early: it’s powerful, it is designed for easy setup and management. Compared to the other folks in the market, it is the price:performance leader by far. But it has some warts too. Big warts. I will continue to use it (for now), but I am not 100% bought in on the long-term strategy. Continue reading →
Mesh networking, a staple in enterprise environments, is finally coming to the home in order to solve some of the nagging issues of coverage and performance. Google is leading the pack but there are plenty of other competitors lining up to try their hand in this space.
Home networking has been a morass of spotty products and difficult interfaces, whereas enterprise networking has been far more seamless for the end user. Now mesh capabilities are coming to consumer WiFi in order to address the current products’ limitations.
Everyone has to start their year with predictions of what will happen. Generally we’ll all be simultaneously right and wrong because nobody can predict the future. But the trend lines are there and I believe that we are heading towards some major changes in 2017.
Home WiFi is irreparably broken through a combination of poor products and inhospitable environments. Mesh networks may be the answer, but in dumbing down smart technology can we really end up with something that is both powerful and user-friendly?
Security is a mess. Half of the problems can be traced to vendors and the other half can be traced to customers. Part of the challenge on the vendor side is that they have the ability to claim capabilities without really spelling out what “secure” means. This needs to change.