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Home Networking in the Custom Channel: Are We Asleep at the Router?

Eero makes home networking sexy. The custom channel could learn some lessons from a DIY-centric approach to home technology.

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The custom-electronics industry had a nice little head start in home networking. For a few good years integrators have enjoyed good margins on enterprise-grade network solutions for customers who would not tolerate Wi-Fi dead spots or stuttering video streams.

That’s all about to change with a swell of new DIY-centric products like Eero and Luma that promise to take the pain out of networking, and give users more (and better) control over their connected home. Once again, the mass market will beat us on user experience in a category that we “invented.”

Our Networking Glory Days

Over the past five years or so, home-tech pros have convinced consumers they need to spend four and five figures on their IP infrastructure, even if their smart-home systems and audio/video services are modest. There were no gimmicks in the selling: Music skipped beats. Netflix stalled. Uploads and downloads crashed mid-stream. Tablets couldn’t hold a signal from one room to another. Surveillance cameras stopped recording. Home automation scenes took seconds to complete.

Consumers want cool industrial designs, more control, convenient shopping and familiar user interfaces. Shouldn’t that be coming from “us” instead of “them?”

You showed clients that replacing their $130 “high-end” Linksys router from Best Buy with a $1,500 multi-part solution from one of our favorite vendors made every individual component in the smart home work better – from iPhones to wireless speakers to mission-critical security systems.

There were really no blurry lines. Unlike the eternal cable debate – does this $500 HDMI cable work better than that $5 cable? – the difference between a good network and a mediocre one is clear.

Thankfully for the custom-installation channel, the need for better networks is climbing, as consumers add more IP things to their homes, especially of the high-resolution variety, from cameras to TVs to audio and video content, both indoors and out.

Ain’t it a swell time to be an integrator with fancy home networks to sell?

Here Comes Networking for the Masses

Not so fast. This little secret of ours is getting out. Big brands and crowd-funded startups alike see the sex appeal of rich home networks, and they are responding with solutions that bring mass-market appeal to a category that historically has been boring and scary.

Just like Sonos did about a decade ago. Then Nest. And most recently, Ring and Skybell with video doorbells. These darlings of venture capital took stuff that “we” have been doing for three decades, and made them cool and accessible. And each time our industry seems surprised and annoyed.

Here comes another annoyance: Eero.

Related: Ultimate Guide to Home Automation at CES 2016

Just like Sonos changed the multiroom music landscape a decade ago, Eero and its ilk will do the same for networking, with products that provide an exceptional user experience (UX) at an affordable price.

Eero makes a decent “mesh networking” Wi-Fi solution — nothing necessarily ingenious, but some good buzz, a successful crowdfunding campaign and the promise of a user-friendly experience. The same could be said of Luma, which has the mass-market going gaga over a “next-generation” router. Eero just snagged $50 million in funding; Luma got $12.5 million. Ring, a stupidly simple doorbell camera with an app, scored $61 million. While funding doesn’t guarantee success in the marketplace, it does suggest popularity and market potential.

Soon, consumers will be buying Eero and other simple networking products on their own, or requesting them by brand when hiring integrators to install them, just as with Nest and Sonos. And our lovable, custom-friendly networking solutions from Pakedge, Luxul, Ruckus, Cisco, Araknis (SnapAV), Ubiquiti (the top 5 brands among CE Pro 100 dealers) will have to respond quickly.

In general, “we” have been slow to respond to these market changes. How long did it take home-control manufacturers to allow consumers to set their own schedules and create their own scenes? Oh, about 10 years too late.

Consumers want cool industrial designs, more control, convenient shopping and familiar user interfaces. Shouldn’t that be coming from “us” instead of “them?”

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
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Julie Jacobson:

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson

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