Two Months with eero
When eero finally shipped in late February, I couldn’t wait to get it setup and start tinkering around with all the amazing features that had been marketed to us. Powerful router, wireless mesh without speed loss, Open-WRT capabilities, and ease of setup and management. With all of the delays, it was bound to deliver…right?
eero As A Router
The goal of eero (and its competitors) was to completely replace your existing router. Whether it was an ISP provided router or one your purchased yourself, eero would render that old piece of junk irrelevant. The folks at eero very quickly realized that was a much loftier goal than they anticipated.
There are so many variations of the home internet setup, it was nearly impossible to anticipate and address all of the different scenarios. I happened to be in one of those unique scenarios.
As it turns out, users who need to keep their ISP issued router can only utilized eero in “bridge” mode aka as access points. Personally, I don’t have an issue with this, but this is one of those promises that went unfulfilled by eero.
For those that are able to replace their router, eero will provide basic functionality which should be enough for most. Easy Wi-Fi setup, guest network, UPnP, IP reservation, port forwarding, speed tests, and even DNS and custom IP ranges are all supported. Some of these were added post launch via firmware updates or app updates, but they are fully functioning at this time.
However, while I wouldn’t have a problem recommending eero as a router to folks who just need to get online reliably, eero offers nowhere near the functionality of today’s more advanced routers. Even off the shelf routers from ASUS, Netgear, or D-Link tout much more powerful network management features than eero does. What exactly does eero lack that you might find in another similarly priced router?
- Uptime management
- Traffic reports
- Multiple SSIDs (eero only supports the primary and guest)
- Parental controls
- Local control
And that’s just what comes to mind at the moment.
I understand that the people that utilize or are even aware of these features in a router are in the minority. The issue is that many of these features were advertised, mentioned, or promised prior to launch, and despite multiple delays, they failed to deliver.
Still, eero functioned well as a basic router over the past two months. The few issues that popped up early on were addressed via firmware updates. If anything, that says a lot about the potential of eero as it can continue to add features and functions to the product over time. And eero has promised that most, if not all of those features are coming in the near future.
eero as an Access Point
For those of us who refuse to let go of our current router, eero will relinquish DHCP duties and act as a simple access point. The initial setup process is the same, but once it’s up and running, you simply put it into “bridge mode”, as mentioned earlier. Once eero is in this mode, it disables its DHCP capabilities and allows your main router to handle the heavy lifting. You still have control over the primary and guest SSIDs, and it will even give you a list of MAC addresses of the devices that are connected to it, though it won’t provide you with the device names.
In terms of performance, there is no doubt that eero’s hardware is quite powerful. I won’t provide any hard numbers simply because there are so many variables when it comes to wireless networks, but in my testing, eero outperformed the Nighthawk R7000 I was comparing it to in both range and speed.
A single eero access point is still just an access point though. In order for eero to truly shine, you need to have a few of them forming a mesh.
eero’s Mesh Network
Once you have one eero on your network, whether it’s as a router or as an access point, adding additional ones to the network is a breeze. Plug in the additional unit, select “add eero” on the app and it will quickly find the new eero and add it to your existing network. No need to setup another SSID or network since it will simply use the primary eero as the controller and broadcast based on those settings. The only thing you have to do is name it.
When setting up additional eeros for the mesh, you have the option of hardwiring with Ethernet, or going the wireless route. You don’t have to worry about specifying what you’d like to do; eero is intelligent enough to figure it out on its own.
If you opt to go with the former, you don’t have to worry about how far apart you place one unit from the other. As long as your wiring isn’t compromised, your secondary units should see full performance. If you want to go wireless however, you will see your speeds and bandwidth reduced by half. This was one of my biggest disappointments with the mesh network.
Early on, eero boasted about the dual radios and how they would be leverage to create a wireless mesh network without any speed loss. While eero claims that every eero does in fact have two radios packed into it, the second radio that is supposed to enable this no-speed-loss mesh, has not yet been enabled. There still isn’t a timeline as to when this killer feature will be enabled, but that was one of the things that could have set it apart from other options out there like Open-Mesh.
Another key feature that’s missing in regards to the mesh, is being able to identify what unit your device is connected to. While the eero app will tell you what MAC addresses are connected to the network, it won’t specify which unit it’s getting its signal from. This makes it difficult to confirm that you’re actually connected to the nearest eero. While I haven’t necessarily seen any instances where my signal strength suffers due to a device getting stuck to a given eero, there would be no way of diagnosing those type of issues at this time.
Despite those shortcomings, eero’s mesh capabilities performed quite well. I setup three wired and one wireless eero in a single mesh (replacing four access points plus the router’s wireless network) in a two story home. Not only does roaming around the home work seamlessly, but any dead zones that I previously had are now blanketed in Wi-Fi goodness. No matter where I am in the home, I get very similar speeds everywhere, except the area that is being served by the wireless unit – for now at least.
The highlight of the wireless unit, is being able to utilize the Ethernet ports to connect products that require a wired connection – a TiVo Mini for example. The wired connection to the eero allows the TiVo Mini to remain on the same network where it can communicate with the primary TiVo unit, all without actually having to run an Ethernet cable to the TiVo Mini itself. Although I had managed a somewhat similar workaround using an old router loaded with DD-WRT, the wireless connection was too inconsistent and as soon as another device connected to the network, it would cause the Mini to stutter or lose its connection altogether. The wirelessly meshed eero on the other hand, remains consistently connected and despite the bandwidth loss due to the hop, still pipes through plenty of data to provide a wired connection to devices that do not support Wi-Fi.
If you’re looking to eero as a router replacement, you might be a little disappointed. eero will certainly provide you with basic router functionality, but not much else. Not to mention that it might cause conflicts with certain services depending on your provider. Unless you really only need the most basic of functions, and find the ease of setup and management alluring, I’d say hold off on using eero as a router. There are plenty of routers out there in the eero price range (and below it) that will provide you with a lot more than what eero currently has.
As an access point and mesh network, eero is great. The hardware packed into eero is quite powerful and the mesh network, even without the second radio enabled, is solid and reliable.
But here’s the thing – if you’re just looking for a mesh solution, there are other options out there. Open-Mesh just released an updated OM5P unit that added 802.11ac for about $135 (not including power supply). Not to mention Luma is just around the corner and promises some of the features that eero still hasn’t delivered on. Of course, if eero enables that second radio to deliver no speed loss on wireless mesh units, and adds the parental control and traffic monitoring features that Luma touts, it can make the decision a little easier.
Personally, I’ll be keeping all nine eero units I pre-ordered. Even though I won’t be using eero in my own home right now (mostly due to needing more than just the two SSIDs eero is limited to right now), the units I have setup at my parent’s home have been working flawlessly. I also fully expect for eero to become more powerful over time as they continue to rollout features via software and firmware updates at which point I’ll be able to deploy them in my own home. That being said, I’d have a hard time recommending anyone to purchase eero at this point in time. With Luma getting ready to launch, and Open-Mesh updating its product line, I’d recommend taking the wait and see approach as this category seems to just be getting started.