Replaced my Linksys router with an eero 3 pack after also testing Luma mesh surround Wi-Fi, faster wireless in every room has arrived!

Posted by Paul Braren on Aug 21 2016 (updated on Aug 23 2016) in
  • Wireless
  • Network
  • Review
  • july-2016-is-heating-up

    The eero 3 Pack is available at Amazon, Best Buy, or eero for ~$500 USD.

    The Luma 3 pack is available at Amazon, Best Buy, or Luma for ~$400 USD.

    Backstory

    It's been 3 years since my family moved up to 802.11ac with the careful decision to go with the Linksys EA6900 AC1900 Dual-Band Wi-Fi router. Routine admin tasks like port forwarding changes didn't cause it to reboot, keeping the household's family internet going, uninterrupted. Netgear and Asus competitors would require nearly a minute of downtime for such changes. I also managed bend the Linksys DNS to my will, getting a FQDN of lab.local going for my home's vSphere 6.0 lab. Not exactly typical, I know.

    But earlier this year, I had started to have issues with the Linksys EA6900's web UI, once I had a lot of DHCP reservations in there. There were also some lower speed spots in the house, and two different WiFi repeaters that I briefly tried out didn't fix this. Even the one that claimed to use a wired back-haul. And my speeds rarely passed 100Mbps anywhere in the house.

    Time has marched onward and speeds upward, with DOCIS 3.0 modems with 16 bonded channels like the SB6183 arriving at my home in 2014. This allowed Cox Communications to seamlessly upgrade Wethersfield, CT to 300 Mbps down / 30 Mbps earlier in 2016. Cox G1GABLAST 1000 Mbps / 1000 Mbps service will be arriving as soon as late 2016 with a similar monthly cost, which will require a new modem again. At least the rest of my network is now so ready.

    802.11ac and 5GHz have been problematic

    If your home is more like 30 Mbps down and 5 Mbps up, then you're unlikely to really see the benefits of 802.11ac and/or 5GHz frequencies.

    If you go with separate SSIDs for 2.4GHz and for 5GHz, your family is likely to be less than thrilled. Yes, they're likely to have faster speeds on 5GHz in some rooms, but then they get no 5GHz signal in others. That's because those higher frequency signals generally don't pass through walls quite as well as 2.4GHz. So they join the 2.4GHz SSID and leave it there, for coverage throughout the home, and less fuss. Silently suffering from lowers speeds and higher latency. Technology fail.

    If you use the same SSID for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz in your WiFi design, you have the benefit of ease-of-use. But for my home, this also mean that when you head out, then arrive back and get close to home, the 2.4GHz signal gets picked up first, so your phone likely then stays locked on that frequency.

    TinkerTry-Linksys-EA6900-UBNT-EdgeRouter-Lite-eero-cropped-close
    Click twice for a closer look at the powered-off Linksys EA6900, Ubiquiti Networks EdgeRouter Lite performing DHCP/DNS/VPN/routing, and one of three eeros doing just 802.11ac WiFi. FYI, 2 weeks later, the Linksys found a new home in my son's off-campus apartment, where only 30Mbps is available anyway.

    Time to find a better solution for my home

    The idea of a huge WiFi router with big antennas and considerable watt burn seems rather antiquated to me. This time around, I figured I'd seek out something a little more corporate in heritage, with multiple access points nearer to my family's devices. The thinking was better speeds in all rooms of course, but also potentially battery life for each of those gadgets, since less power is needed to juice up the WiFi circuitry when the AP (Access Point) are closer by. I also wanted something reasonably friendly to deploy and administer, since I'm also likely to be the guy replacing the WiFi in my family and friends houses soon enough.

    I had read a lot about the eero and the Luma in the numerous Home Server Show Forums, and heard podcaster Dave McCabe go over the pros and cons of each. With the very new Luma arriving at my home just in time for me to do a head-to-head comparison in my home, I was comfortable knowing that I would be able to get a sense of whether these admittedly costly solutions were worth it.

    For my single family home, blessed with full access to the basement and attic, wired networking is easy. I wasn't particularly concerned with mesh-style networking, where only one device uses the wired connection to the cable modem, and the rest use mesh WiFi to propage the signal from there. Instead, I really wanted wired connections to each of the 3 WiFi APs.

    There's reason to wonder whether each solution is really using that wired backhaul for access to the internet for each connected device, rather than the dedicated inter-device WiFi mesh network each device intelligently sets up with one another. Admittedly, such a mesh would be extremely handy in an apartment or home where hard-wiring is difficult or forbidden. Yep, there's huge value for many to just hook up an eero or Luma straight to the cable modem, then let the other two access points join up over WiFi automagically. That's how these products were designed to be deployed.

    Luma-and-eero-claims

    Luma claims

    Co-founder Dr. Paul Judge tells TechCrunch:

    We squeezed mesh networking, content filtering, mobile device management and cybersecurity into a little good looking device. Each device communicates with app via Bluetooth and helps you find the best place in your house to put it. The Lumas then all communicate wirelessly to build the ideal mesh network for your house. They communicate about traffic patterns and network interference then they automatically tune and reconfigure on the fly to optimize performance at all times.

    eero claims

    From the homepage:

    Hyper-fast. Super-simple. Brilliant WiFi.
    No more buffering. No more dead zones.
    eero is the world’s first home WiFi system. A set of three eeros covers the typical home. They work in perfect unison to deliver hyper-fast, super-stable WiFi to every square foot of your house. It’s simple to set up. Easy to manage. And gets better over time with new features and improved performance. Stream video, get work done, or swipe right in any room — not just next to your router. Finally. WiFi that actually works.

    Band steering

    See also SmallNetBuild's Reduce Wi-Fi Congestion With Band Steering. Wouldn't it be better if your WiFi system was smart enough to better handle the 2.4GHz versus 5GHz trade-off and hand-off?

    Prior to our family's recent WiFi upgrade, we were on a 802.11ac Linksys EA6900 router located on the 2nd floor, sporting 3 upgraded antennae. It was having some issues with large numbers of DHCP reservations, with the web UI freezing up.

    Moving up from one AP to the 3 AP eero, the end result has been significantly faster performance on all our devices throughout the house, including some dead-spots that briefly tested (and somewhat flakey) WiFi repeaters didn't really help.

    I'm fortunate to enjoy 300 Mbps down and 30 Mbps of internet service by Cox Communications. With the eero, as I would move about our home to test, speeds would fall to about 50 Mbps, likely as eero firmware decided it should move me to the better-wall-penetration 2.4GHz frequency. This way, it would maintain the connection to the internet, while keeping performance quite reasonable. Once I'd stay put in a spot for a minute or two, suddenly I'd get speeds kicked back upward of 130Mbps, as 5GHz was apparently then in use, and/or I was switched to a closer eero. This kind of behavior takes much better advantage of what this iPhone 6 Plus is capable of. Yay!

    I'm much happier with this smart switching behavior than I ever was with a traditional 2.4/5GHz router with the same SSID for both, since my devices would tend to stay stuck on the lower 2.4GHz frequency pretty much fulltime.

    But I need 1 million pps (packets-per-second) for Gigabit internet

    Being seriously skeptical whether any of these consumer devices could keep up with my gigabit internet plans, my somewhat lengthly DHCP reservations list, and my immediate need for a vSphere-friendly solution, I deviated from a normal Luma or eero install where you hook up the first device in these 3 packs directly to your cable modem, then the others get added later. Instead, I went with wiring all 3 of each brand to an efficient Netgear switch that's connected to the ETH1 LAN port of my ~$90 Ubiquiti Networks EdgeRouter Lite, which has proven to be a great choice for virtualization enthusiasts with an intermediate level network admin skills.

    My direct-wire choice is known as a downstream arrangement. This also meant that I preferred to put these WiFi access points in bridged mode for my tests, essentially disabling all their DNS and DHCP built-in functions. Just one flat network for my wired and wireless devices, with the wireless devices seamlessly joining the wired devices on the same network. This bridging mode happened automatically on the Luma, but was also quite simple to configure on the eero after the initial configuration was complete, as pictured below.

    Backhaul

    At the time of my testing, and of this article, the Luma's support for wired backhauls was unclear. So with increasing distance from the first Luma which is typically in a basement, speeds will likely fall.

    More important than backhaul capabilities for my family's seamless testing was this little-known issue, when trying to make the testing seamless...

    Luma doesn't support special characters for the WiFi password

    Big deal, right? Just choose another password. Well, if you're trying to test an alternative WiFi as seamlessly as possible, you want to stick with the same SSID (WiFi name) and complex password I had already set up years ago, then turn off the old router. This keeps everybody from having the annoyance of having to chance their configuration, automatically attaching to the new WiFi.

    This one shortcoming meant the Luma didn't get nearly as many devices or time tested in my home. Despite that password annoyance, we did at least test one representative device in each category, such as an iPhone, iPad, and Windows 10 laptop. I wanted to make the most of the brief couple of weeks where I had both eero and Luma on hand for testing. One-at-a-time, of course.

    eero offers a bit more IoT safety by using the guest network!

    Internet of Things can mean a lot of older 2.4GHz-only WiFi devices join your shiny new network. In those devices, security can become an afterthought, as the years go by and they're financially incented to sell you a new one, rather than patch what you got.

    Since such devices are often cloud-connected and have no business being on your home's network, wouldn't it be nice to cordon them off by placing them on your guest WiFi instead? Good thing the guest WiFi on the eero is so simple:

    The appeal of the Eero system is undeniable. There’s no need to hand out a complicated WPA2 passcode when your friends come over. Eero makes it easy to send tokens to your friends (via text message!) so they don’t have to type any password at all.

    Since there's no captive portal sign up for access to the guest network, devices like my ecobee 3 and Ring Video Doorbell Pro can be moved on over easily. Nice! This is exactly what I had said I had hoped for, back when I appeared on the Home Gadget Geeks podcast in May. Security concern alleviated.

    That said, these are all cloud managed WiFi devices, and I'm really not a fan of cloud-connected anything when it comes to managing my network packets.

    BOTTOM LINE

    From late July into early August of 2016, I found the eero 3 pack gave more reliable service and faster speeds than the Luma throughout my home, so I returned the internet-ordered Luma 3 pack to my local Best Buy. It's possible later later Luma firmware updates would resolve this, and it could turn out to be the better buy. This is just my personal experience, your results in your home will likely vary, and you may value Luma's family filters more than eero speeds.

    Luma-value-proposition-for-kids

    I really wanted the Luma to work out, given it's roughly $100 less than eero for a 3 pack, and is more full-featured, with advanced family-friendly filtering options for those that don't use bridged mode (most people), as explained in the screenshots below.

    I volunteered my wife to do a blind test of Linksys versus eero versus Luma, with my kids watching. But 3 WiFi losses-of-signal for about 15 seconds each during the Luma portion of the testing was more than enough for her to proclaim that her testing was done. The eero had won handily, especially for stability during hand-held gaming sessions where low latency was required, even when on the move. Nice to see full strength WiFi signal throughout the home now as well, and even into the back yard.

    I actually held a party with some friends recently, and gave out the guest WiFi details. We managed to have a Facetime with a distant friend while outdoors, for half an hour! No outdoor AP needed. The eero held up just fine.

    Bluetooth-logo

    Longer term, I suspect many more such multi-pack devices will arrive on the market that also feature super-easy deployment using Bluetooth and mobile apps, while also adding MU-MIMO capabilities. Yes, I'm admitting that a lot can and should change these next few years. Consumer WiFi just wasn't all that simple to set up and use, and finally that's changing. Luma and eero will likely have lots of competition, and prices may fall. It's about time!

    Order

    The eero 3 Pack is available at Amazon, Best Buy, or eero for ~$500 USD.

    The Luma 3 pack is available at Amazon, Best Buy, or Luma for ~$400 USD.

    If neither of these options prove to be a match for your needs and speeds, alternatives with a great reputation, enterprise focus, and even higher pricing include Ubiquiti UniFi AC Access Points and Rufus/Brocade Zoneflex. There's also the old-school ~$480 Linksys EA9500/RE700 combo, or the price-champion Amplifi HD for ~$349 to consider, as explained by WSJ.

    Video

    This quick lunchtime eero and Luma unboxing video below ends rather abruptly, but know that the Luma started up just fine a few seconds after the camera had stopped rolling. You'll also see that getting Luma to stand up straight on a surface is a bit challenging, but the included thin ribbons cable can help. If you choose Luma and have the need for additional cables, you may want to go with these ultra thin and flexible Monoprice SlimRun Cat6a cables.

    TinkerTry - "Unboxing and initial power up and config of eero and Luma WiFi 3 packs"
    Luma - "Luma. Surround WiFi with speed, safety and security"
    eero - "eero - Finally, WiFi that works"
    Wall Street Journal - "The Best Wi-Fi Routers For Tricky Homes." Published on Jul 20, 2016. New mesh routers from Eero, Luma, Ubiquiti and Linksys use teams of access points to bathe large or hard-to-network homes in Wi-Fi. WSJ personal tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler puts them to the test in a three-story Victorian.
    Home Server Show - "eero vs. luma vs. open mesh vs. ubiquiti on HSS 296"

    Aug 21 2016 Update

    One incident of WiFi signal disappearing for a few seconds was noticed today by a family member. I'm not sure why. I had intially thought it was just a firmware-related reboot, but those would normally happen during the night. I then confirmed I'm still at the same eero OS version v1.1.2 I've been at on all three APs for weeks now.

    This is actually the first such incident I can remember with the eero, despite heavy use for about a month now. If anything happens that's noteworthy later on, I'll add more updates to this article.


    See also at TinkerTry


    See also


    Screenshots

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    2016-08-21_22-00-46
    Wired connection fromn Windows 10/Chrome speedtest.dslreports.net results.
    iPhone6Plus-results-wireless-near-eero.PNG
    Wireless connection from iPhone 6 Plus to eero in same room, Safari speedtest.dslreports.net results.