I was initially excited earlier this week when I heard the Wi-Fi Alliance introduced EasyMesh, a mesh networking standard that promised to deliver “greater flexibility in device choice” for home networks. Now that the initial euphoria has faded, however, I’m not so sure that this news really means that much. It might be too late for a true mesh network standard.
To be sure, the Wi-Fi EasyMesh news brings the promise to fix many of the network issues that Stacey recently wrote about. There are a number of smart devices that weren’t designed for mesh networks which combine both the 2.4 and 5 GHz channels into a single network, which is why certain doorbells or cameras that require a unique network name and channel combination might have connectivity issues. Re-designing these devices to use the certified EasyMesh standard could help.
But the main thrust of this news is the ability to blend routers and access points from different mesh network providers in a single location. Sounds great! But the devil’s in the details.
The current mesh network devices from Google, Linksys, Netgear, Eero, Plume and others didn’t wait for the Wi-Fi Alliance to get to this point. That’s why they created their own methods of mesh networking a few years back, although in fairness, some do use at least parts of the 802.11s mesh networking standard. But none of these currently work together in a mixed device environment. And that’s by design.
Each vendor has their own software, algorithms for network load balancing, steps for adding more access points, etc… And there’s not a list of common features between the group. Some may support guest networks or “family time” where you can disable the network on a schedule, and some many not. All of them, to my knowledge, also have a setup process that requires you to create an account during the installation process. How will that work in a multi-vendor mesh network situation? Surely, requiring multiple accounts to set up a single network takes the “easy” part out of EasyMesh.
Then there’s the incentive for change. After developing their own individual mesh network solutions, why would a current hardware maker invest in adopting the EasyMesh standards that might help its competitors sell more routers or access points? By allowing support for a mix-and-match mesh network, that’s what’s going to happen to the first device maker that does adopt EasyMesh: It won’t help their bottom line much, if at all, because a competing access point brand can reap the extra sales.
Maybe all of the Wi-Fi Alliance members who make mesh networking gear decide to truly ally and have a joint rollout of EasyMesh. That might solve the problem. Well, it would if all of the mesh network brands actually were members of the Wi-Fi Alliance. Most of them are but a noticeable exception is Eero, who makes very popular mesh networking gear.
When asked about EasyMesh, given that they’re not a Wi-Fi Alliance member, here’s what Eero told us via email:
“At eero [sic], our focus is on creating the most secure and reliable WiFi experience for everyone. We’re excited to see new innovation in the WiFi space, especially innovation in mesh. We will continue to follow the draft development of the WiFi Alliance’s EasyMesh. For now, we’re fully devoted to TrueMesh, the most reliable and secure mesh available to consumers today.”
So it appears that Eero is taking a look-and-see approach. And that’s smart of it. According to Grand View Research, global spending on the mesh network market approached $5.3 billion in 2016 and sales are expected to hit $11.1 billion by 2025. Those are big numbers and solid growth for sure. But the Eeros of the mesh networking world have been doing just fine with a “closed” mesh system so far, and although I prefer device choice, I don’t see much changing any time soon.