Wireless Networking

Plume Podifies Home WiFi

Plume last week introduced its eponymous self-optimizing WiFi system for the home.

Plume adapts in real life to the different network demands made by various devices and ensures that each gets the fastest speeds possible, according to the company.

The recommended setup is one pod per room and connecting space, such as a hallway, plus any cable or DSL modem or any modem/router combination. Users simply download the Plume app on Android or iOS to activate the system.

Plume can work with users’ existing routers, but the company recommends replacing them with its pods.

The pods cost $39 now, during Plume’s pre-sale; they will cost $49 later.

“Right now, for many of us, the bottleneck is the network,” noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“I’m changing out my cable modem for the second time in a month, but the promise is a 3x improvement in bandwidth for only a (US)$10 increase in my monthly bill, so it’s worth it,” he told TechNewsWorld.

How Plume’s System Works

Plume monitors WiFi activity through its pods, which feed the data back to the Plume Cloud.

The Cloud recognizes usage patterns on all devices and remembers the routine behavior of interfering WiFi networks such as, for example, when a neighbor watches sports on a Sunday afternoon.

The pods use the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, and algorithms in the Plume Cloud figure out which bands to use for each device to maximize data speeds.

Plume “isn’t really doing away with a router,” said Mike Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“It’s distributing the router functionality among many nodes that collaborate to provide connectivity,” he told TechNewsWorld, and then it capitalizes on 802.11n’s bifrequency capabilities to manage the channel assignments as devices traverse the network, using “a certain amount of intermodal communication to make this go.”

You can do the same thing with conventional WiFi using WiFi extenders, Jude pointed out, “but the hopping is left to the wireless device to figure out.”

In essence, Plume is “treating WiFi as a cellular network, where each pod is kind of like a mini-cell site,” he explained. “That’s what’s clever about this.”

The traffic dynamics are different from those of cell networks, but allowing pods to collaborate on channel assignment to moving devices “starts to look like cell site hopping,” Jude said.

Placing multiple WiFi routers around a house slaved to the primary router achieves better coverage and bandwidth, “but that’s wicked expensive,” said Enderle, who knows from firsthand experience.

Plume “appears to use the same approach but with a set of access points designed to work together, both making setup easier and cost lower,” he said.

Plume has a built-in class of service parameters, “which means things that need priority will likely get it,” Enderle pointed out.

Gunning for the Connected Home

“Year over year, we see an increasing number of mobile data devices in the home, so, as everything connects, the traditional home router starts to get a little anxious,” Frost’s Jude said.

“Consumers who have a lot of connected devices in many room would benefit from something like this,” he said, “and as smart homes become more common, this would provide a flexible platform on which to build smart home functionality.”

Plume’s solution “would be a ton cheaper” than Enderle’s current installation, which consists of a $400 primary router and three satellite routers costing over $300 apiece “to get a similar solution,” he observed.

The advantage of Plume’s offering is that it’s “fast, relatively inexpensive, and solves what likely is the biggest problem in the home — coverage,” Enderle noted. “The disadvantage is that it doesn’t include some of the latest technologies, which [come at a] vastly higher price.”

In the end, “what [Plume] does may be good enough for most, and at a price that’s relatively affordable, he said.

How well Plume will do depends on how well it’s marketed, Enderle added. “Often little companies like this don’t survive because they’re too different, and they can’t get the word out.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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