In my recent USA TODAY column, I talked about the coming sea-change in home Wi-Fi. Consumers, I said, want to buy routers that just work. They want connectivity anywhere they go in their home. They want the network to be efficient, self-managed and secure. And they want the hardware to be brain-dead easy to set up.
Now, finally, new routers are coming available to meet this demand. And all but one are from startups or relative newcomers to the home router market. The exception: Orbi, from Netgear.
Why is Netgear heading into this new segment? And how serious is the market leader about pursuing it? Thus far, other established suppliers seem content to stand pat, offering only traditional router lineups that cater more to hard-core gamers and technophiles than to everyday consumers.
Recently, I had a chance to chat with Patrick Lo, Netgear Chairman and CEO, and David Henry, Senior Vice President for Home Networking Products, about the state of the router market, as well as their new Orbi product line. I came away convinced that they have a sense for just how big this new product direction could become. But Lo cautioned against being too optimistic before consumers have had a chance to get familiar.
“This is a completely new market,” Lo told me. “So we really don’t know yet how customers are going to react.”
Lo and Henry said they believed that the Orbi system offers advantages over the existing competitors in this new space. For example, the system costs $399 rather than $499, which is what the higher-priced pioneers cost. As well, they said Orbi is the only system available today that dedicates a separate radio for network management operations, which results in better coverage and higher data rates.
Though early systems are selling well, Lo pointed out that early offerings in this nascent category are still pretty expensive. He said to watch for Netgear to fill out the price points for the Orbi line, though he wouldn’t disclose when that would happen.
Lo did say he believes that, once Orbi is available at mainstream price points, the new segment could “blossom into a pretty sizable category.”
I couldn’t agree more.