Anyone who's experienced slow-loading videos and seemingly never-ending downloads knows the pain of a poor WiFi connection. It's a problem many are trying to solve (just take a look at Starry and OnHub), but newcomer Plume thinks they have the solution: magic internet jewels.
Advocating for users to ditch their router, Plume is introducing a system of faceted WiFi-powered nuggets that they believe will revolutionize WiFi distribution. The system works through a series of small pods that can be plugged into any outlet and placed around the home. Through a centralized router in the cloud, these pods coordinate to optimize the flow of bandwidth to the devices that are using it.
The concept first arose when technology pioneers Fahri Diner, Aman Singla, Adam Hotchkiss and Sri Nathan got together at the end of 2014. With their collective achievements in the field of technology including long-distance fiber optic networks and a WiFi chip that's now more common in phones than the Facebook app, the crew was more than equipped to tackle the challenges of spotty WiFi coverage. Together they came up with a better way of distributing WiFi around the house by moving the dynamic "brain" function to the cloud and placing links to the source, in the form of little pods, in every room of the home. "We refer to this as 'Adaptive WiFi,'" says Diner, now CEO at Plume.
While traditional routers have two functions, compute and radio, Plume works by deconstructing the router and separating these two responsibilities. "We've moved the compute functions to the cloud, where processing power is scalable, powerful and inexpensive," Diner says. "In the cloud, decisions can be made about channels, bandwidth and connected devices. We've left the radio functions in the home, making them smaller, so that they can be sprinkled all around the house for better WiFi coverage."
Thanks to the abundant power of the cloud (hello, 2016), the Plume team says that the system is able to self-optimize the WiFi network for each home, balancing the bandwidth needs of various devices and learning their habits over time. "Adaptive WiFi doesn't just respond to events in real-time, such as neighbors getting home and WiFi becoming congested," Diner says. "Plume is intelligent enough to learn, for example, that someone watches a 4K stream on a TV in the living room at 7PM on Wednesdays, and will automatically configure your home's WiFi in advance of 7PM to ensure that the streaming won't buffer."
With this concept in mind, Plume teamed up with San Francisco-based design studio Branch Creative to give it shape and form. "The shape was inspired by the simple idea that these products need to work together as part of a greater system," says Josh Morenstein, a partner at the studio. "Until they are deployed throughout your home, the identical pods nest and ship beautifully and efficiently together." Resembling small chunks of plastic crystals broken off a magical internet-bestowing geode, the pods arrive in a lined box in sets of six.
"Once the concept was selected we worked through hundreds of sketches and models to bring the concept to reality while preserving the design intent," says Nick Cronan, another partner at the studio. "When creating a new piece of technology, there should always be a healthy push and pull between design and engineering—when both the design and engineering teams are excited, you know you have something special."
That push and pull was very much real. "One big challenge was to keep the design free from overly functional details—things like holes for vents and ribs for cooling," Morenstein says in a statement that would make any engineer cringe. The Branch team wanted the pods to be "more akin to home furnishings than something associated with consumer electronics." The designers also pushed for the pods to be as small as possible to convey the magic of their technology.
"Designers are usually pushing for things to be smaller and this was no exception," Cronan says. "However, in this case size was even more critical because the Pods are placed directly in outlets, where space is already at a premium. The Pods are designed to fit international standards for wall outlets without monopolizing the entire wall plug."
Meanwhile, the Plume team had hundreds of components they needed to fit in Branch's idealistic design. "It required meticulous precision," Diner says on the internal hardware. "Everything is considered, even down to the screw size and length." Balancing that push and pull proved to be one of the biggest challenges of the project as Branch pushed for the pods to be perceived as small gems, while functional requirements of the small electronics pulled against those limits.
Despite hundreds of components, the Plume team assures us that the hardware inside the pods isn't especially complex. "Our chips aren't as muscular as some of the more expensive centralized routers you might find on the market, but we don't believe putting all the WiFi horsepower in one location of the house is the best architecture," Diner says. "Instead, each home is covered by multiple, distributed WiFi pods, delivering comprehensive coverage through coordination with the Plume cloud. We hold 15 issued patents, with another 24 patents pending, for our Adaptive WiFi platform."
Antennas for 5GHz and 2.4GHz have been custom designed and tuned to perform as well as larger WiFi routers, even when crammed into the small, individual pods. Adaptive WiFi algorithms were refined and perfected using data over the past few months, and the team says they will continue to improve once they're out in the world on a larger scale.
"Many router manufacturers are focusing on the wrong thing: bigger size and more power from a single unit," Diner says. "But that approach is just like trying to light an entire home using one light bulb in the living room. We knew that our approach to WiFi—moving the router to the cloud—was not only going to give us infinitely better performance, it was going to give us a new kind of freedom in our design."
The entire network of pods is controlled through an app that lets users control who can use the WiFi as well as track speeds and add or remove additional pods. "Our mission was to make home WiFi better, faster, more reliable and beautiful, and we got to design something from scratch in order to do so," Diner says.
The Plume networks are currently available for pre-order through Plume's website at $39 per pod with a minimum order of six pods (a final pricetag of $234). Clever. They also come in classy tones like champagne, silver and onyx. While the concept sounds promising (and I much enjoy the idea of putting tiny inexpensive internet jewels throughout my apartment), I'm eager to hear reviews from folks once these roll out.
Don't have an account? Join Now
Create a Core77 Account
Already have an account? Sign In
Please enter your email and we will send an email to reset your password.