Wi-Fi routers are a key gadget that many people don't understand. As many of us have settled in to working from home, and have become heavily dependent on our Internet connections, we might need to consider upgrading the tools and infrastructure we need for working, learning, and staying in touch remotely. One often overlooked piece of hardware that could make a big difference is your home router but what is the best one to buy, should you buy a mesh setup, and what's the difference between the letters n, ac, and ax in the names? Routers come in various shapes and sizes, with capabilities differentiated in terms of speeds and frequency bands supported, range, number of antennas, and of course price.
Gadgets 360 spoke with Vinay Shetty, Regional Director, Components Business, India and South Asia at Asus, to learn more about the market for home routers at present, and what the near future looks like.
Gadgets 360: How has the market for home routers and networking products changed since the beginning of the lockdown? Has working from home driven upgrades?
Vinay Shetty: The current work from home scenario has propelled the home router business not just globally but in India as well. Users now realise that it is important to not just have a strong Internet connection, but for its bandwidth to be equally distributed amongst users at home. Currently, on an average, a family of four has close to two devices per user; that's already eight connected devices. In addition, if you consider a smart TV and other smart devices or appliances that are connected to the Wi-Fi at home, it makes the demand of connectivity very high. So, the need to a have a good networking device is imperative. We are seeing an encouraging shift in dual-band router purchases along with existing customers upgrading from a single-band router to a dual-band router.
Gadgets 360: How price sensitive are most buyers of home routers? Which models are the most popular?
Vinay Shetty: Customers are largely price sensitive, but in the current scenario where a stable internet connection is a necessity while working or studying from home, customers are opting for quality and stability, even if it means paying a premium for it. Most of our dual-band range of routers in the price range of Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 5,000 have garnered the needed momentum, as well as our line of AiMesh routers that offer a wide array of features, making them a logical buy in the long run.
Gadgets 360: Do buyers adequately understand the differences between standards such as Wi-Fi 802.11n, 802.11ac, and 802.11ax? What actually pushes buyers to look beyond basic Internet connectivity and explore expensive routers?
Vinay Shetty: Modern buyers have to come understand the basic difference between Wi-Fi n and Wi-Fi ac/ax routers. For most users, what they objectively relate those terms with is the extent of connectivity throughout their homes, and they obtain this information from YouTube and other online platforms. The deciding factors users look for before switching from their existing routers to a better router that may or may not be expensive, is wide coverage, stable connectivity across devices, high security, and most importantly the ease of setting up. For example, we have a mobile app that uses a graphical user interface that makes it easy for any user to set up and control the router and give access to a new user.
Gadgets 360: Has the shift to a number scheme, ie Wi-Fi 6, and retrospective branding for Wi-Fi 5/4/etc caused any confusion?
Vinay Shetty: A very human understanding for any new technology has been the higher the number, the newer the technology. The branding collateral for this latest generation of Wi-Fi, like any new technology, indicates the leaps over the existing Wi-Fi 5/ 4 etc.
Gadgets 360: What factors motivate people to upgrade their routers? Especially for those who get a free basic one from their ISP.
Vinay Shetty: Basic routers provided by all ISPs only serve the purpose of having a functional Internet connection. Over the course of time, using these basic routers, people become aware of their limitations in terms of bandwidth distribution, coverage, and security against Internet attacks. Consumer routers, especially the feature-rich ones, are the unsung heroes of the tech ecosystem. The WFH situation has underlined this. Everyone with a router wants a stable Internet connection with consistent speed and good coverage throughout their home. People have also understood the importance of Internet security and protection against malware and internet fraud.
Gadgets 360: What is the uptake of mesh router kits? Are potential buyers aware of how these work and what the benefits and tradeoffs are? Are the cost and perceived complexity serious deterrents?
Vinay Shetty: Yes, people are becoming more and more aware of the concept and functionality of mesh networking technology. This helps to eliminate dead zones, lower your ping, and extend your connectivity range. Our digital media and social media platforms help us reach, inform, and educate our user base. As far as the cost is concerned, you can get a dedicated mesh or SOHO mesh system starting from Rs. 8,000, depending on the user requirement. Currently, we are the only manufacturer that offers the flexibility of using two or more ASUS AiMesh compatible models not belonging to the same series to form a comprehensive mesh system.
Gadgets 360: What does the future of the market look like? What innovations or new tech can we look forward to in the home networking space?
Vinay Shetty: We've already seen the integration of a Bluetooth speaker with Amazon Alexa in a router, then RGB LED lighting in our new ROG line of routers. Our product marketing team is working closely with our R&D team on a few exciting projects in the consumer and home networking space, which you will have the opportunity to see in late 2021.