Ubiquiti Networks, best known for building enterprise- and service-provider networking solutions, announced today it's formed a new division, Ubiquiti Labs, to research and develop consumer electronics devices. Ubiquiti Labs’ first product—dubbed AmpliFi—will be a $199 802.11ac router that will come with two pre-paired range extenders in the box when it ships this summer.
The company plans to offer two higher-end models as well. In a briefing last week, Ubiquiti Labs’ VP of Business Development Keenan Lewis told me “AmpliFi is our solution to the chronic Wi-Fi problems of the modern connected home. And homes are becoming ever more connected. A family of four can easily have 15 to 20 connected devices when you consider smartphones, tablets, and connected appliances. Consumers are looking for something more powerful than what’s been available.”
“The number of devices in people’s houses is only going to increase,” added Ubiquiti Labs’ Director of Business Development Safi Mojaddidi. “We wanted to take a route with our design process where you’d put this thing in your living room—you’re not hiding it because it has 18 antennas sticking out.” So the AmpliFi’s industrial design is a roughly four-inch white cube with a touchscreen LCD on one face (actual dimensions are 3.91x3.85x3.92 inches). Or as the company’s press release describes it, the router “…is a stunning desktop piece featuring a glowing base LED and a smart LCD display.” Oh boy.
No mesh network, range extenders are 802.11n
The range extenders, on the other hand, most definitely have an antenna. But these are designed to be plugged directly into electrical sockets, so they’ll blend in (if you have light-colored walls, that is). The extenders have built-in, four-bar signal-strength LEDs and adjustable high-gain antennas so that you can dial in the strongest signal possible. Unlike the Eero and Luma routers, the AmpliFi and its range extenders do not form a mesh network, but “the handoff from the extenders to the router will be seamless,” Mojaddidi said. To accomplish this trick, Ubiquiti has adopted the technology from its popular enterprise-class UniFi Wi-Fi platform and cost-reduced it for the consumer market.
Buyers won’t need a computer to set up an AmpliFi router, they’ll just install an app on their Android or iOS smartphone or tablet and pair that device to the router’s Bluetooth radio. “Installation will be plug and play,” said Mojaddidi. “The router and the two range extenders are pre-paired at the factory, so you just plug them in.” The only button on the router will be to reset it to its factory configuration.
The base-model AmpliFi is a dual-band, 3x3, AC1750 router delivering maximum theoretical throughput of 1300Mbps on the 5GHz frequency band and up to 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. Its radio has maximum transmit power of 24dBm. The radios in the range extenders produce 22dBm of transmit power, but these are only dual-band, 2x2, 802.11n devices that deliver maximum throughput of 300Mbps each on the 2.4- and 5GHz frequency bands.
Three models planned
Ubiquiti Labs will eventually deliver two additional SKUs beyond the base model. The $299 AmpliFi LR will deliver longer-range wireless performance thanks to its higher transmit power (26dBm in the router and 24dBm in the extender). As with the base model, the range extenders in this kit are dual-band, 2x2, 802.11n, 300Mbps devices. The company says its $349 AmpliFi HD is designed for high-density environments. The radio in this router boasts transmit power of 26dBm, and it will be the only one of the three to have dual-band, 3x3, 802.11ac range extenders with radios that also deliver 26dBm of transmit power. It will support data rates up to 1300Mbps on the 5GHz band and up to 450Mbps on the 2.4GHz band.
The 1.6-inch color LCD touchscreen will default to displaying a clock, but it can also display your Wi-Fi connection speeds and other information. “We wanted something that would let the user interface with the device,” said Mojaddidi, “and we wanted it to fit into the home.”
Unlike some routers that hope to land a spot in your living room versus your closet, the AmpliFi router will have a four-port gigabit ethernet switch, as consumer routers have had for as long as most of us can remember. Photos of the router show a USB port, too, but it’s not mentioned in the data sheet Ubiquiti provided so I don’t know what function it will perform.
Why this matters: Ubquiti isn’t the first enterprise networking company to make a foray into the consumer market. Cisco famously acquired Linksys in 2003, but the two companies’ cultures never really jelled and Linksys was sold to Belkin in 2013. The brand has thrived at its new home. Ubiquiti is a midget compared to Cisco (with market capitalization of $3 billion, compared to Cisco’s $132 billion), will it fare any better in this space?
Ubiquiti Labs is a homegrown effort within Ubiquiti, so culture clash shouldn’t be an issue. And smaller companies are almost always more nimble and quicker to adapt than larger ones. The bigger question is does Ubiquiti understand how different the home-networking market is from the enterprise? Its AmpliFi router series isn’t based on the fastest 802.11ac technology, they don’t support multi-user MIMO and they don’t form mesh networks. The fact that its range extenders are based on older 802.11n technology is even more intriguing.
We’ll also be interested to hear what D-Link thinks of Ubiquiti’s AmpliFi brand name, since that company previously marketed a line of routers with the same name, but without the internal capitalization: the D-Link Amplifi HD Media Router 1000 (DIR-657), for instance, was introduced in 2011. Mojaddidi assured me this wouldn’t be an issue when I asked him about it, and I’m not predicting failure here, just making observations. Ubiquiti is expected to ship its products this summer, so we won’t have to wait long to put them to the test.