We’ve written extensively about a variety of new mesh-based Wi-Fi solutions that are designed to replace both your router and access points, while providing whole home access to the internet. Most of them are clearly easier-to-use than existing solutions, but they’ve tended to be premium priced if you didn’t grab them as an early Kickstarter backer. Startup Plume introduced a less-expensive alternative earlier this year, and is now delivering on its promise. The company is shipping pre-sales orders, and the product is available for sale.
Plume looks inexpensive, but you may need more devices
Plume initially announced that its pods would be $ 49 each when they shipped, which was definitely a bargain price. The price has crept up, and is now $ 69 for a single pod, $ 179 for three, and $ 329 for six. That’s still a discount compared with the competition like Eero, Luma, and Orbi, at least per unit. However, while most of those solutions call for two or three devices for a typical home, Plume suggests around twice that many. Because it is designed to be used wirelessly, Plume devices need to share their bandwidth between the connection to the internet and the Wi-Fi signal. Unlike the more expensive Orbi, they don’t have any custom back channel. The result is a compromise in performance for the added convenience of not needing to run additional Ethernet cables. Plume’s pods do active channel management, so they will adapt to each other, and to other potential sources of conflicting Wi-Fi signals to try to optimize throughput.
Easy setup, but with the usual caveats
Plume’s simple smartphone-based setup is definitely user-friendly, but you’ll need an internet connection to your smartphone to run it. That sounds like an issue for anyone in a remote location. Similarly, those used to hacking router control panels may find the app somewhat limiting. I expect that to improve over time as additional advanced features are rolled out. While many families will enjoy the ease of smartphone configuration, some will instead want a more traditional web browser interface.
Look for updates to round out Plume’s feature set
Plume currently supports firewall, DHCP, and NAT, as you’d expect. Each unit has router hardware, but it is only used by the pod that is connected to your modem. Alternatively, you can keep your existing router and use the pods, as you can with most of its competitors, as access points only. Plume plans to add support for DHCP reservations and port forwarding in a software update shortly after launch. Quality of Service (QoS) is implemented through Wi-Fi prioritization.
Plume’s biggest strength is clever, unobtrusive pods that will blend into any room, along with dead-simple installation. Each pod’s somewhat limited range means you’ll need to make sure you have AC power in or close to each location where you need Wi-Fi, though.