If ever there was an undervalued and unloved category of technology it has to be the home router. Even the name - which it shares with a carpentry tool - is awful. Aesthetically, home WiFi routers have always been the pits - awkward lumps of plastic with lights and telescopic aerials, they still tend to stick out like an ugly sore thumb in any domestic setting. Surely it’s time that Apple or perhaps Ikea took them in hand?
Perhaps such a makeover will soon come because the router - and the home WiFi it supports - is now the service provider ‘front end’ for many households and getting more important by the day as WiFi speeds soar and applications multiply.
There’s the rising tide of connected home gadgets - connected via Wifi; home security systems; smartphone use at home (invariably over WiFi, especially if heavy-lifting file downloads are required); home computing and Web surfing and online TV watching. In the UK we’re even seeing the introduction of WiFi calling, so the plastic telephone which has for so long been the telco presence in the home may be about to be usurped by the blinking black box.
According to forecasts from IDC, by 2017, consumers worldwide will be using 9.8 billion home devices - most of which will be wanting to connect to a WiFi router.
It’s fitting then that one of the market leaders, Linksys, has seized the opportunity today of its having sold more than 100 million routers (both wired and wireless) worldwide since 1999, to exercise a little celebratory chest-puffing.
Linksys shipped its first consumer-grade router, the EtherFast broadband Cable/DSL router then and now, only 16 years later, it has more than 60 different router models under its belt connecting millions of people and devices to the Internet.
This numbers game, says Linksys (hopefully) puts the router in company with all the other great consumer product categories, such as “smartphones, game consoles, MP3 players, tablets and e-readers”.
Could we soon see ISPs starting to use the home router as a service differentiator, in much the way that smartphones have served mobile service providers? Maybe, but in terms of ‘easy-to-use and configure’, in my experience the WiFi router has some way to go before it will really be loved like an iPhone.
Have a look at Linksys’ infographic on its HUGE router line since 1999
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