By Jennifer Pattison Tuohy, a smart home reviewer who’s been testing connected gadgets since 2013. Previously a writer for Wirecutter, Wired, and BBC Science Focus.
If you’ve been eyeing your Echo smart speaker for a while now and wondering if it could do something more than just play music or set a timer for your toast, I have good news. Amazon is turning it into an extender for your Eero mesh Wi-Fi network.
The capability to push your Wi-Fi a few hundred feet further around your home and make it easier to connect smart home devices like outdoor cameras and that streaming media stick in the spare bedroom is a feature of Amazon’s new Echo Dot and Echo Dot with Clock speakers, announced today.
But the feature is also coming to the fourth-gen Echo speakers on October 20th and to all fourth-gen Echo Dot models via a software update “in the coming months,” Nick Weaver, CEO and co-founder of Eero, told The Verge in an interview.
Eero, which is owned by Amazon, also announced a new internet backup service for its system, which will be part of its $9.99 a month Eero Plus subscription service (previously called Eero Secure Plus).
The Wi-Fi extender feature, known as Eero Built-in, uses Eero’s TrueMesh software technology and will be free to enable on compatible Echo speakers. It should be an easy way to expand the coverage and range of an existing Eero network without shelling out for another Eero access point.
Enabled Echo devices can add up to 1,000 square feet of coverage per device to an existing Eero network, supporting speeds of up to 100Mbps — more than enough to stream in 4K or take an HD video call.
Weaver said the technology uses the Wi-Fi radios in the speakers, which are all dual-band capable, to find the strongest connection and then extends that. “We figured out how to take the Eero TrueMesh and port that to the silicon running in those Echos,” he said. “It’s a new chipset; it’s a very constrained device, so there’s lots of optimization here to deliver this incremental range and 100Mbps of performance.”
“They won’t give the same speed and performance as an Eero network, but they will give you just a little bit more coverage for your devices.”
From a connectivity perspective, any of the compatible models provide comparable performance, said Weaver, but they are not on the same level as adding another Eero access point. “They won’t give the same speed and performance as an Eero network, but they will give you just a little bit more coverage for your devices.”
To work, the Eero network will need to be linked to an Amazon account through the Eero app, and Eero can then automatically detect compatible Echos. You can then turn them on and off individually in the Eero app if you don’t want them to be extenders. For example, if you have two Echo Dots being used as a stereo pair, they can’t also be Wi-Fi extenders — the technologies use the same radios — so you would have to choose.
Weaver says there is a bit of latency with the Echo extenders, as it’s a mesh hop, but he says it’s minimal — “a couple of milliseconds.”
Currently, the feature is only available on the fifth-gen Dots that were announced today and will be coming to the fourth-gen Echo Dots and standard Echo. It isn’t on the Echo Show smart displays. Weaver says they are looking to expand the Eero Built-in program to more devices in the future.
In the meantime, having an Echo Dot be an easy-to-use Wi-Fi extender will certainly further Amazon’s ambitions to have its virtual assistant-powered smart speaker in every room of your home.
Eero is bringing the internet backup feature it launched last year with the Ring Alarm Pro (a security system with an Eero Wi-Fi router built in) to all its systems. This lets you wirelessly connect an Eero network to a backup internet source, such as a mobile phone hotspot, helping keep things online when the primary internet goes down.
Once set up in the Eero app, the backup system will automatically connect to any available backup source you designate when the main service goes offline. It should then automatically switch back when the primary service comes back. You can select multiple backup sources, from a phone hotspot to a nearby Wi-Fi network.
You can also choose which devices will use the backup to limit data use or opt to have everything in the home stay connected.
Eero Internet Backup will be available in “the coming months” to select ISP customers and all Eero Plus subscribers. Previously called Eero Secure Plus, Eero Plus costs $9.99 per month, or $99.99, per year and also includes advanced parental controls, network insights, and DDNS as well as subscriptions to Malwarebytes, 1Password, and Encrypt.me.
Update Wednesday, September 28th, 12:50PM: Added details on Eero’s new backup internet feature.
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