Suddenly, WiFi Routers Are Hot for Disruption

Cisco Systems Inc. and rival networking giants spent more than a decade trying to build big profits in the consumer and small business router markets. But many of those efforts had mixed results... and the overall low-end router market has been a sleepy, slow-growth industry for quite some time. But that may be about to change. Dramatically.

The big news comes from two unexpected places. First, the new Google OnHub for consumers. Second, Datto and the DNA (Datto Network Appliance) router for small businesses.

Mike Elgan and I covered the surprise OnHub announcement and its potential market implications a bit during the opening of yesterday's TNT show:

Google OnHub

In the official Google blog, the search giant says OnHub is designed for the home -- with specialized hardware and software to ensure OnHub chooses airwaves that avoid interference. Instead of forcing you to use a browser for setup, OnHub has Apple iOS and Android support to get you going. It's pretty darn clear OnHub will push far beyond laptop, smartphone, tablet and PC desktop connectivity. This is an overall IoT (Internet of Things) effort from Google.

OnHub is available for pre-order ($199) and will surface in U.S. and Canadian retail stores in the next few weeks, Google indicated.

Small Business Routers

Meanwhile, Datto -- a fast-growth company focused mainly on business continuity -- is expected to push into the router market in the next few weeks.

The alleged background: CEO Austin McChord apparently got really frustrated with consumer and small business routers, and decided to do something about it.

McChord is a classic IT entrepreneur in every sense of the term. I believe he started Datto in his parents' basement. After success in the backup and disaster recovery (BDR) market, McChord apparently has spent the past year engineering and refining DNA (Datto Network Appliance) -- a next generation router that's easy to manage and configure, the company has publicly stated.

While I haven't spoken with Datto or McChord about the router, chatter around the industry says it's nearly launch time for DNA -- which will specifically target small businesses.

Frustrating Market

All this chatter comes at an interesting time -- particularly for me. I spent the weekend struggling to link a new WiFi range extender to my existing home WiFi network. A nagging security issue prevented the connection. And I'm certainly too darn stubborn (or cheap) to call Best Buy Geek Squad for any help.

I suspect I'm not alone. The consumer and small business router markets are filled with products. Aggressive price cuts are the norm. But intuitive "power up and go" products have been hard to find. Even Cisco Systems Inc. ultimately threw in the towel, selling off its Linksys consumer router line to Belkin and retreating to higher-margin enterprise solutions in 2013.

In the home market, I wonder if Amazon, Facebook and other Internet giants will join Google in the race to build better connectivity products. And in the small business market, I wonder if any additional upstarts beyond Datto will try to change the world of routing for the better.

In the meantime, my home WiFi issues remain unresolved. The horror. The horror.

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