Nokia, once a leading seller of cell phones, lost its allure as a consumer brand when it faltered in the early years of smartphones. But Nokia still makes and sells networking equipment to businesses, and it’s been using some of that technology to try to forge a pathway back into our lives. Its Beacon 3 mesh router, first announced and shipped in 2018, is one example of that.
Now Nokia is launching a new version of the router, one that’s supposed to appeal to more cost-conscious people who don’t need a bunch of beacons in their home. It’s also taking direct aim at the user-friendly routers offered by Google and Eero (which is now a part of Amazon).
Called the Beacon 1, it’s a singular device that can act as either a router or a beacon for other devices in a mesh network. It’s also “self-healing,” which means it automatically executes channel-switching when your network connection is shoddy.
A single Nokia Beacon 1 costs $130 and is selling on Amazon. This isn’t necessarily a steal when compared to products like Eero or Google WiFi—those are most often sold in three-packs for $250 to $400—but Nokia is hoping that the Beacon 1 will sell as a stand-alone product or an add-on to something like the Beacon 3 package (which is currently $450 on Amazon.)
“Beacon 1 is supposed to be the affordable, entry-level one,” says Justin Doucette, head of Nokia Wi-Fi. “People want multiple access points, but they don’t necessarily need huge $500 routers for their home.”
The Beacon 1 doesn’t appear to be that much more diminutive than the Beacon 3. But it is slimmer and sandwiched-shaped, not cylindrical like the Beacon 3. The new device also includes a lot of the same technology as the older Beacon 3. It uses Nokia’s proprietary mesh-networking tech, and it supports dual-band concurrent Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n 2×2 2.4 GHz and 802.11n/ac 2×2 5 GHz).
It also has what Nokia calls intelligent channel selection, which means it will automatically optimize for your network connection, relying on one channel when you first wake up and another for when it’s 8 pm and you’re streaming Netflix. This is not a new thing in the broader world of routers and beacons—nor is Nokia’s method of processing information both on the device itself and in the cloud in order to optimize the whole experience—but it puts the Beacon 1 on par with other, newer smart-home devices.
And, of course, it has a mobile app. (What would a modern Wi-Fi router be without one?) This is supposed to give you insight into what’s going on with your home Wi-Fi network and make it easier to control Wi-Fi access for kids and guests.
What might be more interesting is why Nokia has decided to produce routers and sell them directly to consumers, and what the company thinks its unique advantage is. Nokia frequently partners with internet service providers and makes most of its money selling equipment to other businesses. The company thinks it can use the information it gathers from its relatively small consumer business and use that to improve its other products.
“Consumers experience home Wi-Fi issues due to things like inadequate hardware, network interruptions, or non-Wi-Fi-related interference,” Doucette says. “Maybe there’s a giant water heater between where their router is and where they’re trying to get internet. Understanding that and solving those environmental issues will also help our B2B customers.”
In other words, home Wi-Fi routers and beacons cough up a lot of data about your internet activity that’s valuable to both equipment makers and service providers. That kind of data is valuable to companies like Google and Amazon too, which is something else to keep in mind when the next router comes to market that is positioned as a really good deal.
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