Saturday, July 21, 2018

Plume Superpods Wi Fi Mesh -Amazing Speed and Coverage

Like most,  I've had a single router pumping out WiFi to the whole house for years.  My ASUS RT-AC87R is fed a diet of 1Gb up/down from CenturyLink fiber.

Yet, the 400Mbs I clock on my iPhone X in my home office right next to the router, drops to just 15Mbs in the opposite side of the house.  On a good day!

Another Fine Mesh.
Mesh networks use two or more intelligent access points working in concert to fill every part of a building or home with high speed WiFi.  The mesh AP's use a high speed back haul channel for passing data with a dedicated radio, or hard wire Ethernet connection.  The back haul does not take away bandwidth from your WiFi devices.  And mesh AP's can intelligently and seamlessly hand off your mobile device or laptop if you move from room to room.

They also can use different channels so as to not interfere with each other.  The result is amazingly fast speeds even in the remotest parts of your house.

Up until about 2015 mesh was the domain of corporate wireless networks.   
Plume SuperPods
Plume SuperPods, small, intelligent, elegant, affordable, powerful, expandable.


Plume released it's original "Pods" just over a year ago.  Now they have the SuperPods, which are much faster.  These tiny devices are all alike and plug into your wall outlet.  They are not using your AC power line for transmission, however.  They use WiFi as described above.

The first generation Pods got middle of the pack reviews.  But the new SuperPods, which were released in mid-2018, are said to be among the best and fastest home mesh systems according to Ars Technica and Mac Geek Gab.

My Set Up Experience.
I got a bundle with three SuperPods.  The Pods are identical, so you just choose one and plug it in either to your modem, or into a router which is in turn connected to your modem.  With the latter choice, the Plume pods intelligently sense this and switch to bridge mode to work as access points.   That way they don't compete with the router to assign IP addresses to your devices.

I decided for now to leave my existing ASUS router to do the routing, and connected the first SuperPod to it via by the ethernet LAN port.  Within seconds it configured itself and automatically linked to the network and to the app on my phone.

I gave it a name by holding the iPhone a few inches away until it recognized it and brought up a dialogue box.  I assigned it the name "Office."  Then I plugged in the other two pods, dubbing them Hallway and Family Room.

The set up for password and network name is all handled on the mobile app and is by far the easiest I have ever done.  It took less than 30 seconds.

In less than 15 minutes the entire Plume mesh system was installed in my house and ready to connect my various devices.

The result.
In the worst location speeds climbed up to 400Mbs as the network optimized itself over several days!  Surprisingly, my iPhone tested at a blazing 650Mbs when a couple feet from the Office SuperPod.  This was faster than the ASUS router had been!  How that's possible I'm not sure.

Cloud Management & Optimization.
Plume uses cloud based network management to continually monitor and optimize your network based on the specific devices it finds and your usage of them.  Does it work?  Check this out:

After initially installing the SuperPods I immediately saw 200Mbs or more on my iPhone in the "worst" parts of my house.  Quite an increase from 15Mbs.  This went up to 275 after a couple weeks, then to 400Mbs, as the network optimized itself automatically.

The biggest change was that the AI determined it was better to ditch the daisy chaining of the three Pods in favor of the two downstream Pods directly connecting to the primary one.  This reconfiguration was entirely automatic and based on usage and my particular devices.

Plume Knows Your Stuff.
Plume's management AI scopes out your entire topology and each specific type of device you use.  It knows the difference between an Apple TV and an AirBook, A Lifx light bulb and an Ecobee Thermostat and from a database, can choose how best to serve them.  It also assesses how you use each device, where, and when.  Then it can predict what might be needed.

It tests your ISP and the connections to each SuperPod. If a change is needed, it will do it automatically.  That means it also automatically can select the 2.4Ghz band for a device that is on the outskirts of range, and will choose a channel that is optimal--given your neighbors noisy WiFi habits.

Jim Salter in Ars Technica (6-12-18) says of the new SuperPods, "Hands on with the company's 2.0 pod--speeds are great; subscriptions may be involved."

Plume Excels with Multiple Devices.
Salter points out in his extensive testing vs. Orbi and Eero that the Plume, while not the fastest on a single device (but nearly ties Eero), far surpassed the other two in sustained throughput when multiple devices were in play.  The more devices, the better the SuperPods did in comparison in maintaining high throughput everywhere.

And in application latency (how responsive an app is) the Pod blew away both the Orbi and Eero when the network is pushed to its limit by other devices.

Subscription.
Plume's powerful cloud based network management and optimization system comes at a price.    You can choose $60 annually, or lifetime $200 fee. But well worth it in my opinion.

Here's an example. Customer service was excellent when I had a finicky device that kept wanting to jump to from the pod 6 feet away to the the Gateway pod even thought that means going from an "excellent" connection to a "fair" one--at which point this device would not function properly.  I left a note on the Support contact page and received an email in a couple hours that they saw it and then remotely told that one device not to use "client steering" so that it would stay put.  Brilliant!

They researched and trouble shot some additional issues inherent with this same device, a Nordic Track treadmill.  That's service, and network management.

Seeing Your Mesh Network Graphically:  Plume comes with a wonderful graphical app that shows the network topology as planets with each device orbiting as a little "moon."  At a glance you can see how it has auto-configured itself, which pods link to which, connecting each Pod to the next as you plug them in.  You can name devices and even rename the Pods at anytime.
Jim Salter - Ars Technica screen shot


Be My Guest.
Setting up a guest network is child's play. Simply click the Guest Network tab on the app, give it a name and password, and customize it's features if you won't to limit access to internet only or make it time limited or temporary.

SuperPod as a Router -- Oops!  Not So Fast.
After 10 days I removed my ASUS router and used the SuperPod to do the routing, connecting it directly to the CenturyLink fiber modem.

A simple off/on of the modem and the Pod was now in Auto (router) mode, passing out IP's to all my devices.  No additional configurations or fiddling needed.

I connected the SuperPod's second Ethernet port to a new TP-link switch, and plugged my iMac and Hue bridge into it.  The connections worked seamlessly.

However,  speeds dropped nearly 50% using the SuperPod as both router and AP.

With the ASUS router doing the heavy lifting of routing, I tested 950Mbs via Ethernet up and down from CenturyLink.  But with the SuperPod routing, it dropped to around 600Mbs.  And other points in the house dropped in proportion.

So after a couple hours I reinstalled the ASUS as the router and speeds recovered.

It only makesThe Asus RT-AC87u/r has a powerful "dual dual core" processor that doesn't break a sweat shuttling 1Gbs up and down and routing, fire-walling and the like.  Essentially, removing the Asus was simply putting more load on the Plume SuperPod.  Why not use that high spec dual dual processor in the Asus router?

Conclusion.
The Plume SuperPod mesh system is a strong contender and may very well be the mesh for you.  Five stars!





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