I’d bet there’s a corner of your home where your decent WiFi gets a little dicey. For me, it’s the spot right around my stove, the sliver of counter where I’ve been keeping a tablet to follow along with YouTube recipe videos. And that’s despite my splurging on an Eero “mesh” WiFi system to help put an end to these iffy spots.
Unlike the boxes many internet providers hand out, mesh network systems use a handful of hubs that work together to push WiFi deeper into your home than a single router ever could. But the more hubs you add, the more it’ll cost you, and dropping a new Eero box near my kitchen would have meant shelling out $79.
As it turns out, I might have already paid for a fix. Years ago, even.
Alongside oddities like a lamp that watches you while you sleep, Amazon announced this fall that certain Echo smart speakers could double as network-range extenders for Eero WiFi systems, including some models released near the end of 2020. And now, Amazon is rolling out the software to accomplish this.
(Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but we evaluate all products and services with the same critical eye.) Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
The move comes as part of a larger push to make seemingly disparate gadgets feel more like a connected ecosystem, and in time could make it more difficult for a household to wean itself off Amazon products. That said, it’s pretty uncommon for smart speakers to pick up practical new skills — ones that aren’t centered on chatting with an AI assistant, anyway — years after launch.
Your tolerance for a life mediated by Alexa (or Google Assistant, or Siri) is a deeply personal determination, but if you’re already surrounded by the right Amazon products, this new feature may help improve the quality of your home internet service. But how well does it actually work?
Here’s what you should know.
To make this work, you’ll need a few things.
First, an Eero mesh WiFi system — any but the very first one, released in 2016 — will do. Meanwhile, compatible Echos include the new, 5th-generation Echo Dot Amazon released this year, plus the 4th-generation Echo from late 2020. (In time, the company says the feature will arrive on the cheaper 4th-gen Echo Dots from the same year, but there’s no word on exactly when.)
If you’re using an older Echo like me, you’ll also need to make sure its software is up-to-date. To do this, ask the speaker to “check for software updates.” Amazon says the update can make a compatible Echo unresponsive for around 30 minutes, though mine took a few extra minutes.
And ... that was about it. Once the update was complete, turning on the feature took just a few taps. Could improving my WiFi really have been that simple?
One of the most important decisions of this whole process was deciding where to stick the Eero. At first, I plopped it in a nearby bathroom, hoping that less distance and fewer walls would give WiFi signals a better chance at saturating the area around my stove. No such luck.
Things got better when I moved Echo directly across the hall from the kitchen — a distance of six or seven feet, tops — though the phone on which I was running speed tests seemed to have trouble noticing it at first.
After a few minutes, though, my test phone started connecting to the Echo speaker more consistently. During that first wave of tests, I saw average download speeds of between 80 and 90 megabits per second, or Mbps, compared to between 40 and 50 Mbps before added the Echo speaker. If I had wanted to, that means I could have downloaded the 4K Final Cut of “Blade Runner” in about 7 minutes, compared to the 14 without the Echo.
Throughout the day, my speed test results fluctuated — which isn’t uncommon — but using a nearby Echo kept my kitchen gadgets connected at least a little faster than when they had to connect to an Eero router in either end of a railroad apartment. (Your experience, like the contours of our homes, may vary; if you try for yourself and get vastly different results, let the Help Desk know about it.)
That little speed boost isn’t bad, but it leads us to one of this setup’s key limitations: If you’re going to use an Echo to fill in gaps in your WiFi network, you’ll only ever see speeds as high as around 100 Mbps when connected to it — even if you’re paying for more. And that’s not the only limit, either. You can only connect 10 devices to at Echo at once, a far from the more than 100 you can connect to a typical Eero hub.
For those reasons, you probably shouldn’t keep an Echo with this feature in your home office, or anywhere with a lot of devices trying to do things at the same time. If one of your gadgets does latch onto the speaker’s network, you may wind up with a limit on your internet performance without even realizing the switch has been made. (The fact that you can’t pick which Eero router or Echo you want specific devices to connect to doesn’t help either.)
In the end, my stove-side tablet isn’t getting confused about the WiFi it should be latching onto any more, which means I get to spend less time fiddling and more time cooking. But even now, I’m not convinced I should keep that Echo where it is — I wouldn’t want something like my laptop to accidentally connect to it when I didn’t want it to.
Our advice? Don’t expect miracles from an Echo moonlighting as a WiFi extender, and be mindful of where you stick it. The best place to put one of these things should be somewhere out of the way where you need a stable — if not blazing-fast — connection. Maybe that bedroom on the other end of your house, or by your garage; even if your current car doesn’t receive software updates over WiFi, your next one just might.
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