For those of us who haven't worked in IT, our home internet network can seem a bit of a mystery.
WiFi usually involves an opaque box with a lot of wires coming out, emitting this invisible aura of connectivity that seems to struggle getting through the whole house or apartment. Sometimes the WiFi is slower, sometimes it's faster, and in either case it can be hard to determine why. Would be nice if you could just "see" WiFi, wouldn't it?
With Atlanta WiFi startup Luma's router kit, you can. And with a recent update, you can even talk to your WiFi--and ultimately one day ask it how it's doing.
Luma's routers are designed so that they can work in multiples to offer better coverage throughout the home. The company offers a three-piece kit of routers. One that connects to ethernet, and two that amplify the first's signal.
The associated mobile app allows users to see what devices are connected, restrict web access (think child controls), prioritize certain devices ("I'm streaming the game and I don't want to deal with buffering, so your downloads might be slower than usual"), and to shut off WiFi to all or some devices.
It's the kind of control Luma CEO and cofounder Paul Judge says would be typical in an IT department--but not a home. Some home networks do allow for prioritization, but Judge says the feature as offered on traditional routers is "not user friendly."
And through an upcoming integration with the Amazon Echo, users will be able to tell Echo virtual assistant Alexa to carry out prioritization and shut-off tasks. ("Alexa, tell Luma WiFi to pause Apple TV.") Amazon, along with Accel Partners, led Luma's $12.5 million seed round in April according to TechCrunch; that coffer recently grew by $7 million with investment from Andreessen Horowitz and Google Ventures.
"It gets us to this world where the remote is sitting on the kitchen table," Judge says of the integration, which is slated to go live in coming weeks. Except the remote is voice activated, and instead of controlling your television, it controls your WiFi.
There's some potential for conflict in the new voice feature. While the mobile app gives designated admins (in a family, that might be a parent or parents) control over what devices are connected to WiFi at a given time and which are prioritized, Alexa is not able to distinguish between one user's voice and another. And in households where the Alexa connection is enabled, commands through the mobile app and Alexa are treated equally, with the last command receiving implementation, says Judge.
You can imagine how this might play out badly if mom needs to finish downloading materials for a presentation she's working on, and the kids are insistently telling Alexa to prioritize the internet connected television.
"Time will tell if people are warring over the prioritized device," says Judge.
He says the long term picture is that voice interfaces are where things are headed, and he expects the new integration to give Luma a bit of an edge over competing enhanced WiFi offerings. (According to Recode, those would be Eero and Google's OnHub.) The immediate next step for Luma and voice interface is enabling Alexa to answer user questions about their WiFi networks, such as "hey, Alexa: How is the WiFi," he says.