What do a Wi-Fi network and a starfish have in common? Soon, the answer could be “nothing” — at least if networking hardware startups like Luma have anything to say about it.
Most wireless routers use a “starfish” configuration to connect devices to the Internet: The router has a link to the wider web, and shares it with other devices like a starfish reaching out its arms from a central hub. But Luma is one of a few companies that are taking a different approach, known as “mesh networking”.
Luma’s sleek, six-sided routers are meant to be purchased in multi-packs and installed at various locations around a home. Only one of them needs a direct ethernet connection to a modem; the rest communicate wirelessly with each other to extend coverage via overlapping bubbles of dynamic connectivity. That means your computers, phones and tablets don’t need to always be in range of the one ethernet-connected router — as long as there’s a daisy-chain of connectivity extending back to it, signals can hop along from one Luma node to the next until they get there.
But Luma’s been designed as more than just a Wi-Fi extender. It has built-in security and parental control features that are accessible through an app, giving a user-friendly way to manage aspects of the home network that most routers don’t make visible. It also manages new connections via user profiles instead of a single shared password, which is a nice touch that opens up some features that are tied to the user instead of to the device.
This is where Luma may run into controversial territory. It’s one thing to give parents the ability to restrict their kids’ access to certain websites, or even set curfews on their Internet browsing time — things Luma makes easy. It’s another to keep a log of every website that any user visits, show current browsing activity in real-time, and store the data for up to a year — which, the Verge reports, Luma does by default. Whoever’s in the “administrator” role can choose not to look at this data for specific users, but the data is collected regardless, so everyone else just has to trust that their privacy is being respected.
Luma is currently available for presales through the end of the year, and is expected to ship in Spring 2016. Even the discounted price is significantly more than what you’d pay for existing routers, especially since you’re likely to want two or more devices. But can you really put a price on what dependable, full-coverage Wi-Fi does for your sanity?