Patrick Lo, Chairman and CEO, Netgear.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Patrick Lo, Chairman and CEO, Netgear. 

Will mesh networking systems make traditional non-mesh routers obsolete? 

Eventually, mesh networking systems are going to take over and we are taking two tracks to get there. One track is what we call “ordinary people mesh”. That means there are not many buttons to turn, you use the app to set it up, and then you don’t worry about it. That’s pretty much what the market is today. These systems are very easy to use, very easy to understand, and everything is in layman’s terms. But there is another track that starts with a router with a lot of buttons to turn and a lot of features and performance. However, we have the mesh extenders and you can use these to form a mesh network. One track is simpler and cheaper, the other is more sophisticated and more expensive, but it is also more powerful. But eventually, it all leads back to mesh networking systems. We believe that in three years, all routers will have some form of mesh capability.

How can mesh networking systems still improve? 

There is still a lot of improvement we could make. I think the biggest improvement that we can make is to implement 802.11ax. Today, the best we can do is MU-MIMO which allows the router to communicate with up to three devices simultaneously. Once you implement 802.11ax, you can talk to 64 devices simultaneously, so that’s one big improvement. The second improvement that we can make is with regard to roaming - how devices get handed off to nodes in the mesh network. Smooth roaming where devices are handed off smoothly requires a lot of complex algorithms and this is an area that can be improved upon. Finally, quality of service can also be refined because the way QoS works right now is pretty crude and the device that requires the most bandwidth doesn’t always get it. 

Why are IoT devices so insecure and how can users protect themselves? 

A lot of IoT devices are mostly developed by companies with little or no networking experience. They have no concept of networking and security and the code is terrible, which makes their devices extremely easy to exploit. The problem is that networking companies like us cannot be expected to work on IoT devices because we don’t have the bandwidth, which is why is the onus is on the companies themselves to make their own IoT devices. But most of these guys have no clue about firmware and security. The only way to only secure the IoT network in the house is to make sure the router is secure. As long as IoT devices still go through the router, then you still have some form of control to help you prevent hackers from exploiting your IoT devices. 

In light of this, how can users ensure their routers are secure? 

Today, users can ensure their routers are as secure as they can be as long as they have been vigilant in doing firmware updates and use strong router passwords. We strongly advise all users to update their router’s firmware to their latest version because there are hackers at work every day. At Netgear, we monitor hacker activity every day and we notify users through our app and via email to let them know whenever there is a new firmware available for their routers. 

What advice will you give to readers that are looking to purchase a new router right now? 

Clearly, either you buy a mesh networking system or a Netgear router. Jokes aside, if you buy a mesh networking system then at least you are buying the most modern system. If you say right now you can’t afford a mesh networking system because they are expensive, then buy a router that is mesh compatible, because by the time you are ready to build a mesh network you can do it with our mesh extender. Otherwise, you would be stuck with a router that is obsolete and has to be throw away.

“Once you implement 802.11ax, you can talk to 64 devices simultaneously so that’s one big improvement.”

Photography Angela Guo