If we left it up to cable companies with their crummy, out-of-date Wi-Fi routers, we’d never have decent Wi-Fi. Thank goodness for companies like Plume. It gets adaptive networking right and does it on a budget.
Plume is a pint-sized, plug-and play dual-band Wi-Fi expansion and boosting system that competes nicely with more established players like Eero (a set I use and love). I easily set up a $179 Plume three-pack in my three-story house and was impressed with the results.
Unlike Eero, which builds a mesh network that recommends line-of-sight connectivity between pods for optimal performance (in reality, you don’t need that to make it work quite well), Plume uses lower-power pods that can work singly or together to improve overall in-home Wi-Fi performance. Backed by cloud-based technology, Plume promises to learn about your network performance and improve over time.
It’s worth spending a moment talking about the hexagonal Plume Pods. They’re significantly smaller than Eero’s pods; one would easily fit in the palm of your hand. And they plug into your wall outlet like a wall-wart for a consumer electronics device. At least they are small enough to leave room for other wall plugs.
There’s a reason for that size. All the technology that normally manages router behavior, like bands, channel switching and management of mobile device connectivity from one pod to another, lives in the cloud.
Initial Plume set-up was similar to what I found with Eero. I took one of the champagne-colored pods (they also come in Onyx and silver) and plugged it into a power strip and then ran the included Ethernet cable from the pod to an open port on my Cable/Wi-Fi router. The pod has a tiny, white LED that pulses during setup, which I managed through Plume’s free app.
The Plume app told me, by the way, that I didn’t have to restart the router before plugging in the Plume if it was also a Wi-Fi router, but I did it anyway, just to give Plume a fresh start.
It took less than a minute to set up the first plume, which I left connected to my router. As soon as I did that, the app told me it was “looking for the 2 remaining Pods…” It knew that it came in a package of three. How cool is that?
Since my home has a basement (where the router and first Plume live), I found a central wall plug (in my living room – behind a couch) for the second Plume and a hallway wall outlet for the third. Once I plugged in the second Pod, it set up in about 30 seconds (the app put a little check mark over a virtual pod). The second pod set up just as quickly.
Track your network
The app then led me through a few other setup options like enabling notifications so I’d know when the network goes offline and guiding me to connect my phone to the new network. It even let me copy and paste the network password I set up, so I didn’t have to retype it. I could also use the app to email the SSID and password to friends and family.
After that, the app told me the network optimization was underway. The initial phase can take up to half an hour.
The app has some cool features, like a network map for your home, which shows each Plume node (which you can rename through the app) and the devices connected to it in sort of an orbit shape. You can drill in and see the name of each connected device.
More Wi-Fi power
With my Plume network setup and ready for data-sucking activity, I stopped and waited 30 minutes. I wanted to give the network all the time it needed to at least complete that first optimization phase. Then I ran Ookla’s Speedtest app on all my Wi-Fi networks (I now have three running in my house) to see what kind of connectivity I could expect throughout my home.
I started with my original 802.11N network provided by my cable company router. It’s terrible, which is why I was always looking for a good booster solution. On that network, download speeds averaged 37.38 Megabits per second (Mbps) down and 9.41 Mbps up. Overall, though, the network has significant dead zones that result in throughputs as low as 27 Mbps down.
My Eero network is much stronger, averaging 50.08 Mbps down and a healthy 40 Mbps up.
Plume outperformed Eero on the downstream, averaging 56.37 Mbps down, but could not keep up with Eero on the upstream, averaging 23.43. This is still much better than my cable-provided Wi-Fi network and, since most of what I do is stream content (download), the downstream numbers matter far more to me (and probably to you, too).
These Plume numbers could change as Plume’s cloud-based technology learns more about my home network usage patterns. After a few days, though I noticed consistent functionality. I also noted that my mobile device didn’t want to choose the Plume network by default. It’s probably best to run one Wi-Fi network in your home.
I also did some anecdotal testing, streaming HD YouTube videos to various devices with no issues and nothing but high-quality imagery.
Plume is promising additional features in the future, including the ability to turn off the Wi-Fi network through the app for any single device, parental controls and the creation of secure guest networks. Most of these features already exist on my Eero app and network. Some of these new abilities may arrive by the time you read this.
Overall, I like Plume. It’s smartly designed, easy to set up and immediately provided me with an excellent network experience. I’m a little concerned about the cloud-based nature of the system. If Plume’s servers go down, my intelligent network might temporarily get a little dumb. This never happened during my tests, so it’s a minor concern.
There is no doubt that this is one of the most affordable solutions on the market for a better, smarter Wi-Fi network. You can buy one device for $69, but I recommend the three-pack for $179, and if your house is big, you can buy a six-pod pack for $329. That’s a steal. (Eero, by contrast starts at $199 for one unit.)
Excellent Wi-Fi network download speeds • Affordable • Easy setup • Low-profile
Upload speeds lag behind mesh network • Cloud-network management is almost bleeding edge tech
The Bottom Line
This may be the Wi-Fi network boosting solution you were looking for and that you can afford.