While Netgear and D-Link introduced their approaches to app-supporting and cloud-enabled networking products at CES 2012, Cisco, which didn't have anything to announce at CES, turns out to be the first to materialize the new concepts.
Cisco today unveiled a line of Linksys Smart Wi-Fi routers that promises to change the face, and the body, of home networking.
The Linksys EA4500, EA3500, and EA2700 -- the "A" designation being short for "app-enabled" -- look like models in the earlier E Series but have more-powerful hardware and support Cisco Connect Cloud, the next generation of Cisco Connect software. The EA4500, for example, looks exactly the same as the original Linksys E4200, but the differences inside are significant.
Cisco Connect Cloud is a Web-based portal that is designed to make it possible to quickly and easily manage multiple home networks from anywhere in the world. And in the category of "home network," Cisco now includes home appliances, not just computers and electronic equipment. The company says it has been working with top device manufacturers to simplify the process of getting their network products -- such as TVs and home appliances -- connected, and to get them communicating more with one another to offer new consumer experiences.
In a demo, Cisco showed me how a user can remotely, via the Cisco Connect Cloud portal, carry out tasks that were quite impossible before, such as finding out the status of a refrigerator.
Brett Wingo, a Cisco vice president and general manager, said the new line of cloud-enabled routers will be game-changing products that "enable users to take total control of their home, and not just the Wi-Fi networks."
Speaking of Wi-Fi networks, the new routers are all true dual-band Wireless-N routers, with the EA2700 supporting the 300Mbps standard on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, the EA3500 also supporting the 450Mbps standard on the 5GHz band, and the EA4500 supporting 450Mbps on both bands. They come with one USB port to host an external hard drive and work as a network storage server with media-streaming capability. They also support IPv6, guest networking, and other popular features found in the previous E Series models.
Cisco says that Cisco Connect Cloud will work with just the EA routers and not the existing E Series, with the exception of the Linksys E4200v2, which will get the support via a firmware update. The supported routers will also be able to run apps designed to quickly add or change their features and settings.
The new Linksys EA4500, EA3500, and EA2700 routers are available now and cost $199, $139, and $99, respectively. Cisco promises that a full range of its cloud-enabled services will be available by June. Check back soon for the review of the Linksys EA4500.