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Plume is turning home Wi-Fi into a subscription service (theverge.com)
30 points by el_duderino 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments

Apparently it is the week I really live up to my current HN username.

I'm sorry I do not want a subscription for everything. There are a few things that make a lot of sense on a subscription. Phone service, Netflix, cloud services etc. Car leasing can make sense.

There are an awful lot of things that are being forced into a subscription model. Editors, routers, throwaway printers with their delightfully expensive DRM'd inks. Purely as a means to squeeze a little more cash out of the punter.

"It seems inevitable that subscription services will come to more routers. We rarely buy new ones, and subscriptions give these companies a way to keep making money"

It does? Why? After 30 years of free, mostly junk, modems and routers from the ISP that rarely got replaced? Routers get replaced when the magic smoke escapes. Unless you're an outlier, like me, who reads HN the only interest you had in the router was connecting the phone and laptop when you unboxed it.

No, can't make sense of this.

No, I don't want an extended warranty with my £29 toaster either.

It could make sense if you were essentially leasing Wi-Fi gear, so that you would always get the latest and greatest as the Wi-Fi standard evolves - receive new gear and send back the old gear every year or so.

But this does not make any sense. You are already buying a router, and they're tacking on a subscription on top, for what appears to be snake oil.

Wifi doesn't work like that. Replacing all your installed wifi gear every week with the latest and greatest doens't improve much if you aren't also upgrading your individual devices. There is some room to play, but most all developments in wifi need upgrades to both routers and devices.

Furthermore, as wifi is a shared medium, your experience is heavily dependent on the behavior of your neighbors. Routers can hop channels all they want, that doesn't make more room in the spectrum. If you want to stream a billion gigs per second over your fancy AC++ router, something that requires exactly half the available spectrum, you better live deep in the woods.

It may not, but it'd make more sense than their current offering.

The ars article about it has a lot more info about why they're doing it and how it works etc.


This helped frame the subscription for me:

> ...If you let an annual membership lapse, your pods do not turn into paperweights; they just revert to the same status they had when you first turned them on. That means they'd have a very simple "we found each other, good enough" topology rather than a more optimal one determined by Plume's cloud NOC; you'd also lose any other features dependent on the NOC, like client-specific rulesets. > The other perk of a membership in good standing is a rolling lifetime warranty for all pods... even after the original design is no longer manufactured. If you have a v1 pod that fails in 2022, you'll get a replacement with whatever 802.11ax-compliant replacement design is current then, for example. > I'd recommend that anybody who's super angry about the "membership" concept to look into an apples-to-apples comparison that encompasses this lifetime cost. For example, in this article I compared a four-Superpod startup pack at $259. Add a $200 membership and it's $459 compared to the cost of an Eero + 2 Beacons (currently $389) or an Orbi RBK-53 (currently $530). If you're on the fence, you can make the initial buy with an annual membership and upgrade the annual to lifetime with a prorated refund of the remaining time on the annual. There's also a 60-day full-refund policy on both the hardware and the membership fee if you decide the system is not for you.

This seems a bit better than my initial impression, but I hope their messaging around the subscription frames it similarly to this article.

> Update June 12th, 12:10PM ET: After publication, a Plume representative reached out to say that the company had changes its policies between my phone call with Diner and today. The company will, in fact, require a subscription for Plume Pods to stay functional.

Sheesh. They just got taken back off my list. That's just so dumb.

I wonder if out-of-subscription pods will get security updates or not.

I'm willing to put down real money on a bet that none of them will. There's no money to be made by writing updates. Just ask Samsung:-)

I don't quite understand the negativity. Everyone complains about how IoT devices are a security nightmare because manufacturers don't update the software. Now you are paying the ongoing cost to get that engineering done.

You could pay upfront, and many people do (that's what "enterprise" is and why it's $2000 for a $200 router)... but now the price of ongoing support is in reach of the average customer. (But they're mad that ongoing support is actually expensive.)

Now of course, if they do the same half-ass job that other router manufacturers do with ongoing support, the subscription fee won't be worth it. But if the product does continually improve relative to other offerings, then maybe it's the right business model.

Anyway, it is pure honesty to split out the hardware cost and the software engineering cost. The question is whether or not it's actually worthwhile to pay the software engineering cost. It's a pretty new idea, and there are plenty of reasons to not trust it... but in theory, I like it.

> I don't quite understand the negativity. Everyone complains about how IoT devices are a security nightmare because manufacturers don't update the software. Now you are paying the ongoing cost to get that engineering done.

The incentives here are extremely perverse. The problem of insecure IoT gear was in many cases created by manufacturers cutting corners. Now they offer to fix it for money. It should not have been acceptable in the first place!

To use a car analogy - car manufacturers are compelled by regulation to do recalls on defects that impact the safety of a vehicle. They don't get to charge a monthly subscription to resolve their own mistakes. I'm not sure why we let tech companies get away with abusing their customers like this.

The negativity is easy to understand. Somehow, Apple managed to sell routers for 20 years, and keep them updated for over a decade after purchase, without charging exorbitant fees for routine software updates. How did they manage that? They didn't do it in a "halfass" way, either.

How sustainable a business was that, though? Obviously it was not making them huge amounts of money, because they stopped doing it.

You want your home network to be remotely managed? Good routers are cheap. Dirt cheap. With a little bit of knowledge anyone can maintain a secure and stable wifi network. The potential privacy and security downsides of outsourcing this task far outweigh the inconvenience.

If you really want to throw money at a wifi problem, invest in some actual diagnostics hardware. An ubertooth (100$) and monitor mode-capable wifi dongle (50$) will teach you more than a thousand Plume adverts.

Great, so now in addition to paying a monthly fee for internet service and a monthly fee for the modem rental, you also have to pay a monthly fee for your router?

What service doesn't let you outright buy the modem?

> What service doesn't let you outright buy the modem?

I suspect many (most?) people may not know they can buy their own modem. Internet providers don't typically advertise that fact, since they'd much rather have the steady income from the modem rental.

Comcast let me use my own router, then decided it was theirs and charged me rent anyway.

A few years later, I was stuck with them again in another state and bought my own from their approved list...then a few months later that model was no longer approved and any issue was blamed on using an unapproved/outdated model.

Same. I used to have a monthly calendar reminder to call Comcast and complain about the modem rental charge for my personally owned modem.

Every month they would agree to waive the fee and promise to fix it, and every month it would be back on my bill.

This went on for about a year until I cancelled my service, and then they hounded me weekly to "return" the modem.

I have AT&T fiber and am forced to use their modem.

It's even worse than that, really.

You get an optical network terminal that converts the fiber to gigabit ethernet (the closest thing to a "modem"), but then you still have to use their router to plug into the ONT, because they use 802.1x auth on the network and the client certs are burned into the router.

You can't put their gateway into a proper bridge mode to use your own router. The best it allows you to do is "passthrough" where it puts a device behind the router in DMZ mode and assigns it the public IP address so it looks like bridged mode. The gateway still maintains its own internal NAT tracking table anyway.

At least they don't charge extra to rent the box.

This is contrary to what I’m doing?

There’s a hidden page to pass through. It works completely fine in my set up.

EDIT: https://www.att.com/Common/storefront/resources/pdf/att_brid...

Mine would also "forget" it was bridged every 6 months or so. Delightful when I was trying to access things remotely.

Is there some sort of consumer psychology behind this whole 'as a service' push? It seems like monthly bills kind of go in the back of people's heads and they rarely consider the full cost in the way they do normal purchasing. Maybe we should have a law surrounding subscription services since it seems like they're making increased profit off exploiting a tick in the human psyche as opposed to actually making a better product.

It's the same "thinking" that makes many people care more about low monthly car payments by taking out 6- or even 7-year car loans. They totally ignore how much that is actually costing them to get a new, shiny car that they really can't afford or the fact that their new car will only be worth a fraction of what they paid for it at the end of the loan. There's certainly no law preventing car dealers from taking advantage of that. Why is this different?

Interesting, I'm actually testing out my own thought here. I guess I would say there is a difference between these two scenarios:

(1) I can't afford to outright purchase a product that would normally cost $10,000 so I choose to finance it and pay $12,000 over 5 years (or whatever.)

(2) I could afford to outright purchase a product that would normally cost $100 but instead I have to pay over time, say $500 over 5 years.

It seems to me that a lot of the more recent SaaS stuff is associated with a very large price increase probably because there's no on-prem price to compare to, no stated rate of interest or any of that information you get from a car loan. So I suppose my problem is that the premium on these products is much higher due to obfuscation and these companies (like Plume) don't offer a comparable option to buy outright.

No different than any other form of financing for other products. Take cars for example, you can lay down cash up front, or you can spend more money by paying over time. Or you can pay less money for a lease, but you lose the car after 3 years.

It's a play on op-ex vs cap-ex

This seems identical to Meraki's (https://meraki.cisco.com/) business model, but the enterprise space seems like a lot smarter way to push a subscription model.

All these comments dismissing this model are just reacting to the flippant tone in the article. ~70% of service calls to ISPs are for issues that are within the home, be it interference, or a misconfigured or even unplugged router. Managed WiFi, where a rented router is remotely administered, is a very good way to deal with this stuff. It greatly reduces the number of truck rolls that an ISP has to do. Sure, maybe ATTs service sucks, but everything they do sucks. I am a little puzzled by the choice to sell this straight to consumer, since most managed WiFi manufacturers sell their routers to the ISP to be leased to the consumer (or supplied free).

They never claimed to provide support. Only something vague called active management. What could you possibly imagine that would actually be that would actually help anyone in any actual real-life case?

Typically managed wifi involves both remote administration of the router(s), and phone support. Having the remote access means that the user can just pick up the phone and describe the problem, and the technician can solve it remotely, or with a little assistance from the user "try moving the router over near the door". I assume that they are doing this as well.

wiling to bet that they are not. Callcenters and people do not scale.

If we held the companies responsible for the security of their IoT devices, this wouldn't be necessary. Instead none are liable when our smart refrigerators get hacked.

Let's change that instead of pushing the cost on consumers.

Reminds me of paying for identity protection services.

It never ceases to amaze me how arrogant some tech startups can be with their pricing. Plume is one of many that seem to target consumers that simultaneously have a lot of disposable income and are stupid with their money.

A subscription fee for a router that I still need to pay for, on top of the internet that I'm ALREADY paying for? Get outta here. How does it make any sense to charge subscription pricing for hardware that you have to pay upfront for?

This seems like just a money grab. No thanks.

How about this?

$10/month for three units with free hardware upgrades every 3 years (and no upfront cost).

That comes to $120/year, and I don't have to worry about replacing the hardware to get the latest wi-fi standards / features / hardware fixes.

Google wi-fi is $299 for 3 units. Expected life time is 3 years before obsolescence sets in.

How about no. I just bought a single unit and it covers my entire house and gets security updates for a few years and it costs way less than $360 every 3 years. I literally can buy multiple routers and come in less than that for better than what they offer. Not to mention that this "model" requires a government mandate to work otherwise cheap Chinese knock offs with good enough security will flood the market. As a liberal, I've seen enough of the government and their idea of "the internet".

> Plume’s subscription service will cost $60 per year, or $200 for a lifetime membership.

I really, really hope that buying the lifetime membership unlocks your pods (or whatever, or however it works) - and that Plume going out of business doesn't fuck you over and lock you into the "free" tier.

It sounds like non-free-tier stuff happens on their servers, so Plume going out of business would lock you into free tier anyhow.

If you can setup your own router and troubleshoot problems I don't think it'll be worth it.

However, if this can solve my parents' Wifi problems so they don't have to wait till next Thanksgiving for me to come fix it, I'll totally tell them to sign up for it.

Anyone else hear echoes of Cisco Meraki? I can see that model working in commercial environments where the network itself is often managed by a third-party. But for home users, it's paying a premium for nothing of value.

In fairness, plume discounts the hardware with a subscription, so the pricing is fairly competitive. However, I cannot see bothering with a subscription when the competition is at $85/access point and works without an account.

Cisco Meraki came to mind for me as well, and the commercial benefits of security patching, a built-in Snort/Anti-Virus/IPS subscription, overnight shipping for replacement gear when we had a failure, etc. all add up to being a good subscription buy. I agree that home users would be foolish to go this route.

Subscriptions make sense when the cumulative value of the service offered increases over time. Where is the accumulation of value in Plume's offering?

Has anyone tried out Ubiquiti’s mesh offering? A three access point solution is priced similarly to this,l plus a lifetime membership (but presumably keeps working without the cloud)

Click bait alert. They are turning wifi router hardware into a subscription, not Wi-Fi itself. In case the author or any readers were unaware, home Wi-Fi is already a subscription from Comcast, AT&T etc.

If you bothered to read the article, you would see that you still purchase the equipment, but pay a subscription just to keep it running.

At least your Comcast/AT&T "Wi-Fi Subscription" actually comes with Internet access and rental hardware. Plume is having you buy the hardware and then pay $5/month just for the privilege of keeping the firmware running.

This business model is already the norm for enterprise firewalls and network security appliances, but that's not what Plume is. Plume is just a Mesh network, no different than just meshing a few OpenWRT devices together...

> This business model is already the norm for enterprise firewalls and network security appliances, but that's not what Plume is.

One reason this makes sense for enterprise hardware is that you get a real person on the phone if something goes wrong. I doubt I'd be able to get a Plume representative to help me no matter how many years I subscribe for.

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