The router gets no love when you really think about it. It was always the one hardware product you set up once and hoped you’d never have to touch again because the hands-off approach meant it was doing its job. When you did have to look at it again, it was usually because something was up with the Internet at home. Those days are over, at least for those consumers who like the idea of using smartphone or tablet apps to manage what the router can actually do.
This process is already underway with the latest routers coming from Cisco Linksys, D-Link and Western Digital. The whole movement to the cloud is real, and the concept is clearly being used as a way to reinvent what the router does and how it does it. At its core, a router distributes and spreads out the Internet connection that filters through the modem. That makes it a utilitarian device more than anything else, but what if it could also be managed to perform in different ways?
Parental controls applied to routers is certainly nothing new, and advanced users are well-versed on how to do things like port forwarding, DNS routing and manual firmware upgrades. Router smartphone apps aren’t necessarily designed to handle any of that heavy lifting, but rather are meant to provide balance on usage where necessary. Cutting the kids off from gaming online or Facebook within a set block of time can be done without even being home at the time. Kids didn’t finish their homework? No games for you!
Cisco’s Connect Cloud uses a “priority” list that can be entirely amended as you please. Navigate the app on your iPhone and move a Slingbox to the High Priority list and the router will look to funnel more of the bandwidth that device needs. Move an Android tablet to Normal and the same principle applies the other way. Have guests over at the house and want to open up the Guest network? Easily done, and you can change the password at will, too.
This “consumerization” of an otherwise unsexy device is only going to increase, especially since Cisco is only scratching the surface of what might be possible. Western Digital, the newest entrant into manufacturing routers, recognized this and got into the game, though there isn’t a dedicated smartphone app, you can access your WD router using the Web browser on your smartphone or tablet.
The next wave of routers will come with terabytes of storage, and the way router-specific apps, like the ones Rajio wrote about on this blog, will continue to be developed, it essentially means your router is going to be a cloud-friendly content aggregator. And this includes content that will come from storage connected to the router or from services offering it streamed.
Advanced users who tinker with their routers probably won’t like this move to the cloud, largely because it may come off as counter-intuitive and a security nightmare waiting to happen. Having a home’s entire Internet infrastructure falling into the wrong hands could be a major issue, but at the same time, it’s really no different than protecting other important data.
Either way, this move to app-controlled routers is here to stay, and could prove to be the first time the average consumer truly interacts with the device — even if it takes a smartphone to really push the idea through. The biggest reason why is because bandwidth is becoming more and more valued by end-users. When a movie on Netflix buffers too much or a site doesn’t load, the router usually gets the accusatory glance. If an app can help understand why there are connectivity issues and how to solve them, maybe that’s one way of actually empowering users to take matters into their own hands instead of calling tech support.
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