Google’s Project Fi now offers data coverage in 170 countries


Project Fi, Google’s multi-network cell service, now provides you with data coverage in 170 countries.

That’s up from the 135 countries the company has long offered service in. New countries where service is now available include the likes of Belize and Myanmar.

The good thing here is that Project Fi still doesn’t charge you extra for your data usage in these countries. You’ll still pay the usual $10/GB, no matter where you are and SMS usage is unlimited, too. Voice calls to the U.S. from all supported countries cost $0.20/minute.

T-Mobile, which offers unlimited international data for most of its post-paid plans, says it covers “140+ countries.”

Depending on how you count, there’s just under 200 countries in the world. Chances are that Project Fi now has you covered in most of them. As far as I can see, neither Google’s nor T-Mobile’s plans cover Nauru, though, so if you’re looking to see some depleted phosphate reserves in the middle of the Pacific, you are out of luck.

If you’re not sure if you’re covered because you are flying to an extra-exotic locale, Google also wants to help you there. If your Gmail account includes messages (maybe from your airline) about an upcoming international trip, it’ll now automatically notify you if your Fi account will work at your destination.

Google also recently introduced its own version of an unlimited plan for Project Fi. The so-called Bill Protection feature always caps your data bills at a maximum of $60 per month (for individual accounts). This applies to international data, too.

Orbi Outdoor Satellite adds Wi-Fi coverage to your back yard


I’m a big fan of the Netgear Orbi line of mesh access points and now there’s more to love. Netgear is now shipping the RBS50Y, a new satellite that is weatherproof and allows you to add coverage to your back yard or garage without worrying that your access point will short out in the rain.

The new device requires an Orbi Router – the RBR50, RBR40, RBR20 or SRR60, specifically – and connects to your home network via an easy-to-use app. The outdoor router adds up to 2,500 square feet of extra coverage and it increased my Wi-Fi coverage in the back of my house from about -80 dBm to -51 dBm, a marked improvement. This means we have better access to the Sonos indoors as well as to the camera in the back yard.

Overall the Orbi is an excellent hardware solution for whole-home Wi-Fi and I’m pleased to note that the app has been improved since my first foray into the product. Now the app supports granular device control – you can kick folks off the network – and it now supports Disney’s Circle for parental controls. This lets you filter the Internet automatically and even pause the Internet to keep the kids from browsing for a few hours.

The outdoor Satellite costs $329 while a router and two satellites costs $291. This is a bit pricey for a home router setup but it did improve my Wi-Fi speed considerably throughout my old brick Brooklyn home and it it now lets me switch songs and keep an eye on things from the back yard. It’s a small price to pay for complete and total wireless domination of your domain.

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Orbi Outdoor Satellite adds Wi-Fi coverage to your back yard


I’m a big fan of the Netgear Orbi line of mesh access points and now there’s more to love. Netgear is now shipping the RBS50Y, a new satellite that is weatherproof and allows you to add coverage to your back yard or garage without worrying that your access point will short out in the rain.

The new device requires an Orbi Router – the RBR50, RBR40, RBR20 or SRR60, specifically – and connects to your home network via an easy-to-use app. The outdoor router adds up to 2,500 square feet of extra coverage and it increased my Wi-Fi coverage in the back of my house from about -80 dBm to -51 dBm, a marked improvement. This means we have better access to the Sonos indoors as well as to the camera in the back yard.

Overall the Orbi is an excellent hardware solution for whole-home Wi-Fi and I’m pleased to note that the app has been improved since my first foray into the product. Now the app supports granular device control – you can kick folks off the network – and it now supports Disney’s Circle for parental controls. This lets you filter the Internet automatically and even pause the Internet to keep the kids from browsing for a few hours.

The outdoor Satellite costs $329 while a router and two satellites costs $291. This is a bit pricey for a home router setup but it did improve my Wi-Fi speed considerably throughout my old brick Brooklyn home and it it now lets me switch songs and keep an eye on things from the back yard. It’s a small price to pay for complete and total wireless domination of your domain.

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Particle announces the Mesh board, an easy way to make your DIY talk to itself


Particle – which used to be called Spark – has released the third generation of their tiny, networked computing boards. Their new product, called Mesh, allows you to connect wither to a Wi-Fi or cellular network but also allows you to create a mesh network between multiple Mesh devices. This lets you create a mesh network similar to popular IoT devices from Nest and Netgear. The system, called Thread, lets you select which network you’d like to use – Wi-Fi, LTE, or even Bluetooth Low Energy – and then offers programming via OpenThread technology.

There are three models, the Argon, the Boron, and the Xenon. The Boron, $29, supports LTE while the Argon, $15, connects to Wi-Fi and the $9 Xenon connects only via Bluetooth.

The Particle Mesh essentially allows you to create large mesh networks of sensors, letting you connect multiple disparate devices together wirelessly in order to collect a wider range of data. You could, for example, connect to a pressure sensor to control gas or water valves or put it on a farm to sense soil moisture.

It is shipping in July and is available for pre-sale now.

“In the five years since we launched our first Wi-Fi and cellular connected hardware, more than 140,000 developers have brought their devices online with Particle,” said Zach Supalla, co-founder, in a release. “From the front lines of bringing IoT to life, our developer community uncovered challenges with building local networks, so we designed Mesh to better connect those spaces in between. We’re excited to see the next wave of real IoT take hold by solving real problems with connected products.”

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Particle Mesh from Particle on Vimeo.

Wi-fi startup Eero lays off 30 employees


Eero, the mesh Wi-Fi router startup, has laid off 20 percent of its workforce (about 30 employees), TechCrunch has learned. Eero confirmed about 30 employees were let go but declined to comment on its total workforce size.

“Our goal is to provide perfect WiFi in every home,” an Eero spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “Over the past year we explored several related projects, and we’ve now made the tough decision to eliminate one new project in favor of greater focus on our core business. We do not take this lightly, and unfortunately this shift means about 30 colleagues will no longer be working at eero. We will continue our work to make eero the most reliable, secure, and easiest home WiFi solution.”

Eero, which first launched in 2015, aims to change the way we think about wireless routers. Last year, Eero unveiled two new hardware products, a next-generation Eero with triband WiFi and the Eero Beacon, which plugs directly into wall sockets in places where it’s inconvenient to have a corded product.

In July, Eero acqui-hired startup Thington, a home management app founded by Dopplr founder Mitt Biddulph and former Yahoo Brickhouse Head of Product Tom Coates.

Eero has raised $90 million from First Round Capital, Menlo Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Initialized Capital, Homebrew Ventures and others. Its most recent round came in May 2016 with $50 million in funding.

Amazon acquires connected camera and doorbell startup Blink


Amazon has acquired Blink (via Slashgear), a startup founded in 2014 that builds connected Wi-Fi home security cameras, as well as a new video doorbell introduced earlier this week. The company got its start via a crowdfunding campaign that raised over $1 million for its totally wireless home monitoring system.

Amazon has already made forays into connected home video cameras and even home entry products, including its Cloud Cam and Amazon Key offering for remotely enabling access to your home for delivery people dropping off packages.

What Blink brings to the table is expertise in building connected, wireless home monitoring and security tech that also operates completely wire-free requiring no complicated installation and running on simple, readily available replaceable batteries.

Blink’s Doorbell, for instanced, operates on two AA batteries and should last for about two years of regular use on those. That’s a lot better than rival Ring’s wireless doorbell in terms of battery life – and it costs less, too, at just $99 per unit, with many similar features including motion detection, two-way audio, waterproofing and night vision.

Amazon is clearly interested in owning more of the connected home space, after having tremendous success in the bourgeoning market via products like its Alexa smart speaker. This should have rivals including Ring and Alphabet-owned Nest worried, since between its own offerings and now Blink’s, it has a lot to offer consumers in terms of cost and convenience benefits.

Researchers discover aluminum foil actually does improve your wireless speed


Researchers at Dartmouth University have found that a 3D printed shape covered in aluminum foil can improve wireless range and increase Wi-Fi security. The project, which appeared on Eurekalert, involves placing a reflector on and around a Wi-Fi router’s antennae to shape the beam, increasing range and preventing it from passing through to unwanted spaces.

“With a simple investment of about $35 and specifying coverage requirements, a wireless reflector can be custom-built to outperform antennae that cost thousands of dollars,” said Xia Zhou, a Dartmouth assistant professor.

In their paper, Zhou and his colleagues tested multiple styles of directional antennas and also tested an “anecdotal” solution that involved sticking a soda can behind a router to shape the radio waves towards a target. After a few iterations, they were able to create specific shapes to increase Wi-Fi reception in specific rooms. They then created a program called WiPrint that 3D prints the exact shape needed to form the beams for better coverage and security. Once printed all you have to do is cover them in aluminum foil.

The team found that their reflectors could accurately shape Wi-Fi beams to avoid some spaces and favor others, thereby increasing security and coverage. For example, you could shape your beam to avoid going out a window into the street but be stronger in a room nearby.

They haven’t yet released the software but rest assured that your grandpa was right: aluminum foil and antennas do mix.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KVBFtSuCm0?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent&w=640&h=390]