The sun was out, the birds were singing, and at PAX AUS 2017 I was sitting comfortably in a room above the main trade floor, discovering the newest piece of power from event sponsors, Linksys. I was in the fortunate position of not being alone. Vince La Duca, the Global Product Manager for Linksys, was kind enough to take some time out of his day to talk with me about the latest (and greatest) in gamer network tech to come out over the last few years. This is the WRT32X:
First, sitting down with Vince I had to acknowledge that the market has shifted significantly over the past many years. As only 10 years ago, combined modem routers were as unreliable as sleeping dogs. They worked hard, but burnt out fast. I remember going though 3 routers over half as many years, until my fourth finally worked. Vince emphasised that over the last few years technology has come in leaps and bounds, not just in the hardware, but the firmware. They took what they learned from history, and continued to iterate and adjust and improve their technology to bring to use what they have today. It was not only the shift in technology, but the shift in demands and user requirements that helped drive innovation.
A few years back now, Cisco used to own Linksys. This proved to be a solid opportunity to explore and discover more about their products and where they wanted to find their core audiences. Ten years later, in 2013, Linksys was sold to Belkin, one of the biggest home networking (and technology) companies in the world. This match proved itself extremely valuable as it enabled Linksys to forge a route that would boost its quality and performance, expanding on and merging Belkin’s own tech. Through these shifts, Vince emphasised that they have never lost sight of what is important; the customer.
Linksys has always had a very engaged community. They have their support forums where both customers and Linksys employees mingle. If someone is having an issue, everyone can work together to establish a solution. If a feature is missing, or a suggested improvement is put forward, discussion could lead to potential implementation. With the WRT range of routers they have always taken it one step further. From the gaming router, the WRT54, the firmware driving the machine has been open-source friendly. This enabled modifications which rather than locking out their customers, instead empowers them to create the best experience possible. By continuing this with the WRT32X, Vince and Linksys reaffirm their commitment to creating the best possible experience, irrespective of whether you just want to plug and play, or commit to running a huge show floor (like in the PAX Aus freeplay areas).
Communicating what makes modems and routers special is a challenge for anyone. It is the kind of purchase that most people make once every 5 or so years and not generally with a solid ability to fully understand the tech. Once you have a modem, and once it works, you will not change or chop around unless you have a fairly specific reason. For example, the modem/router that I currently have has been happily chugging away for the last 7 years. It broadcasts not just to my house but to my elderly neighbours place. However, I am currently in the fortunate process of moving, from a place with no NBN to one with NBN FTTH. This awesome change is one which has me looking at what I need from modems and routers and what they can do for me. This is where the approach of “just make it work” comes into play. There is a lot of cool tech, but because of the deceptive simplicity, it becomes much easier to communicate.
For example, as a gamer, I know where my priority lies; good, fast and reliable internet which gets those packets from the server to me and back again as quickly as possible. The tech under the hood that helps achieve this includes network sharing balance. Thanks to the Killer Prioritisation Engine the WRT32X is able to decipher the types of packets going through your network and automatically assign to the fast lane more important traffic. Are you trying to get that key headshot in CS:GO but your sister insists that now is also the best time to watch all of Youtube, ABC iView and Netflix? This device will not only take your side, but it will give all your traffic the highest level of priority. By putting gaming traffic first, then voice, then video and normal net usage, you will not be plagued by the usual dropouts or packet loss often caused by a congested network. Linksys has your back.
How does Linksys know that this is the best game centred router? It’s because they don’t only preach, but practice. They are giving the e-sports scene the respect and attention that it deserves. They understand that muscle memory is important and a fluctuating ping can completely ruin that. In order to enhance the performance, Vince places their work with the University of California (Urvine) as critical to their understanding and successful implementation of the tech. As sponsor and partner of the UCI Esports program, they are able to force their hardware through its paces in regular and realistic environments. How does this benefit us? It is simple, by putting their name behind a team, they are incentivised to work as hard as possible to create a competitive advantage FOR the team. This is the same tech that then goes on the shelves, that us, the consumers, will buy.
Despite its placement as a gaming router, it never forgets that it has to be something that people can use on a daily basis. In order to support this, Vince and the Linksys team ensured that it still includes all the creature comforts that enable routers to be useful on a day-to-day basis. Customisable guest accounts, awesome Wi-Fi, harmonising the home internet and the Velop mesh system all work together to create an environment which means that everybody gets exactly what they need. I think that Vince articulates the position that the WRT32X holds best when he says:
“When exploring how online gaming enthusiasts used their internet connections and the networking technology in their home, we witnessed use of what others called “gaming routers”, but on deeper investigation, all we found were standard consumer routers but with some “gamer-bait” visual accents coupled with some smart marketing, but no real technical substance or innovation. This drove us to create a true gaming-focused router that delivers the best networking experience for online gaming with low latency and the fastest speeds. The WRT32X utilises enterprise-grade hardware DNA found in the WRT line of routers, but the WRT32X takes on a unique persona from both a visual standpoint as well as a firmware/software perspective. The new stealth livery informs this is not the WRT router you know, but WRT as a performance networking platform built to deliver the best online gaming experience.”
The WRT32X is available from Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi for RRP $449.95. If you are unsure whether this would be for you or not, OK Games will be putting out a review soon where we put this little monster through its paces!
A huge thanks go out to the Linksys team and Vince La Duca for taking the time to talk to me over the PAX weekend. It was great meeting you all and learning about the movement that Linksys has taken in the space over the last few years!