Netgear Update and Upgrades
A little Netgear news on a couple fronts... The other day, Netgear representatives stopped by to fill me in on some changes Netgear is implementing to its small business reseller channel. Reseller news is not normally my cup of tea, but I was nonetheless compelled by what they had to say, as much of the discussion spoke directly to public perception problems that the company has endured for the last few years. After the usual round of pleasantries, the first question they asked me was, "When you think of Netgear, what do you think we are?" My answer? "A consumer networking company." Now, I am perfectly familiar with Netgear's background in business-class networking, its legacy from Bay Networks and Nortel. I know that it has a pretty complete line of small-business-oriented switches. But when I think of Netgear now, I am more likely to think of Skype phones, Powerline networking or boundary-pushing wireless networking products and snafus. The changes to its reseller program reflect this dichotomy between its current image and its background. Obviously, in its attempt to gain market share and shelf space for its consumer products, the reseller channel for its small-business-oriented products has suffered, losing traction to Internet store fronts like TigerDirect or NewEgg. So Netgear brought on board a new team to revamp and re-energize its VAR community. Today it introduced a new tiered plan to offer new services, access to information and support resources, and best of all -- discounted prices. The program has two tiers. Gold members have access to upfront discounts, volume rebates and a Netgear portal that has a wide variety of sales and marketing tools. Platinum-level resellers get all that, plus a dedicated account manager and access to pre-sales support by a Netgear SE, among other benefits. The platinum level is by invite only, so resellers will have to show some success as gold member first. The public perception of Netgear as a consumer-grade networking company has also hurt the success of its SMB product lines. Anyone who has had a bad experience with Netgear's consumer product technical support center will naturally be hesitant to subject his or her business to the same circumstances. To combat this perception, Netgear has introduced some new technical support resources for resellers. Gold members will have access to 24/7 support from a U.S.-based office (rather than the regular call center in India), and Platinum members will also have access to advanced network configuration support (although this resource will not be available 24/7). On to some product upgrades Speaking of support, over the last few months, Netgear released some firmware updates to a couple of products I reviewed last year: the Skype Wi-Fi Phone and the Powerline HD Ethernet Adapters. I always consider consumer networking products to be works in progress, as they traditionally ship with various flaws. Inevitably there will be a firmware release that most people won't install -- because they don't know the update exists or they don't know how. So here are some notes about performing the upgrades, saving most of the details on the performance of the code for a later time. Upgrading the Skype Wi-Fi Phone is a multistep affair. I first had boot into an intermediary mode from which I could install the firmware, but this mode does not use the wireless networking profile that gets used during normal device operations. This meant that I had to enter my WPA-PSK passphrase again, a process that I have found somewhere between tedious and downright annoying in the past -- since entering a combination of lower- and uppercase letters, numbers and special characters for the code is extremely time-consuming for those of us who don't spend all day texting our BFFs. But the device needs to be online to perform the update, as we needed to trigger the update mechanism from the device's built-in Web GUI. Once the upgrade was completed, we found our networking and Skype profiles had been wiped out, so I needed to enter the codes yet again. Bleh. The firmware update is available here with instructions, but there was no word about what enhancements lay therein. Meanwhile, the Powerline HD updates were a little easier to do. I had to install the newest version of the management software first, then scan the network for all attached Powerline devices, then press the Upgrade button for each device (I had two units). However, I found that I could only perform the update on the device closest to the management workstation, not on a unit on the other end of a Powerline network connection. So I had to swap places to upgrade the second device, moving the one I upgraded first to the far end of the network, and bringing the second one closer to the management workstation. Annoying, but not a big deal. In limited testing, I found the Powerline connection to be much more stable after I performed the upgrade, with fewer outages and slowdowns due to interference from hair dryers and whatnot. Displaying poor testing methodology, however, I also redesigned my network at the time I performed the upgrades, moving the adapters to different outlets and (in one case) different rooms. The list of new features, as well as the download, can be found here. Performance enhancements are not listed among the fixes, so others may not get the same unexpected performance boost that I saw.