Plume is turning Wi-Fi into the ultimate smart home intelligence platform

The home networking startup has been using Wi-Fi to detect motion, and now wants to build data intelligence products based on insights from 31 million homes.

A Comcast xFi pod

Comcast's xFi home networking products are powered by Plume's cloud-based software.

Photo: Comcast

When Fahri Diner founded the home Wi-Fi networking startup Plume Design in 2015, he was just looking to solve what he calls the last 2-meter problem. Make sure that the broadband reaching people's houses actually made it from the home gateway to their devices, and that one data-hungry appliance didn't slow down everything else.

Six years later, Plume is in over 31 million homes, and its Wi-Fi networks have managed to connect more than a billion devices worldwide to the internet. Along the way, Diner discovered that Wi-Fi can provide much more than just connectivity. "Plume has started with that narrow vision, and we've really become the operating system of the smart home," he told Protocol during a recent interview.

Now, Plume is looking to enable all kinds of additional technologies and businesses on top of that operating system. The company has begun using Wi-Fi signals as motion sensors, and is increasingly turning the insights it gains from managing those 31 million networks into a data business. Today, it helps internet providers cut down on service call costs. Tomorrow, it may help investment bankers figure out which companies are worth their money.

How Plume got into 31 million households

When Diner and his team set out to improve home networking back in 2015, they quickly realized that the answer to Wi-Fi slowdowns wasn't just adding more antennas in people's homes. Instead of making yet another mesh router system, Plume built a software layer that enabled Wi-Fi networks to more intelligently allocate bandwidth for each device and use case.

"We realized that in order to do it right, it was more of a software challenge, and not coverage and mesh devices and all of that," Diner said. "A Zoom call doesn't need a lot of throughput, but it needs a low packet loss. A gaming session wants low latency. A 4K TV streaming session wants sustained throughput."

The result was a cloud-based home network management platform that the company then sold to internet service providers. "Think of us as the switchboard, the intelligence and the common data plane," Diner said. Today, Plume's technology powers Comcast's xFi Wi-Fi products as well as home networking products for Charter, Vodafone and a number of other operators around the globe.

Wi-Fi has become an increasingly important part of the business for these companies, especially as consumers ditch their pay TV services in favor of streaming. "As people buy fewer services, their propensity for churn goes up," Diner said. "In order to retain these customers and also grow revenue, they need more services — and smart home is the play."

How Wi-Fi can be used to track motion

Plume also built a direct-to-consumer business, complete with its own Wi-Fi pods, and a monthly subscription package for home network management. However, at least for the time being, those subscription fees aren't a huge money maker for the company, with Diner estimating that the company has fewer than 200,000 retail subscribers. "The reason I have a direct-to-consumer business today is so that I can stay directly connected with the consumer," he said. "Think of it as a large beta network."

A beta network Plume can use to try out new services, which include using Wi-Fi as a motion detector. "Just simply by looking at perturbations, disturbances of the Wi-Fi radio waves, we can detect whether there's motion, and we can detect where that motion is," Diner said. "It works surprisingly well."

Plume began testing Wi-Fi motion detection technology developed by Cognitive Systems in early 2020, and the company is now considering offering additional services atop of that technology. These could include triggers that help consumers save energy by automatically turning off lights after someone leaves a room, or even provide security and elder care products. "I'd like to monitor my elderly parents, but people don't want cameras watching them," Diner said. "It's kind of a semi-private way of monitoring, making sure your parents got up and went to the bathroom."

How Plume can become an App Annie for the smart home

While Wi-Fi can provide a lot of intelligence on the household level, this type of data can be even more valuable in aggregate. Plume showed off some of its smart home intelligence chops when it announced the billion-device milestone earlier this summer, detailing that the number of Wi-Fi-connected devices in U.S. households increased by 38% during the pandemic. The company was even able to drill down in specific device categories, reporting that Peloton saw its device install base grow by 158% between October 2019 and May 2021. The number of Apple watches grew by 54% in the same time frame.

Plume has already begun to monetize these insights via its existing relationships with internet service providers. "We're building all sorts of data products," Diner said. Service providers can use this type of data to better target consumers who may want to upgrade to higher internet speeds, but these companies also rely on it to manage their networks and help with customer service issues.

"The first person a consumer calls when something doesn't work with their network is the ISP," said Internet of Things podcast host Stacey Higginbotham. By providing a window into a customer's home, and combining it with aggregate intelligence across their entire customer base, service providers will have an easier time troubleshooting device connectivity issues. "ISPs do want to know this stuff," she said.

So do others, as it turns out. Plume has seen demand from a range of industries for its insights, including device makers, retailers and even the world of finance. Diner went out of his way to stress that Plume would only ever sell aggregate data, and not allow any third party to target individual users with advertising. However, he also readily admitted that there's money to be made with Wi-Fi intelligence data.

Higginbotham agrees. "There is demand for this," she said. Plume could, for instance, help investors make better bets on consumer electronics companies, and help device manufacturers with competitive intelligence. "They can become a kind of App Annie for the smart home," she said.

However, Higginbotham also cautioned that Wi-Fi insights only go so far, especially when companies rely on MAC addresses to identify what's on a home network. "They will have a hard time with new devices," she said.

Diner admitted as much, but also said that his company was refining detection of devices based on usage patterns and more. "It's a prediction," he said. "We guess, but the guessing is surprisingly accurate, and we're getting better and better at it.


The Senate antitrust bill just created some very weird alliances

Democrats and Republicans have found the tech reform debate scrambles traditional party politics — and Tim Cook and Ted Cruz have found themselves chatting.

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill on Thursday that could remake the tech industry.

Photo: PartTime Portraits/Unsplash

Strange alliances formed ahead of Thursday's vote to advance a key antitrust bill to the Senate floor, with frequent foes like Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Ted Cruz supporting the measure, and prominent Democrats including California Sen. Dianne Feinstein pushing back against it.

Ultimately the bill moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 16-6 after a surprisingly speedy debate (at least, speedy for the Senate). Even some of the lawmakers who called for further changes agreed to move the bill forward — a sign that the itch to finally regulate Big Tech after years of congressional inaction is intensifying, even as the issue scrambles traditional party politics in a way that could threaten its final passage.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Sponsored Content

A CCO’s viewpoint on top enterprise priorities in 2022

The 2022 non-predictions guide to what your enterprise is working on starting this week

As Honeywell’s global chief commercial officer, I am privileged to have the vantage point of seeing the demands, challenges and dynamics that customers across the many sectors we cater to are experiencing and sharing.

This past year has brought upon all businesses and enterprises an unparalleled change and challenge. This was the case at Honeywell, for example, a company with a legacy in innovation and technology for over a century. When I joined the company just months before the pandemic hit we were already in the midst of an intense transformation under the leadership of CEO Darius Adamczyk. This transformation spanned our portfolio and business units. We were already actively working on products and solutions in advanced phases of rollouts that the world has shown a need and demand for pre-pandemic. Those included solutions in edge intelligence, remote operations, quantum computing, warehouse automation, building technologies, safety and health monitoring and of course ESG and climate tech which was based on our exceptional success over the previous decade.

Keep Reading Show less
Jeff Kimbell
Jeff Kimbell is Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Honeywell. In this role, he has broad responsibilities to drive organic growth by enhancing global sales and marketing capabilities. Jeff has nearly three decades of leadership experience. Prior to joining Honeywell in 2019, Jeff served as a Partner in the Transformation Practice at McKinsey & Company, where he worked with companies facing operational and financial challenges and undergoing “good to great” transformations. Before that, he was an Operating Partner at Silver Lake Partners, a global leader in technology and held a similar position at Cerberus Capital LP. Jeff started his career as a Manufacturing Team Manager and Engineering Project Manager at Procter & Gamble before becoming a strategy consultant at Bain & Company and holding executive roles at Dell EMC and Transamerica Corporation. Jeff earned a B.S. in electrical engineering at Kansas State University and an M.B.A. at Dartmouth College.

Should your salary depend on meeting DEI goals?

Diversio just raised $6.5 million to use AI to fix DEI.

Laura McGee has spent her entire career thinking about diversity and business. At one point, she helped lead the Trump-Trudeau Council for Advancement of Women, working with the prime minister and president to build a plan to grow the North American economy through diversity. During that time, she kept hearing from CEOs that they cared about diversity and wanted to improve, but that they had “no data and no metrics.”

That was when she decided to build Diversio: a platform that makes data collection, as well as acting on it, “super simple.”

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol, where she writes about management, leadership and workplace issues in tech. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at

Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.


Why low-code and no-code AI tools pose new risks

The low-code trend has come to AI, but skeptics worry that gifting amateurs with Easy-Bake Ovens for machine-learning models is a recipe for disaster.

The same things that make low- and no-code AI so appealing can pose problems.

Image: Boris SV/Moment/Getty Images

“No code. No joke.”

This is the promise made by enterprise AI company C3 AI in splashy web ads for its Ex Machina software. Its competitor Dataiku says its own low-code and no-code software “elevates” business experts to use AI. DataRobot calls customers using its no-code software to make AI-based apps “AI heroes.”

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.


How 'Dan from HR' became TikTok’s favorite career coach

You can get a lot of advice about corporate America on TikTok. ‘Dan from HR’ wants to make sure you’re getting the right instruction.

'Dan from HR' has posted hundreds of videos on his TikTok account about everything from cover letters to compensation.

Image: Dan Space

Daniel Space downloaded TikTok for the same reason most of us did. He was bored.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Space wanted to connect with his younger cousin, who uses TikTok, so he thought he’d get on the platform and try it out (although he refused to do any of the dances). Eventually, the algorithm figured out that Space is a longtime HR professional and fed him a post with resume tips — the only issue was that the advice was “really horrible,” he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Sarah Roach

Sarah Roach is a reporter and producer at Protocol (@sarahroach_) where she contributes to Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. She is a recent graduate of George Washington University, where she studied journalism and mass communication and criminal justice. She previously worked for two years as editor in chief of her school's independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet.

Latest Stories