Editors' note: This is not a review of a particular router but the firmware-based platform that Cisco is using for its latest home-networking routers. We will review the routers themselves separately.
Cisco Connect Cloud, which went live earlier this week, is Cisco's new home-networking platform. It includes open-API firmware that can be managed via a few different user interfaces, including an advanced Web interface and mobile apps. Most importantly, it allows supported routers to be controlled via the Internet, through Cisco's new Cisco Connect Cloud portal. This means users can access and manage their home network no matter where they are, either through a Web browser or a mobile app.
Furthermore, the new firmware also allows third parties to develop applications for the router, as well as offering a Wi-Fi interfacing standard so that supported home appliances can connect to and be managed and monitored via the home network. This means in the near future you'll find mobile apps that enable you to manage your home appliances when you're away (so that, for example, by the time you get home, the chicken has been thawed). In fact, there are currently some half a dozen mobile apps already available or submitted to app stores, made by third parties that help you do more with your home network. This review, however, is only about the Cisco Connect Cloud app, available now free for both Android and iOS devices, and the Cisco Connect Cloud Web interface.
Note that Cisco Connect Cloud works only with Cisco's latest Linksys EA series routers, currently comprising the Linksys EA2700, EA3500, and EA4500, and Cisco's future home routers. As an exception, the Linksys E4200v2, though belonging to the previous Linksys E series, is also counted in and will work just like the EA4500 once its firmware has been updated.
Getting connected via the cloud
If you buy a new EA series router now, chances are it already has the Cisco Connect Cloud firmware enabled. In this case, the setup is easy. First you'll need to create yourself an account at ciscoconnectcloud.com. The process took just a minute in my case, though I did have to provide a valid e-mail and use it to verify the account. After that, from a computer connected to the new router, point the browser to the router's default IP address, which is 192.168.1.1, and you will be ask to sign in. Do that with the account you have created. The next step is to associate the new router with the account by typing its admin password, which by default is "admin." You can change this password later. In fact, in my experience, the only way to disassociate a router from a Cisco Connect Cloud account is to reset it to factory default settings.
If for some reason the above steps seem complicated, you can follow the included instructions or run the Cisco Connect desktop software included with the router. Either way, you'll be able to use Cisco Connect Cloud in just about 5 or 10 minutes at most.
If you already have an EA series router or the Linksys E4200v2, you will need to update the router's firmware to use Cisco Connect Cloud. If you didn't opt out of automatic updates during the initial setup, the firmware will have been pushed to the router automatically via the Internet. If you did opt out, which means you're likely an advanced user, just go to the router's existing Web interface by pointing a browser from a connected computer to its IP address (again, it's 192.168.1.1, if you haven't changed that) and update the firmware manually.
Now that the firmware has been updated, from a computer, you can either log in to the Cisco Connect Cloud Web site or via the router's IP (if you're at home and connected to your local home network), and you will be greeted with a completely new Web interface. Alternatively, you can download and run the Cisco Connect Cloud mobile app from your iPad, iPhone, or Android device.
In any case, your home network is now nothing like how you have known it before. Note that you can use one Cisco Connect Cloud account to manage multiple supported routers. This is great if you want to manage the home network of a friend or non-tech-savvy relative. In this case, from within the new Web interface or mobile app, you can quickly switch from one network to another without have to sign out.
Design and features
Cisco Connect Cloud's interface is generally very well-organized and intuitive. It has two parts: Apps and Router Settings, laid out in one column at the left side of the Web interface.
Apps, which are not to be confused with mobile apps, basically are main features -- or according to Cisco, the embedded apps -- of the router, consisting of Device List, Guest Access, Parental Control, Media Prioritization, Speed Test, and USB Storage. Depending on the router, some of these features will not be available. For example, the Linksys EA4500 has all these features, while a lower-end router such as the EA2700 will not have USB Storage, since it has no USB port. On the other hand, future more powerful routers might have more features, or Cisco might add more features to existing routers in the future.
Each the apps has a small widget that can be displayed in the center of the Web interface, with a quick function available, such as to turn it on or off. To further customize the feature, you'll need to click on it from the left column. For example, using the widget I could turn the Parental Control feature on or off, but to add which computer to what block list, I needed to use the link on the main volume. The Parental Control feature worked very well and was easy to customize this way, by the way.