On August 19, 2020, Winegard issued a press release stating that they had acquired WiFiRanger.
“I am thrilled to welcome WiFiRanger into the Winegard family,” says Grant Whipple, Winegard Company President and COO in the press release.
Kelly Hogan, CEO of WiFiRanger said, “Since 2001, we've pioneered connectivity solutions for the RV park industry — it makes sense for us to align with an established industry player like Winegard.”
WiFiRanger Acquisition or Bankruptcy was Inevitable
I reviewed the WiFiRanger Aspen router in a YouTube video in June 2020. I was disappointed in the manufacturing quality of the router and speculated that they may have issues sourcing the parts they need from China.
The WiFiRanger Aspen is actually WiFiRanger software installed onto a cheap open source Chinese router. In the video, I showed how the wholesale prices for the base router were increasing and they may have difficult sourcing parts.
The quality of their Aspen router is subpar. The Aspen was certainly not worth what I paid for it. The poor build quality of the Aspen router made me question my original plans to utilize WiFiRanger products in our coach. I ended up changing our gear over to Peplink who makes high-quality devices that is built for mobile use.
Consumers expect more for less, not less for more. I suspect many WiFiRanger customers have moved to other connectivity options as well.
WiFiRanger Business Model Challenges
The challenge with WiFiRanger's business model is they rely exclusively on third-party hardware manufacturers to build the equipment they sell to consumers. Any issue in their supply chain limits their ability to generate revenue. Accordingly, if their manufacturers increase costs, WiFiRanger is forced to price their products above their competitors to make a profit.
Winegard Connect is a good example of the competition WiFiRanger has been facing. Winegard Connect 2.0 has an integrated LTE Router and WiFi that is comparable to the WiFiRanger Converge Denali. Winegard Connect retails for $348.57 on Amazon, whereas, the Converge Denali is $450 with a base Category 4 LTE MODEM and $500 with a Category 6 LTE MODEM.
WiFiRanger Release Delays
The cornerstone of the WiFiRanger product line is the Converge, which is an outside roof mounted housing that has internal electronics and antennas. Converge was initially marketed as a device that would house HDTV, AM/FM, WiFi and LTE antennas in a small form-factor aerodynamic shark-fin shaped device.
WiFiRanger encountered issues with power and interference with the HDTV/AM/FM modules. They scaled the Converge back to WiFi and LTE only options.
WiFiRanger announced the release of the Converge product line at an Industry Insider event in March of 2019. The expectation was set that they would be in full production by the RV Industry Open House in September.
WiFiRanger announced the pricing and specs at the September RV Industry Open House. They were not ready to debut the Converge product line as many of us expected.
Two of the three converge devices (Teton and Denali) were released in March 2020 — a year behind their initial industry insider announcement and 6 months after the official RV Industry Open House. The delay very likely impacted their business. Customers like me decided to wait for the release of the Converge vs buying out dated technology.
I am actually still on the waiting list for the Converge Everest that is supposed to support modern 5 GHz WiFi connectivity and gigabyte Ethernet. As of this writing, the Everest is still showing Coming Soon on their website.
Converge Hit and Miss
The initial release of the Converge product line was expected to take WiFiRanger into new RV builds where their products would be installed by RV Manufacturers as OEM hardware. The concept was that the RV Manufacturer would install a base HDTV/AM/FM antenna and a customer could add WiFi and other connected components down the road. This strategy would have provided WiFiRanger with two income sources — B2B with the RV manufacturers and B2C with consumers upgrading the devices.
WiFiRanger's Converge strategy is similar to how the Lippert One Connect system and the Furion Camera Mounts are pre-wired and installed in many new campers.
The WiFiRanger strategy to get their devices into new RVs would have transformed their business; however, I suspect they underestimated their competitors and the industry. Both Lippert and Winegard have proven experience meeting the demand of delivering and supporting thousands of units a month to RV manufacturers and they both have competing products.
WiFiRanger does not have the financial resources, manufacturing facilities or the staff needed to support thousands of customers that would be required to make their way into the production line of a major RV manufacturer.
Acquisition Breaths Life into WiFiRanger
Based on my experience with WiFiRanger and business in general, I don't believe they could have survived much longer. They have supply chain issues, the COVID pandemic likely impacted their business, they have a history of missing key delivery dates, and they do not have the financial resources needed to penetrate the RV manufacturing industry. That is until now…
Winegard is an outstanding company with an impeccable reputation. They already have a direct line into the RV manufacturers and have been providing them with reliable, high-quality antennas for decades.
Winegard has solid product manufacturing capabilities and a proven track record of building top-notch components. What they don't have is good software. The Winegard connect products utilize a cumbersome app that is required to program them. WiFiRanger has built an elegant app that is nice looking and easy to use.
Combining the engineering talent of Winegard with the software development talent of WiFiRanger is a perfect match. Winegard also has the financial resources to deliver industry-leading projects on a production schedule.
I am excited about this merger and looking forward to seeing the next-generation connected devices — Maybe 5g? Wouldn't that be cool…