WiFi Fence First Look

by Gajan Retnasaba on June 27, 2009

The Perimeter Technologies WiFi Fence has gone into production and will be delivered to pre-orders in the coming weeks.  We were able to get one of the early units this week from Perimeter and have been playing with it for the last week.  Our initial thoughts are that it is a significant improvement on the PetSafe model, but it does have a few kinks. 

Wifi_fence_box

The first thing we noticed when we got the unit in the mail is that the box is smaller than we expected.  The design is clean and reminiscent of Apple packaging.  It is certainly a few steps up from most of the packaging in the dog fence industry. 

Wifi Fence 

Cracking open the box you find a (1) base station, (2) power adapter, (3) collar, (4) instructions, (5) 50 boundary flags,  and (5) a small baggie of doo-dads including short and long prong attachments for the collar.

The Base Station

The control box has a nice modern design with a clean curvelinear face with an lcd screen and a simple control pad in the centre.  It also has two big rabbit ears coming out the top like a might seen on a router.  Controls are simple and intuitive and we rarely needed to refer to the instructions to get everything working.

One of our concerns was that being WiFi it would interfere with our wireless network.  We set the unit up right next to our wireless route and neither our office network, nor the WiFi fence suffered any ill effects.

base-station

wifi collar

Collar

The collar is one of the larger units in dog fence’s.  It is about the same size as the PetSafe Wireless collar.  You would probably not want to use this on a dog under 20 pounds.  The collar uses the snap type connectors on the collar band which is much superior to the buckle type that is on some systems.  The waterproofing on the collar looks like it was very well done, just as it is on other Perimeter Technologies models. 

Batteries

The unit includes not one, but  two rechargeable batteries.  The rechargeable batteries are removable, which we believe is a first in a dog fence system and is a very clever addition.  You can charge both batteries at the same time in the back of the base station.  One battery gets put in the collar, the other stays in the base station and supplies power to the base station in the case of a power failure.  Having two batteries is great, because the instant one battery dies, you can quickly replace it with a fresh battery that has been charging in the base station. The battery level for the collar is also displayed on the base station, so it is easy to figure out when the collar needs charging. 

This is to our knowledge the first dog fence units with a removable rechargeable battery.  That is a nice touch, because if the battery dies on you, you can replace the battery instead of the whole collar.  It also lets you recharge a collar instantly by just swapping out the battery instead of having to take the collar out of action for a couple of hours to charge it.

The rechargeable battery is a 3.6V lithium ion battery.  You can get replacements from Perimeter Technologies or from specialty battery stores.  They claim it is good for at least 300 cycles (by our calculations 5 years).  The battery does not mark the positive and negative terminals, so we had to guess which way it should be orientated.  (the manual does explain which end is positive … we just think it would be even better on the actual battery)  (Note: a previous version of this post incorrectly stated that the battery was proprietary .. our thanks to the commenter below for figuring out that it is in fact available off the shelf)

One of our initial concerns was that the battery life would be short.  We aren’t sure how long the battery life is in the collar because we haven’t had the unit long enough yet to exhaust the first charge, but it is at least a week.  Plus since you get two batteries, battery life is unlikely to be a problem.

 

In Action

You start by pairing each collar with the system.  This is a pretty easy process, you just but the fence into pairing mode and then insert the battery into the collar and press “ok” on the control box.  You are limited to have  two dogs on each system, unlike the Petsafe PIF-300 where you can have as many as  you like. 

Setting the radius distance is intuitive.  You simply take the collar to the desired location, and then press the set key on the control box and you are ready to roll!

The boundary is a little imprecise.  You get a vague region of a couple of feet where the system may or may not give a correction.  This is also an issue with the PetSafe PIF-300.  The correction and warning tone are also a little sluggish, if you are moving quickly, it sometimes only responds a second after you have actually crossed the boundary.  It lacks the kind of precise, crisp correction zones as the in-ground models that you get on the in-ground units.  However, like the PIF-300 the WiFi Fence has a correction zone that goes out infinitely beyond the the boundary, so the dog cannot run through the boundary to escape the correction 

Range was a little disappointing.  The range is promoted as 200 feet.  In wide open spaces where there was a clear line of site, we got a reliable range of 260 feet after which reception got spotty. But when we put the unit in the middle of a house, we got a reliable range of 100 feet.  Putting the unit near a window got us the advertised 200 feet where there was a clear line of site, but on the other side of the building we would only get a reliable range of 100 feet.  Putting the unit in small wooden garden shed go us a range close to the advertised 200 feet.  Testing it head to head against the PetSafe PIF-300, the WiFi Fence won every time.  It clearly has the best range among wireless dog fences but the advertised 200 feet is probably a bit optimistic if you intend to place the unit in the middle of your house. 

One great feature, is that as soon as the dog break the boundary, not only does the collar beep, but there is an alarm at the base station so you know when your dog is challenging the fence and can immediately go outside and investigate.

Using the system with our official test Labrador this week instead of his regular wireless system, everything worked fine.   Admitted this was not a very tough test.  The test Labrador is already well trained and knew his boundaries so never challenged the boundaries.  It was neat to be able to know how  far away the dog was, this was the primary source of office and family entertainment for a while, although the feature really doesn’t help find the dog because it gives you no directional information.  We are installing one of these with a client in the next month so will be able to get a fuller in-field review in July with a dog that has not already been trained.

 

Construction/Quality

There were a couple of small quality things we noticed that suggest it is in the early days of production.  Both sets of contacts do not screw very easily into the collar.  We couldn’t screw them all the way in by hand and there was not tool included to help us (like on say the Innotek IUC-4100).  We had to use a pair of pliers to tighten ours fully.  The battery cover was similarly a tight fit, although this makes sense as they are trying to keep the unit watertight.

Also the included instructions seemed rushed and are not professionally printed.  The instructions look like they were photocopied then folded and stapled together in the middle to form a booklet.  This is no big deal, as the instructions were clear and did their job, but it was incongruous and a gentle reminder that this is a very new product.

As with all Perimeter Technologies units this model comes with a limited lifetime guarantee.  This really means it has a one year guarantee after which time they will fix it for a labor charge.

 

 Conclusion

We were impressed.  This is a step up from the PetSafe PIF-300, for about the same price. You get better range and some nice extra features.  Some things that could be better are the vague, slow boundaries and the range not being quite as large advertised.  Still we would recommend this unit over the PetSafe IF-300, the only caveat being that the unit has not been around so we don’t know how good the long-term reliability will be.  You will be taking a chance.  But, we have had good experiences with other Perimeter Technologies systems and the unit does include a limited lifetime warranty.

UPDATE:  The PetSafe PIF-300 has lowered it’s price to $229.95 now making it $70 cheaper than the WiFi.  It is now a pretty close call between the two.  Reliability seems to be a problem, the unit really has trouble where there is metal siding.  We would avoid using it where there are lots of obstacles, such as in the middle of a large house or where there are many trees.  Also keep in mind that neither wireless unit is anywhere near as good as an inground system.  So if you can do an in-ground system, that is definately the way to go.
UPDATE2: THe Wifi Fence has a new higher price of $329.95. The more we experiment with the unit, the more temperamental we see it being with obstructions. The PetSafe wireless fence is now the clear choice unless you need the range of the Wifi.

Look out for a full review in late July once we have had the unit for a month.  (Find it here:  Wifi Fence Review)

You can order the wifi fence now at our online store.

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