Google's Wi-Fi Router Could Make Your Home Smarter

Senior editor, security and privacy
Updated

In an effort to make routers easier to use and more compatible with other smart home gadgets, Google has announced its own home gateway router, called the OnHub. The $200 device, which is being made in partnership with Chinese networking-product maker TP-LINK, can be pre-ordered on the Google Play Store, Amazon and, reportedly, Walmart.com. Amazon promises that the device will be released on Aug. 31.

The OnHub is a sleek black or dark-blue cylinder about 7.5 inches tall. Within its cowling are 13 Wi-Fi antennae, offering IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac at speeds up to 1900 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz and 5 Ghz frequencies. It also has Bluetooth Low Energy, and, interestingly, 802.15.4 connectivity.

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The latter specification will likely make the OnHub directly compatible with the Thread smart-home wireless networking protocol currently being developed by Google's Nest unit and other companies, and possibly compatible with the older, but widespread ZigBee smart-home networking protocol.

If so, smart-home customers buying an OnHub may not need a separate hub to connect smart-home devices to the Wi-Fi network.

Unlike most home gateway routers, the OnHub has not four, but one, Ethernet port into which to plug a local device, which may inconvenience users with more than one older desktop computer that lacks a Wi-Fi card. The OnHub does a have a single USB 3.0 port for external hard drives or non-wireless printers. There's also a built-in speaker, but it's not clear what Google intends to do with it.

On the Google Play Store site, Google is touting the simplicity of use that the OnHub purportedly offers. Setup and administration are meant to be done entirely through an OnHub mobile app for Android and iOS devices, although neither the iTunes Store nor the Google Play Store offered the app as of this afternoon.

Home gateway routers have been plagued by a rash of security issues in the past year, and Google stresses that the OnHub will automatically download and install firmware updates. That's a big difference from most home routers, which must be updated via a laborious process, and that's often only if the owner checks the manufacturer's website for updates.

With its $200 price and easy-to-install updates, however, Google is clearly positioning the OnHub to take on Apple's Airport Extreme, which has similar specifications and its own mobile (if iOS only) app. We're not about to take any position on which of the two is better, but can tell you that you'd probably be better off with either the OnHub or Airport Extreme than with a sub-$100 model from another maker.

Oddly, the OnHub's two-year warranty is being handled by TP-LINK, not Google itself. We're reaching out to Google to find out exactly what that means.

We'll have a review of the Google/TP-LINK OnHub home gateway router as soon as we can get our hands on one.