Google's new OnHub home Wi-Fi router: What is it and who might need it?

Google's new OnHub home Wi-Fi router: What is it and who might need it?

Google's new router is designed to become consumers' central communications hub for computers, phones, televisions, and IoT.

Home Wi-Fi routers are often designed as unattractive, dumbed-downed versions of enterprise routers. Google's just-announced OnHub router takes a different approach – designed for consumers to connect everything to Google's and other clouds, it actually looks pretty sweet.

First: It's a router

For backward compatibility, the OnHub has a 2.4 GHz wireless 802.11b/g/n 3x3 with a smart antenna. Looking forward, it has 5 GHz wireless 802.11a/n/ac 3x3 with a smart antenna. At 1.3 Mbps, 802.11ac is almost three times as fast as 802.11n.

Most routers don't operate in the 5 GHZ spectrum, so assuming that some users has compatible endpoint devices that support 5 GHz, they will discover a quiet and uncongested part of the radio spectrum. In urban environments, many of the 2.4 GHz routers conflict because of how Wi-Fi's collision-avoidance algorithm works. It listens for a quiet channel prior to transmitting. If the Wi-Fi channel is occupied, the Wi-Fi device randomly backs off and tries again. If the channel is occupied again, it randomly backs off again until the channel becomes free. At some point, the algorithm determines the device should seek another channel or another channel and access point. This isn't a problem for rural consumers, but in a dense city, the 5 GHz will deliver a performance improvement in raw speed and increased accessibility.

Subscribers to Google and other ISPs' Gigabit internet access services will need a 5 MHZ, 802.11ac router to use this ultra-high-speed communications channel.

But not just a router

The device features Bluetooth 4.0, Smart Ready, 802.15.4 (Zigbee), and Google Nest's Weave, all intending to to interconnect Nest thermostats and Dropcams based on IEEE 802.15.4 and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n. If consumer Internet of Things (IoT) designers are attentive to simple setup and connection of new consumer devices, the OnHub could become the center of the consumer's automated universe of a multitude of devices, like air quality sensors, fire alarms, and lighting controllers.

The Google On app makes setup and security dead simple, using devices running Android 4.0 or higher or iOS 7 or higher to communicate with the OnHub via its built-in speaker.

Designed send and receive while being seen

The OnHub is certainly more attractive than the average Wi-Fi router; a simple cylindrical device, it was apparently designed to be stored in a living area and blend in as if it were somewhere between kitsch and an objet d'art. Google product manager Trond Wuellner said that tests proved that this orientation improved performance. The router's removable outer shell comes in blue and black. Wired reported that more colors are coming.

At $200, its not the least-expensive router, but for people with big plans for a home environment that spans smartphones, connected TVs, computers, and IoT devices, the OnHub should be added to the shopping list, especially for the urban-dwelling consumer.

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