Google’s WiFi router is Trojan Horse in the smart home


Google just can’t keep away from devices. It may have sold Motorola’s handset business – already making a bigger splash than it has for years under Lenovo’s wing – and delayed trials of its Project Ara modular smartphone, but it continues to follow the dream of taking the design lead in the gadgets which will fuel usage of the web, and Google’s services, in future.

The latest example is the new OnHub WiFi router. Like other Google-driven hardware efforts – the Nest thermostat, Nexus handsets, Chromecast TV dongle and Chromebook Pixel – OnHub attempts to turn a mundane and often ugly gadget into something stylish and covetable. Only a few companies, such as Apple and vacuum cleaner maker Dyson, have really pulled off this trick, but in a world where every appliance may be connected, the wireless players will need to pay more attention to aesthetics.

OnHub is cylindrical and seven inches in height, with a dimmable light ring at the top to show how the router is functioning. Inside, it has six 2.4 GHz and six 5 GHz antennas. The design is partly about pushing the Google brand – with associated web services – to the forefront of the home wireless experience, in the same way that Android muscled its way into the mobile platform.

But it is also about ease of use, which is critical to all Google’s experiments, because it increases the time people spend on the web. In particular, OnHub will deliver a better signal than most routers because its owners will be happy to display it at eye level, rather than hiding it away on the floor, says the vendor. In addition, set-up and troubleshooting is simplified, because it is all done via the Google On app, which runs on Android and iOS. The app supports functions such as speed testing and router problem detection, and allows users to prioritize a certain device to achieve the maximum speeds.

Like Google’s Nexus and Nest devices, the OnHub was actually created by a hardware specialist – China’s TP-Link – with the search giant contributing the design vision. It will ship in north America from August 31, priced at $199. As in the Chromebook and Nexus markets, multiple hardware vendors will partner with Google to create different OnHub variants – Asus is already involved, for instance .

Of course, like the Amazon Echo – which it visually resembles – the OnHub will aim to be a Trojan Horse in the smart home, starting by supporting a single familiar function, but then, once established, expanding into many other capabilities.

In future, Google acknowledged, OnHub will support a wide range of connected devices via Bluetooth or 802.15.4 (ZigBee or the Nest-driven Thread protocol). That will put it at the heart of the smart home ecosystem Google aims to create around Thread and its Brillo and Weave platforms.

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Caroline has been analyzing and reporting in the hi-tech industries since 1986 and has a huge wealth of experience of technology trends and how they impact on business models. She started her career as a journalist, specializing in enterprise and carrier networks and in silicon technologies. She spent much of her journalistic career at VNU Business Publishing, then Europe’s largest producer of technology publications and information services . She was publishing director for the launch of VNU’s pan-European online content services, and then European editorial director. She then made the move from publishing into technology market analysis and consulting, and in 2002 co-founded Rethink Technology Research with Peter White. Rethink specializes in trends and business models for wireless, converged and quad play operators round the world and the technologies that support them. Caroline’s role is to head up the wireless side of the business, leading the creation of research, newsletters and consulting services focused on mobile platforms and operator models. In this role, she has become a highly recognized authority on 4G systems such as LTE and WiMAX, and a prolific speaker at industry events. Consulting and research clients come from major mobile operators, the wireless supply chain and financial institutions.