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First look: Google jumps into crowded wireless mesh market

Keith Shaw | Dec. 7, 2016
Easy setup, Internet pausing and whole-home coverage among top features

Google made a bunch of new hardware announcements earlier this year, which included new smartphones (the Pixel) and a virtual assistant (Google Home), but they also announced Google Wifi (love how they drop the hyphen and lowercase the F, causing whatever copy editors are left on the planet to wring their hands in anger), a wireless mesh platform to go up against the likes of other startups like eero, Almond, Luma, Amplifi, to name a few. Google Wifi is the update to its OnHub Wi-Fi platform - Google says that it's now on its third generation of products (the first one didn't make it to market, and the second one was OnHub). Google sent me a three-pack of the new system, which goes on sale to the general public today ($485 via Amazon, but also available from Best Buy, Walmart or directly from Google).

Like those other mesh units, the Google Wifi system consists of three equal small devices (Google calls them points). In order to create your network, you plug one of the points into a broadband modem via Ethernet cable (the three-pack comes with only one cable) and power up the unit (See "Up Close with Google Wifi's setup process"). Setup steps are done through the Google Wifi app on your smartphone or tablet (there's no way to set this up via computer web browser).

Google Wifi bottom Ethernet ports 

On the bottom of each point is space for the power cord and two Ethernet ports (see photo). One port is needed for the WAN connection from the modem; the second one can be used for other Ethernet devices (such as a storage drive, printer, etc.). Once the first point is connected, the Ethernet ports on the other ports act as LAN ports.

With the app, you set up the first point, renaming the name and password from its default settings to one that you like. The app will then guide you to set up the second and third points, testing both the mesh connectivity (is the point close enough to the other points) as well as configuring everything on the network side of things. The app can also test your broadband Internet speed – Google calls this the “Network Check”.

Once your network is up and running, the app lets you set up a guest network, as well as create profiles for parental controls and devices (Google calls this section “Family Wi-Fi”).

The Family Wi-Fi portion lets you create labels that can include one device (such as “Keith iPhone”) or several devices (“Kids”). Once created, you can then pause Internet activity for those labels – even if you only create a group, you can still pause individual devices. You can also add an end time to the “pause”, giving a time limit for when the pause will end. This includes one hour, two hours, four hours, “Until morning”, or you can choose a custom time. This is a nice touch, as you might forget that you’ve paused the Internet, and don’t want to deal with the request “Why doesn’t the Internet work?” you get later.

 

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