Connecting to a Wi-Fi network is easy, but setting one up is not. You have to use a special IP address to log in to your router’s interface (which probably isn’t very intuitive), set options such as what channel to use and whether to distribute IP addresses, and use trial-and-error to determine what combination of settings results in the fastest and most stable network.
People hate this process, Google learned last year when it began interviewing people to find out about their Internet habits.
This week, Google announced “OnHub,” a wireless router that it says is more reliable, secure, and easy to use than devices from Netgear, Arris, and other hardware manufacturers. OnHub costs $199, and can be preordered from Google’s store, Amazon, or Walmart.com. This first iteration is being built by Google and router-maker TP-Link, though a second version made in partnership with Asus is in the pipeline.
OnHub looks a bit like the Amazon Echo. It's a black or blue cylinder about 8 inches tall with LEDs on the top to indicate the router’s status. The idea is that the router will look good enough to sit on your desk or table, which will help boost its signal (the transmitted radio waves won’t have to fight their way out from under a pile of other devices or from behind a door, where an uglier router might be installed). A router on a shelf performs about twice as well as one on the floor, Google says.
OnHub also has some nifty features that make it a bit easier to use than most other routers. If you have more than one device connected to your Wi-Fi network, OnHub allows you to prioritize a single device for the fastest Wi-Fi – that way, your work won’t be interrupted if someone starts streaming Netflix in another room. OnHub is managed through the Google On app (for Android 4.0 and up, and iOS 7 and up), which guides users through setup by using sound waves to locate the router in your home. Once the network is up and running, Google On can monitor congestion, see which devices are using the most bandwidth, and help with troubleshooting.
Google product manager Trond Wuellner told the AP that OnHub’s software will be regularly updated to introduce new features, support new devices, and harden its security. Just as Google’s Chrome browser automatically updates itself with new features and bug fixes, OnHub will periodically receive software upgrades to improve performance. In response to privacy concerns, Google says OnHub won’t inspect any information about the content you’re accessing over your Wi-Fi network. By default, the router will collect data on signal strength, connected devices, and channel information, but users can opt out of sharing any information about their network with Google.