Google thinks home Wi-Fi routers need a major rethink and has come up with what appears to be a completely new platform called OnHub to solve a daunting list of problems.
Routers are usually ugly – check. They get shunted into corners which affects performance – check. They have too many dangling cables – check. They are far too difficult for non-technical people to configure or understand – check. They are often left in an insecure state - double check.
The specifications for the first OnHub device, made by TP-Link, are a mix of the expected and the surprising. It is capable of 1900Mbps throughput – speedy by today’s Wi-Fi standards – on both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands with no fewer than 13 antennas optimised for difficult radio environments. The Wi-Fi itself supports the latest 802.11ac but also the emerging 802.15.4 design for what will become Personal Area Networks (PANs).
As well as a dual-core processor and 4GB on on-board storage, there is support for Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready and the Nest Weave protocol that Google hopes will help this type of router promote the company’s smart home systems.
Did we mention that the hub has no hard-to-fathom blinking lights? The only concession to this theme is a circular ring at the top of the OnHub that glows in one of four colours to let the user know how happy it is.
There’s a simple reason why most routers have problems – they are pretty much all made by companies from the networking era of the 1990s that was defined by engineering. The Asian vendors that came after them were even more in love with complexity.
Interesting, then, that Google has signed up two Asian partners, TP-Link and Asus, to offer OnHub products, with the first one available to North American consumers for $199. There is no margin on that so Google clearly wants this to be the beginning of something bigger that can push the whole industry away from churning out the complicated boxes everyone agrees are not doing a good enough job.
No word yet of UK release but that will surely follow at some point, possibly when Asus shows off its first product later this year.
But the biggest advance could end up being security. “OnHub's software includes advanced and always-evolving security features to keep your network safe,” says the announcement, a big promise in an era beset by increasing router insecurity. The On Hub will become a target of course but Google might also bring to this market a sense that constant updating against security flaws is now the norm. We shall see.