Another week, another Google bombshell. Yep, today Google announced it had introduced a new Wi-Fi router called OnHub, a Wi-Fi router/smart home hub that they think will make Wi-Fi simpler and easier.
There's no doubt this is something that we could all use. In fact, I think nearly a decade and a half after home networks started to become a thing, in large part due to the emergence of Wi-Fi, in home wireless networking still by and large is a crappy experience.
Not that the industry hasn't tried. We've seen the emergence of ever-faster speeds: first there was 802.11b, then g, then n and more recently ac, all going up in speed, at least theoretically, almost an order of magnitude each time.
We've also had significant work done around antenna technology, with MIMO being the biggest advancement. In short, MIMO is a technology that vastly increases the size of the radio link by using multiple antennas.
But here we are in 2015 and many of us still not only have problems with getting good signals in our oversized, metal, wood and stone laden homes, not to mention fighting the overcrowded Wi-Fi airwaves in the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands, and as a result many of us are still using tricks and troubleshoot hacks to make sure things keep running. Just this morning I did the old "pull the power plug and, count to 30" power cycle refresh on my Xfinity Comcast router because things were running slow and voila, things were working better again.
There has to be a better way, and apparently Google thinks they've found it. The OnHub website and video make it clear that the focus of the OnHub is to make a better Wi-Fi experience, which they look like they'll tackle through both a huge amount of antennas (13!) packed into the device as well as through a much easier overall configuration experience which they center around an app.
They've also made a conscious decision to make the device aesthetically pleasing - every article I've read this morning noted how it looks very similar to the Amazon Echo because, well, it does look like the Amazon Echo. But that design decision was in large part because Google wants the router to be out and in the center of the room, rather than stuffed in a cabinet or behind a desk. It's no secret that the way most of us place our routers hurts signal propagation, and by simply placing the router on a counter in the living room would probably do wonders for our ability to connect.
But beyond the horsepower of 13 Wi-Fi antennas, app configuration and a better industrial design, I was just as intrigued by the decision to place 802.15.4 and Bluetooth radios in the router. With its 802.15.4 radio, the OnHub is the first device, outside of the Securifi Almond Plus, to place this radio in a consumer home router that I know of. While the Almond Plus is very much positioned as a "home automation" router, the initial wording around the OnHub router doesn't talk up the ability to do either Zigbee or Thread (both which use 802.15.4). That said, the OnHub site does have this little teaser:
It’s built to support a growing number of "smart devices" over time because it includes Bluetooth® Smart Ready, Weave, and Thread.
So basically, while the first foot forward in marketing the OnHub is as a better home Wi-Fi router, Google (or Alphabet?) is not hiding the fact this device will also act as a smart home hub. The fact that it has Bluetooth is also intriguing, as the technology is fast becoming an important networking technology for smart home devices as well as wearables.
All of this is a big deal, folks. Again, outside of Securifi with the Almond Plus, no other large router maker has really done much in the way of trying to reinvent the home router to make it also a smart home device. This may be Google saying, well, the smart home hub as a standalone separate device is probably not long for this world and the router makes the most sense to subsume this capability.
In short, with the introduction of the OnHub, Google may have just ushered in the post smart home hub era, where stand alone hubs become a relic of the past and smart home capability gets pulled into a master home connectivity hub, aka the home router.
It also should be noted, my sources tell me this router uses Brillo. I had posted a few months ago that Brillo was originally targeted at home routers, and by the looks of it, Google decided to build its own home router with the new smart home Android-centric stack.
One last thing to note: the OnHub also has a USB port. This is also important. I've always felt the USB port is an important way to make sure devices stay future proofed, and who's to say that Google won't decide to add radios via the USB port in the future.
Bottom line: Google just announced a very compelling new home router that also will be a smart home hub, and in doing so may have just accelerated the demise of the smart home hub.
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