There’s no greater #firstworldproblem than slow or weak Wi-Fi at home, which why the popularity of “mesh” networking setups have started to gain in popularity, but for a price.
Today, we will take a look at Google Wi-Fi, the company’s smart wireless Internet solution to easily blanket your home with multiple “points”, instead of your lonely router stuck in one part of the house. With many Wi-Fi points working together, Google says their “Network Assist” technology will ensure the best connection for your devices.
Google Wifi landed in Canada earlier this spring. The company sent us a 3-pack to test out so here’s our experience with this mesh setup.
Google Wi-Fi is available with one unit or in a pack of three, with room for expansion. A single point can cover homes up to 1500 square feet (139 square metres), while a trio of points offers up to 4500 square feet (418 square metres) of coverage. Each point connects to each other wirelessly, eliminating the need to have ethernet cables running throughout your home.
For tech spec nerds out there, the system supports AC1200 2×2 Wave 2 Wi-Fi, with simultaneous dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4GHz / 5GHz) supporting IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, TX Beamforming and WPA2-PSK. The points are powered by a quad-core ARM CPU and 512MB of RAM, along with a 4GB eMMC.
The whole premise of Google Wi-Fi is the system will always connect your device to the fastest Wi-Fi point in your home, and automatically choose the least congested channel, while using the fastest band for your devices as well.
Security is also built into Google Wi-Fi, as there’s an integrated firewall, while WPA2 is the only encryption protocol supported. To make maintenance easier on users, automatic software updates are downloaded and installed in the background, while Google says all communication between Google Wi-Fi and their servers are secured by Transport Layer Security (TLS).
Opening the 3-pack Google Wifi, you’ll find three relatively small cylinders which look like the shape of two large hockey pucks sandwiched together. The design is pretty minimalist, except for a “G” logo atop the surface. The front and sides are where the LED status light will show, while the back has a reset button.
LED status light brightness levels on each Wifi point can be customized and even toggled off if you wish.
Everything is neatly packed inside the box and once you remove the Google Wifi points, lifting a piece of plastic reveals some quick start guides and included AC adapters (3) and ethernet cable.
Underneath each unit, you’ll see two ethernet ports: one for WAN (the green globe icon) and another for LAN (updated). For power, a USB-C port is tucked in between both of these ethernet ports. There’s also enough room below to let your cables come out the back of the unit, but still remain seated nice and flush on your table:
The design of these units are simple, but will also seamlessly blend into your home’s surroundings. There’s a good weight to each unit and the large rubber feet will ensure these units don’t slide off your desk or table side easily.
Setting up Google Wifi is fairly straightforward. First, you plug your ethernet cable into the WAN port of your first unit, and the other end into your ISP’s modem. Next, connect the USB-C power cable and plug in the AC adapter. Google says the optimum placement for these points is to have them in an open space such as a shelf or TV stand.
The next step is to download the Google Wifi iOS app (or Android) to your iPhone (not optimized for iPhone X yet), agree to the terms of service and tap ‘Get Started’. From here, the app will find your device and once located, you choose the location from a list of suggested rooms in a home. Google says “additional points work best if they’re no more than 2 rooms away. Also try putting them in an open space.”
Once you’ve setup the first Google Wifi point, the app will ask you to setup additional units. You can determine which one is which, as the app will list the base names, which are found underneath your other units, or you can scan the QR code:
Just repeat the steps for the additional units and once you’ve established all three in your home, Google Wifi will automatically start to download a latest software update (if available), and will notify you when it’s complete.
Next, you can perform a Network Check to test Internet speeds to your home, the connection quality of your mesh setup between points, and also your Wi-Fi strength to your iOS device. As you can see from the feedback below, Google Wifi suggests if I move my basement point and living room point closer, it may “improve things”. But even it their locations now, we’re seeing quick download speeds.
We’re on Shaw’s Internet 150 plan, and with Google Wifi installed, we are able to get wireless speeds beyond the advertised 150Mbps down consistently, from both our MacBook Pro and iPhone X (and iPhone 7 Plus before it) next to a Wifi point.
As you see below, when we’re next to the office Wifi point, we get speeds of 187Mbps down on our iPhone X:
In upstairs corners of the house, we saw speeds drop as we were layers of walls away from Wifi points, seeing averages of around 60-80Mbps down. Heading down to the basement, deep in the corners we saw average download speeds of about 45-50Mbps down (all tests via Speedtest.net and Fast.com). Respectable speeds given these areas are usually troubling points for Wi-Fi connectivity in the past.
The Google Wifi app is simple to use as there are three tabs. The first tab provides an overall glimpse of what’s going on with your mesh network, in a familiar Google cards interface. It will provide a summary of your wifi points, detail your most recent Wi-Fi download speed test, while also inform you when automatic updates are installed, one of the best features.
The November 27th software update automatically applied added new Family Wi-Fi delay features and other advanced settings. While Google Wifi does not use the KRACK compromised mode for normal operation, explains the company, an additional security fix was applied to address Google Wifi for KRACK when in recovery mode (which is rare).
The other two tabs provide a glimpse of how many devices are connected in real-time and how much data is being used, including history in 1 day, 7 day, 30 day and 60 day intervals. There’s also history of download and upload speeds from your network as well.
The last tab shows shortcuts and other settings. Here, you can set a priority device, enable a guest Wi-Fi network (with iOS share sheet support), and also setup Family Wi-Fi, to limit usage by family member and device.
Last month, Google added Site Blocking as a feature to Google Wifi, allowing parents to block over 8 million sites deemed “non-kid friendly”, based on their SafeSearch technology, updated in real-time.
Overall, Google Wifi has been able to deliver consistent download speeds in our home, with greater range, better than the previous TP-Link Deco M5 mesh setup we were testing. We have a lot of devices connected to our home at any given time, which can affect performance, but so far Google Wifi has held up to the challenge, even with having one point in the basement, one in the office upstairs and another in our living room. We are able to easily stream 4K video anywhere in the house without dealing with buffering or signals cutting out.
Setup is fairly simple if you are capable of following instructions via an app, while powerful features allow for parental controls and automatic updates to be applied, on top of the system constantly optimizing your network for the best performance, all the time.
As for downsides to Google Wifi, the obvious one is the price, as it comes down to $179 CAD for a single point and $439 CAD for a 3-pack. But if you buy around yearly sales, you can definitely save (prices were down to $399 for a 3-pack during Black Friday; let’s see what Boxing Day brings).
Since everything is app-based, those who are used to a traditional web interface for configuring their network may not like using an app, all the time. Those looking to find USB ports for plugging in hard drives and such, you will need to look elsewhere. But for everyone else looking for a simple Wi-Fi solution to blanket your home, Google Wifi makes it easy as setup is straightforward, plus automatic updates make it a breeze to maintain.