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Routers and traditional access points have gone out of fashion. It’s time for Wi-Fi mesh, a wireless network distributed evenly to the rooms of the house thanks to one or more devices able to dialogue with each other and to self-balance. On the market, there have been similar solutions for some time now, such as Orbi by Netgear, but the arrival of the new Google WiFi revolutionizes the market of network accessories, where being an advanced product did not always mean to be something easy to use and configure. Google WiFi is not one product, but two, and everyone will have to choose the model that best suits their needs, the choice will be based on the size of the house.
The single version, which integrates only one module, costs (Check on Amazon.com): it is an intelligent access point that distributes the network throughout the home. The “bundle” version includes three units, costs (Check on Amazon.com) and allows you to use a mesh network, a web of signals that allows you to reach even the most remote corners of a large house.
A studio or a two-room apartment will probably need only one unit, a multi-store house, even if small, requires more than one unit. Additional units can be added later, and they don’t have to be connected to the internet: only one Google WiFi unit must be located near the operator’s router, the others only need a power outlet, and they will configure themselves.
An elegant jar full of technology
Google WiFi is a very light white plastic box: it has no external antennas, and the plastic body facilitates the omnidirectional diffusion of the wireless signal. All modules are the same and interchangeable: the power supply is provided by a USB Type C connection, and at the bottom, there are two network sockets to manage a series of connection types that an untrained user will never take into consideration but we will explain below because they can prove extremely useful. One of these is the WAN connection, the port where the signal arrives, the other is a network port that can be used to connect a device placed near a module without Wi-Fi, or to connect via a traditional network cable.
Inside each Google WiFi, there is a quad-core ARM processor, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of flash memory and the wireless component that includes the Bluetooth for the configuration and the actual Wi-Fi part, a 802.11a/b/g/n/ac AC1200 dual-band module with beamforming technology, that has the possibility to modulate the signal directing it to a specific area. By adding modules, Google WiFi performs an automatic calibration and is able to understand where the other nodes of the network are located, improving and optimizing the transmission in the direction of the latter.
From super-fast connection to complex connection
Google WiFi is easy to install: just connect the device with the supplied network cable to one of the free ports of the modem provided by the operator and, using the app for iOS and Android, enter the configuration menu, choose the name of the network, set the password and wait for the device to do everything else. The addition of other modules is just as simple: just turn them on, give a name, place them and wait for Google WiFi to do everything, from modulating the signal to automatically locating channels free from any noise to transmit through.
The mesh network is like a spider web where the modules are the extremities: this means that a situation where the three modules are aligned is not an optimal one, nor one with the three modules on three different levels. Fortunately, Google WiFi has several installation possibilities, and one predicts the modules’ connection using a network cable: Google does not say it openly, but if you want you can put a unit close to the modem, a second unit in the next room and then, with a network cable, you can connect a third unit placed in the basement or in the attic.
The placement of our three units was not an easy task. The main unit was placed with the modem in a basement, the second unit was 10 feet above, but in the middle, there was the floor, a concrete casting of about 15 inches thick. The third unit was placed in a different room on the same floor: the signal of the third module was very weak and ideally should have been served using a wired connection. But this is not always possible.
Moving the modules around we did improve the situation, but it is clear that Google had in mind houses in plasterboard rather than brick and concrete, where the signal, especially the 5Ghz one, suffers a lot passing between walls and thick elements. Despite the savings you can have by purchasing three modules, our advice is to buy only one module if your house is medium-small and see how it works out, and evaluate expanding from there. It is not always certain that with three modules you can cover your entire area, in our situation, for example, we have obtained a better coverage using only two modules connected to each other not in “mesh” but with a network cable that also reached the secondary unit.
Disarmingly easy: it does everything
Google WiFi is designed for those who do not have the least experience in networks, NAT, DNS. Although within the app it is possible, for the expert user, to go and change all settings, for all other users the wizard will do everything automatically. When the system is installed, it takes care of transmitting on the less busy frequencies and sorting traffic between different nodes.
In the case of a crowded node, with many devices connected to it, Google WiFi can hijack traffic in order to stream Netflix in HD on a farther node, if the signal is powerful enough. Through the app, you can control everything, activate a guest network, give priority to some devices, convenient in the case of online gaming and even manage the band for groups of devices.
A smartphone or tablet for a child may have time slots during which the connectivity is not guaranteed and above all you can set a filter for prohibited content. All the rest, from system updates to security updates, which are managed in the cloud, are made by Google in total transparency.
It’s fast, but it suffers the distance
Google WiFi is an AC1200 wireless router: for those who are not familiar with this nomenclature, the AC part indicates that we are in front of a product that supports the 802.11ac standard, the number 1200 indicates instead the aggregate bandwidth. There are AC1750 and AC1900 modems that, on paper, have much higher numbers and therefore are passed off as faster but in reality, there is a lot of marketing and little substance. The number does not mean that your WiFi has a bandwidth of 1900 Mbps or 1200 Mbps, but simply that this number is the result of all the aggregated bands.
An AC1900 router could indeed be the result of a similar configuration:
- 2.4 GHz, 450 Mbps * 2 (MIMO) = 900 Mbps
- 5 GHz, 500 Mbps * 2 (MIMO) = 1000 Mbps
If a device could connect to both bands at the same time it would reach 1900 Mbps, but a single antenna can not connect to two distinct frequencies so 1900 Mbps is unreachable. In-home environment Google WiFi has a level of performance that is adequate for a consumer network connection.
The speed varies obviously depending on the performance of the system, devices, walls and the structure of the house: in our case with a wired connection of 27 Mbps, we measured 27 Mbps near the first node, 23 Mbps near the second node and 24 Mbps near the third.
We also did a full bandwidth testing, using a gigabit connected network storage: we measured 452 Mbps of speed 7 feet from the unit, which remained constant up to about 16 feet and then started to deteriorate with increasing distance and obstacles. Google WiFi is greatly affected by distance: the single device, without external antennas, can manage well an area up to a distance of 23 feet from the point where the router is located. To cover a larger area, just add a second unit.
Ease of use over speed: but it is the most complete product
Google WiFi, for cost and ease of use, is the best wireless system on the market to expand WiFi coverage safely distributing it throughout the home. The installation is a kids’ play, and offers a series of remarkable advantages thanks to an easy and simple to use the application: setting filters, prioritizing devices, checking who or what is connected to the network, how much network is being used and what’s wrong It’s really a breeze. The price is not high, considering the technology inside, and also the design of an often ugly product like the router (and its giant antennas) is pleasant and above all compact.
The pure performance is not comparable to brands that have always produced routers – Netgear comes to mind – but if the goal is to distribute a connection at home, Google WiFi is more than perfect. Its ease of installation and management is certainly more appreciable than a few Mbps more.