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Google OnHub Wi-Fi router review: It's designed to coddle novices and annoy power users

Michael Brown | Sept. 1, 2015
On the upside, it’s a very good performer. On the downside, it makes all networking decisions for you.

Google also made no provision for setting up an FTP server so you can access an attached storage device over the Internet. You can’t configure the OnHub to perform as a wireless access point, nor can you set it up to operate as a wireless bridge (even though with just one LAN port, you wouldn’t want to). The OnHub has no VPN server, either.

There are provisions for port forwarding, using different DNS servers, assigning static IP addresses, and the like. You can also access and manage the OnHub via the cloud (using the app), and you can grant permission to other people to manage the router this way. If you’re looking for a router to recommend to friends and family who look to you for tech support, the OnHub is a good choice.

The OnHub does have several features not commonly found on consumer routers; unfortunately, most of them aren’t very useful right now. One feature that is useful the OnHub’s trusted platform module, a component more commonly found in enterprise-class hardware. The TPM prevents the OnHub from booting if it doesn’t recognize what’s installed on it. Google tells me the OnHub’s firmware, kernel, and user space code—and all updates—are cryptographically signed by Google. That’s a great idea that should prevent even sophisticated hackers from hijacking the router, but it also means that it will probably never be able to run alternative open-source firmware. Here again, something only enthusiasts will care about.

Three other features related to the Internet of Things could be useful someday: Support for Bluetooth Smart (a very low-power version of the popular wireless protocol), Weave (the protocol Nest devices use to communicate with each other), and IEEE 802.15.4 (a connected-home standard that is the basis for ZigBee).

Google’s product literature says “This means that OnHub can evolve along with your connected life,” but that presupposes that the evolution of your connected life will involve Bluetooth Smart, Weave, and ZigBee. Competing initiatives such as AllJoyn, Z-Wave, IoTivity, or even Insteon or something else that’s yet to emerge could end up being the de facto connected-home standards instead. Don’t buy an OnHub today in the name of future-proofing your home, because the future is too hazy to see right now.

Performance with a PC

As simple as the OnHub looks to be on the surface, it was difficult to benchmark because I never knew which of its networks my client laptop would end up connected to. I use JPerf to measure TCP throughput between a server and a client. Fortunately, I use a third PC outfitted with a Metageek Wi-Spy DBx spectrum analyzer to monitor the RF activity while I’m testing routers. The Wi-Spy can identify routers operating within its range, tell me which frequency band they’re operating on (2.4- or 5GHz), and ascertain which channels they’re using (and if they’re bonding channels). It’s a supremely useful tool.

 

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