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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.

As I reported earlier, the OnHub operates networks on both the 2.4- and 5GHz frequency bands simultaneously, but it doesn’t allow you to assign clients to particular networks. It does that on its own, and it doesn’t provide any visibility about its decisions. With the Wi-Spy, I could “see” the data as it traveled from the server to the client and know which network the wireless client was connected to.

OnHub 5ghz 80211n 36 intel
Click image to enlarge.

Google classifies the OnHub as an AC1900 router, meaning it supports a maximum link rate of 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and 1300Mbps on the 5GHz band. According to Google’s documentation, the OnHub is outfitted with 13 antennas: 12 for transmitting and receiving data, and one that evaluates network congestion so the router can automatically switch clients to different channels to achieve maximum performance. In my tests, the OnHub didn’t always choose well. 

OnHub 5ghz 80211n 153 intel
Click image to enlarge.

When I benchmark 5GHz Wi-Fi routers, I configure the router to use channel 153, because the higher channels offer a little more bandwidth. The first time I benchmarked the OnHub’s performance on the 5GHz band, using a laptop equipped with an Intel Centrino Ultimate-N Wi-Fi adapter, the router decided channel 36 was best. The benchmark results were disappointing, to say the least, as the OnHub delivered about half the throughput of the five routers I compared it to. At one point, the router even switched the client to its 2.4GHz network (which offers better range, but less bandwidth).

OnHub 5ghz 80211ac 36
Click image to enlarge.

The second time I tested the OnHub’s performance with that 802.11n client, after power-cycling it, it decided to use channel 149 on the 5GHz band, but its performance still wasn’t very impressive. That changed when I plugged D-link’s DWA-192 802.11ac USB Wi-Fi adapter into the client. The On-Hub used channel 149 once again, but this time it delivered higher throughput than the rest of the field when the client was in the same room, nine feet from the router, and when the client was in my great room, 33 feet from the router with one insulated interior wall in between. It delivered much less throughput at long range, however, trailing the field by a wide margin when the client was in my sun room, 65 feet from the router with two insulated interior walls in between.

Note: The OnHub arrived while I was working on a roundup of five AC3200 routers, which I had just finished benchmarking using channels 36 and 153. I did not go back and retest those five on channel 149, but it shouldn’t make much of a difference.

 

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