Google Wifi

A clever sys­tem at a rea­son­able price – for sheer con­ve­nience, this is mesh Wi-Fi done right

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Google Wifi has been a long time in the mak­ing. First con­ceived in 2013, it has taken Google’s net­work­ing ex­perts four years to bring the sys­tem to mar­ket and its ap­pear­ance in 2017 is sig­nif­i­cant. Back when the Google’s en­gi­neers first dreamed it up, the mar­ket was dom­i­nated by sin­gle routers; to­day mesh net­work­ing is the vogue.

The ba­sic kit in­cludes two com­pact cylin­dri­cal router de­vices, each with a coloured sta­tus LED wrapped around its mid­dle and a pair of Gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net ports built into a cav­ity in the base.

In terms of spec­i­fi­ca­tions, Google Wifi doesn’t look as im­pres­sive as its key ri­vals. Where the BT Whole Home Wi-Fi units are each tri-band, 4x4 stream routers of­fer­ing con­nec­tion speeds of up to 1,733Mbits/sec, Google’s boxes are dual-band 2x2 stream units, ca­pa­ble of con­nect­ing at up to 1,200Mbits/sec over 5GHz.

There’s no DSL mo­dem built in, but con­nec­tion to Sky or BT routers is sim­ple. Just at­tach the base unit to your ex­ist­ing router or mo­dem us­ing the sup­plied Eth­er­net ca­ble and run through the setup rou­tine in the Google Wifi app.

Once you’re up and run­ning, you shouldn’t need to touch it ever again. Google Wifi em­ploys a sep­a­rate “sens­ing ra­dio” to keep tabs on lo­cal Wi-Fi con­ges­tion, switch­ing chan­nel when nec­es­sary. It also sends se­cure and hashed in­for­ma­tion about how busy the wire­less en­vi­ron­ment in your area is to Google’s servers. Those servers an­a­lyse the data and send back a sched­ule so Google Wifi knows in ad­vance which chan­nels are most likely to be least busy.

Google Wifi uses a cou­ple of other clever tricks, called band steer­ing and client steer­ing, to keep de­vices con­nected to the fastest band and strong­est node. Both of th­ese worked ef­fec­tively dur­ing test­ing.

Un­like most routers and wire­less sys­tems, there’s no way to ad­min­is­ter Google Wifi via a browser; in­stead, you have to do that us­ing the app. For­tu­nately, it’s a pretty good one. It gives you plenty of use­ful, ac­ces­si­ble fea­tures, plus more ad­vanced stuff for those who want to tin­ker.

The parental con­trols – dubbed Fam­ily Wi-Fi – are su­perb. In ad­di­tion to al­low­ing you to block in­di­vid­ual de­vices man­u­ally, you’re also able to ap­ply a sched­ule to each one, and even group de­vices to­gether.

There’s also a hand­ful of net­work mon­i­tor­ing tools, mean­ing you can keep an eye on how the sys­tem as a whole is per­form­ing and, if you dig deeper, more ad­vanced fea­tures. It’s pos­si­ble to set up a guest net­work, for in­stance, that keeps vis­i­tors out of your pri­vate ar­eas while also grant­ing ac­cess to se­lect de­vices, such as your Chrome­cast and wire­less speak­ers.

Per­for­mance is good but not the best. Tested at close range, the best down­load speed Google Wifi was able to de­liver was 72.9MB/sec on the down­load link. That’s nearly as fast as the Linksys Velop, but a lot slower than BT Whole Home Wi-Fi, which de­liv­ered 99.7MB/sec.

In the long-range test with both nodes in place, it de­liv­ered through­put of 27MB/ sec over 5GHz. That’s a re­spectable speed, al­beit slower once again than the Velop and BT Whole Home Wi-Fi set­ups.

Test­ing a sin­gle Google Wifi node at long range re­veals the rea­son be­hind the slower speed. Although it provided a us­able sig­nal in the long-range test, the best speed we recorded was 4.7MB/sec. That com­pares poorly with the Linksys Velop (23.6MB/sec) when tested in the same cir­cum­stances.

Still, Google Wifi isn’t de­signed to be used as a stand­alone router; it’s been de­signed as a mesh sys­tem first and fore­most, and it’s a very good one. It’s in­cred­i­bly easy to main­tain and set up. Its app is bril­liant, pro­vid­ing just the right amount of bal­ance be­tween ease of use and con­trol over ad­vanced fea­tures.

And although it isn’t the fastest mesh Wi-Fi sys­tem we’ve tested, or par­tic­u­larly cheap com­pared with stand­alone routers, Google Wifi is com­pet­i­tively priced in its par­tic­u­lar sec­tor. It’s cheaper than the Linksys Velop, which is £250 for a twin-pack, and less ex­pen­sive than Net­gear’s Orbi sys­tem, which is £366 for a two-box sys­tem. The £200 BT Whole Home Wi-Fi is cheaper but not ex­tend­able. Con­se­quently, if you’re hav­ing trou­ble with your Wi-Fi at home, Google Wifi is a great choice. It makes bet­ter sense than spend­ing megabucks on one sin­gle pow­er­ful router, and it’s more el­e­gant, faster and eas­ier to ad­min­is­ter than adding ex­ten­ders to your net­work. Fur­ther­more, it can be ex­panded. For th­ese rea­sons, it’s our win­ner this month.

ABOVE The two cylin­dri­cal router de­vices have a coloured sta­tus LED around their mid­dle

BE­LOW There are two Gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net ports em­bed­ded in the base of the de­vice

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