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