Google heads down new path with ‘On Hub’ router

The Progress-Index - At Home - - TECHNOLOGY - By Michael Liedtke

SAN FRAN­CISCO — Google is mak­ing a Wi-Fi router as part of its am­bi­tion to pro­vide bet­ter In­ter­net con­nec­tions that make it eas­ier for peo­ple to ac­cess its dig­i­tal ser­vices and see more of its online advertising.

Pre-or­ders for the $199 wire­less router, called OnHub, can be made be­gin­ning Tues­day at Google's online store, Ama­zon.com and Wal­mart.com. The de­vice will go on sale in stores in the U.S. and Canada in late Au­gust or early Septem­ber.

Google is tout­ing the cylin­der-shaped OnHub as a leap ahead in a ne­glected part of tech­nol­ogy.

The Moun­tain View, Cal­i­for­nia, com­pany is promis­ing its wire­less router will be sleeker, more re­li­able, more se­cure and eas­ier to use than other longestab­lished al­ter­na­tives made by the Ar­ris Group, Net­gear, Ap­ple and other hard­ware spe­cial­ists. Google teamed up with net­work­ing de­vice maker TP-Link to build OnHub.

OnHub also will adapt to the evolv­ing needs of its own­ers be­cause its soft­ware will be regularly up­dated to un­lock new fea­tures, ac­cord­ing to Trond Wuell­ner, a Google Inc. prod­uct man­ager. The con­cept is sim­i­lar to the au­to­matic soft­ware up­grades the com­pany makes to its Chrome browser and per­sonal com­put­ers run­ning on its Chrome op­er­at­ing sys­tem.

Wuell­ner ex­pects most peo­ple will be able to set up OnHub in three min­utes or less. The router is de­signed to be man­aged with a mo­bile app called Google On that will work on Ap­ple's iPhone, as well as de­vices run­ning on Google's An­droid soft­ware.

Google's ex­pan­sion into wire­less routers may con­jure up mem­o­ries of how the com­pany tres­passed on the Wi-Fi net­works in homes and busi­nesses around the world for more than two years be­gin­ning in 2008.

In 2010, Google ac­knowl­edged that com­pany cars tak­ing photos for its dig­i­tal maps also had been in­ter­cept­ing emails, pass­words and other sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion sent over un­pro­tected Wi-Fi net­works. The in­tru­sion be­came de­ri­sively known as "Wi-Spy" among Google's crit­ics.

Although Google in­sisted it hadn't bro­ken any laws, it paid $7 mil­lion in 2013 to set­tle al­le­ga­tions of illegal eavesdropping in the U.S. made by 38 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia.

Google is pledg­ing not to use OnHub to mon­i­tor a user's In­ter­net ac­tiv­ity. The com­pany will still store per­sonal in­for­ma­tion sent through an In­ter­net con­nec­tion tied to OnHub when a user vis­its Google's search en­gine or other ser­vices, such as YouTube or Gmail, with the pri­vacy con­trols set to per­mit the data col­lec­tion. This is the same data col­lec­tion Google does when users of its ser­vices visit through any router.

The new router rep­re­sents the latest phase in Google's mis­sion to make it eas­ier for peo­ple to be online.

Be­sides dis­patch­ing In­ter­net-beam­ing bal­loons and drones to parts of the world with­out much online ac­cess, Google also has been try­ing to lower the cost and ac­cel­er­ate the speeds of the con­nec­tions in more ad­vanced coun­tries such as the U.S. The goal has al­ready hatched Google Fiber, an ul­tra-fast In­ter­net ser­vice that is al­ready avail­able in a few U.S. cities and is com­ing to more than 20 oth­ers. Google is also pre­par­ing to of­fer a wire­less sub­scrip­tion plan for smart­phones run­ning on the com­pany's An­droid soft­ware.

Google has a fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive to make the In­ter­net more ac­ces­si­ble and less frus­trat­ing to use be­cause it runs the world's dom­i­nant search en­gine, as well as the highly pop­u­lar YouTube and Gmail. The com­pany be­lieves peo­ple who spend more time online are more likely to in­ter­act with a Google ser­vice and click on one of the ads that gen­er­ate most of Google's prof­its.

En­sur­ing the re­li­a­bil­ity of Wi-Fi sys­tems is be­com­ing more im­por­tant to Google for another rea­son. Like other tech com­pa­nies, Google is hop­ing to sell more home ap­pli­ances and other equip­ment that re­quire wire­less con­nec­tions to the In­ter­net. Google's Nest di­vi­sion al­ready sells ther­mostats, smoke de­tec­tors and video cam­eras that de­pend on Wi-Fi to work prop­erly.

Google's push into In­ter­net ac­cess and other far-flung fields rang­ing from driver­less cars to health care has frus­trated in­vestors who be­lieve the com­pany is spend­ing too much on its tech­no­log­i­cal mish­mash. To ad­dress those con­cerns, Google later this year is cre­at­ing a hold­ing com­pany called Al­pha­bet that will break things up into the main search advertising busi­ness and var­i­ous side projects.

COLLIN HUGHES/COUR­TESY OF GOOGLE VIA AP

This un­dated photo pro­vided by Google shows Google’s Wi-Fi router. Pre-or­ders for the $199 wire­less router, called OnHub, can be made Tues­day, Aug. 18, at Google’s online store, Ama­zon.com and Wal­mart. com. The Moun­tain View, Cal­i­for­nia, com­pany is promis­ing its wire­less router will be sleeker, more re­li­able, more se­cure and eas­ier to use than other long-es­tab­lished al­ter­na­tives made by the Ar­ris Group, Net­gear, Ap­ple and other hard­ware spe­cial­ists.

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