Review: Google Wifi (Part 2)

Getting Up and Running

Installing Google Wifi is a simple and easy job, courtesy of the accompanying app (iOS and Android supported). The experience is practically the same as we saw with Google OnHub – however, as the new device does not have an integrated speaker, identifying your hardware during setup requires you to scan a QR code (rather than the bleepy tune you enjoy with OnHub). The Google Wifi app is intelligent enough to know the model of device you’re installing, so you’ll be directed to scan the code with your phone or listen for a tune accordingly.

Google Wifi, like its peers, also does a great job of helping you troubleshoot connectivity issues between your modem and router. Should an Internet connection not be detected, you’ll be directed to power cycle both the modem and router to ensure an IP address is passed through to the device. Most, if not all modern routers now offer this guidance, but the Google Wifi app includes countdown timers once devices are powered on that provide no goal other than to manage the configuration experience and reduce stress. Simple, but effective.

Using Google Wifi

I’ve covered the Google Wifi app (previously known as Google On) in my previous reviews of the TP-Link (see the review) and ASUS (see the review) Google OnHub routers as well as an update in Part 1 of this review.

I’m not going to repeat myself in this review, other than to say that last year, Google really changed the game with the simplicity and quality of their controller app with the Google OnHub. While the Google Wifi/OnHub feature set is much smaller than traditional routers – there’s no IPv6 support, VPN server, limited QoS features and subnet management, for example – there’s just enough included that mainstream households need.

So, you have basic guest networking support, port forwarding, NAT Loopback (finally) and a new Family Wifi parental control feature that allows you to block access to individual devices or device groups. There’s nascent support for smart home devices with connectivity to Philips Hue bulbs and IFTTT, but if you’re looking for more advanced features, a Home WiFi System probably isn’t for you.

While I love the simplicity of the Google Wifi app, competitors are quickly building out controller apps for their devices which offer that same beautiful and simple experience with a greater range of features. AmpliFi HD, in particular, has the edge over Google WiFi here.

I repeat, Google really changed the game in 2015, but simplicity is more of an expectation than a competitive advantage nowadays. I hope that Google is able to accelerate development of their router platform to build out features more rapidly than they did through 2016.

Performance

If you’ve read Part 1 of this review, where I tested the performance of Google OnHubs in the new mesh configuration, then you’ll know how this section is going to work. I’ll be repeating the same tests with the new Google Wifi devices that I conducted on Google OnHub. Feel free to skip ahead. Everyone else, listen up!

We test real world network speeds using a range of client devices, from humble 1×1 802.11n smartphones up to mighty 4×4 desktop adapters. It provides a clearer view of performance variations with mobile and fixed wireless devices.

We’ll test a single Google Wifi point to understand its routing performance, then move on to configuring a mesh network to see how well speeds are maintained around a typical home.

Ethernet Performance (Standalone)

We test router performance using the industry standard iperf3 app, which is available for a wide range of fixed and mobile operating systems. All tests are performed with an Intel NUC Core i5 PC connected to the router via Ethernet (acting as a “server”) with a range of client devices connected to the router wirelessly. We then run three upstream and three downstream tests and calculate the average speed for each client.

For the Ethernet benchmark, we connect a second Intel NUC Core i5 PC to the router via Ethernet. Obviously, as Google WiFi only has a single LAN port free on the first Wi-fi point (the second being used for the modem connection), I had to use a switch for this test – the trusty NETGEAR GS108.

google-wifi-ethernet-speeds.png

So far, none of the home Wi-fi systems I’ve reviewed have been able to deliver the advertised Gigabit Ethernet speeds and Goolge Wifi is no exception. An average speed of just 754 Mbps isn’t the worst we’ve seen, but it isn’t far off. A disappointing start for Google’s new router.

5 GHz Wireless Performance (Standalone)

We usually test wireless connections on both the 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz bands. However, like most home Wi-fi systems, Google Wifi only transmits a single SSID and automatically steers your wireless clients to the appropriate band. That means there’s no need for users to fiddle around with their wireless settings to ensure they have the best connection – you just have to trust the system.

When testing direct connections to the first Google Wifi point, I did find the system to be a little more fussy than others with regard to band steering. My experience to date has been that home WiFi systems immediately connect our test clients to the highest speed 5 GHz band. However, with a few clients (three, in fact), I had to disconnect and reconnect the clients to ensure they weren’t connected on the slower 2.4 GHz band. Your mileage may vary, of course, but it’s worth mentioning.

In tests, I was able to muster speeds of almost 480 Mbps with Google Wifi – a little behind Google OnHub’s best (as you’d expect, being an AC1900-class device) but decent enough. Digging down into the results, you’ll see some variation in Google Wifi’s performance versus its peers, but having now tested six of these home Wi-fi systems, I can see that the margins between them overall are reasonably small.

google-wifi-5ghz

If you’re deciding between Google OnHub and Google Wifi, you will get a little extra performance from the former when connecting more powerful wireless clients. Otherwise, there’s little to split this current crop of home Wi-fi systems, when it comes to short-range, single device performance.

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28 comments

  1. At LONG last, my ideal home Wi-Fi system is in sight. I DO have Ethernet throughout the house, but that has left the problem of connectivity with wireless-only devices — namely, phones and tablets — but also with laptops which could, conceivably, be wired, but are much more convenient when used wirelessly. I’ve tried Ethernet-wired access points and followed instructions for setup from the manufacturers as well as authorities listing cookbook approaches in forums, but I have always ended up with my printers (wired) and some other connected devices, like my Windows Home Server, on “different sides” of the network from tablets and phones, inaccessible. I’m not a computer pro, let alone a networking professional, so I’ve made little headway with my problems.
    I think that a Google On-Hub router with wired Google Wi-Fi mesh extenders will finally, after years of fretting and finagling, give me the system for which I’ve been searching for what feels like eons.
    Thanks, Terry, for this fabulous review!

  2. Hi Terry, best review I’ve seen on Google WiFi, a lot of great info.

    I currently have a Asus OnHub as the main router connected to three Google Wifi units. Works quite well. After seeing your review about wired backhaul from the Google WiFi units I’d like to give it a try.

    My dilemma is that Ethernet cables or Moca in my house is not an option and was wondering if I could use some gigabit powerline adapters for the wired backhaul?

    Thanks
    Paul

    1. Hey Paul – really glad that you enjoyed the read.

      You *could* try Powerline adapters, but to be honest, I think you’ll probably get better performance from wireless backhaul. Powerline can be pretty flaky depending on your home wiring.

      1. Thanks for the reply. I think I’ll keep it the way it is, no reason to fix something that isn’t broken in the first place. Happy Holidays!

  3. Hi Terry, I enjoyed the review. I have a question for you. Will the Google Wifi or OnHub still function without internet? So say one day my ISP goes out during the day, will I still have local access? I was reading about Eero mesh routers and how if you don’t have internet connectivity that they will not function. Well let me correct myself, if your eero is up and running and had connectivity before you lost internet, local access will still function. I was told by eero support that if you reboot the routers after you lost connectivity that when the routers come back online you will not have local network access functionality. Eero support mentioned they are working on “persistent” networking capabilities? have you done any of that kind of testing on the Google Wifi or Onhub devices?

  4. I deeply appreciate your research and testing. I have a problem in that I must have multiple SSID’s (at least two, but three is better) on my networks. We have a renter in our basement, and have two duplexes we rent and want their traffic separate and private though sharing the internet connection.

    We use one SSID for each “home” in the duplex, and one SSID for the smart home gear (nest thermostats/protects and Wink equipment (managing schlage smart locks, light switches, etc) with Kuna light/cameras. I love having one SSID across all three physical homes for smart home gear as it makes it easy to move gear around or set things up at my house and drop them in the other homes. Also makes it easy for my wife and our cleaners to have their internet “just work” at all three homes.

    We have MoCA in two of the three houses. Currently using either two routers or gear from Open-Mesh (Cloudtrax for management) in the homes. I would love to switch to Google WiFi for performance/simplicity but the multiple SSID’s is the hold up. With my need for multiple SSIDs what would you recommend? Does the Orbi support that? I would love to stick with ethernet for backhaul, but Google won’t work for me. I’ve been patiently waiting for multiple SSIDs in vain… 🙁

    1. Hi Aaron – all of these home WiFi systems are built with simplicity in mind. None of them are really going to be able to deliver what you’re looking for. They’re all single SSID (+ guest network) but you really need a device that allows you to manage multiple SSIDs and subnets. Really, your needs are more typical of a small business setup!

  5. Terry, it seems like a number of the other mesh systems — Luma, Eero, and Plume as well as Google Wifi — also allow wired backhaul. Do recommend Google over the others for this application?
    I am weighing one of these mesh systems with wired backhaul versus POE WAPs. I live in a recently renovated home with ethernet jacks, and, though I have almost no networking knowledge, I chanced it a couple of years ago and installed Ubiquiti Unifi APs with a Ubiquiti POE router. It was a little scary getting it going, but then it ran without a thought or hiccup for two years straight, until I turned on the automatic firmware updates on the APs, and they all died. My efforts to troubleshoot with Ubiquiti about this were pointless and infuriating, and since they were out of warranty, Ubiquiti didn’t bother to respond to my emails. It’s a little hard to buy more Unifi’s after that experience, and with young kids at home I would like some of the parental control features of the consumer mesh systems, but I wonder if you think I should swallow my pride and stick with Unifi APs.

    1. FYI, I posted a similar question on thewirecutter’s review of mesh products. One responder reported that switching from a Ubiquity Unifi setup with 3 AC Pro access points to 3 Google Wifi units with wired backhaul yielded improved range and speed. I’m surprised but excited to give it a try whenever GWifi starts shipping again.

  6. So, for a two story home with the modem coming in to the lower level, would you recommend the Google WiFi (3 positions) or two Onhub units (1 up and 1 down)? Sounds like it would be pretty much a wash. House is not wired throughout.

    1. Whichever is cheaper, TBH. Two OnHubs would provide ample coverage and would be slightly faster with faster wireless clients.

      But, you may find a single device covers you in a two storey home. I’d start with an Onhub and then add a second device if needed.

  7. Great review Terry.

    I’m running a mesh of 3 ASUS OnHubs and things are pretty great. It’s just as fast as the ASUS RT-AC5300 for me (500mbit synchronous Ethernet).

    My only issue is finicky band steering where devices get pushed onto 2.4 Ghz for no reason and get stuck there. I have to toggle the wifi off/on on the device and then I get 5 Ghz again.

    I think this is a firmware bug, but I’m not sure.

  8. Pricing aside, would you recommend google wifi over eero? Also, were your tests conducted with eero 2.0 firmware? Great review by the way!

    1. Thanks! The eero review I did was firmware 1.x. Performance was similar, but the way you frame the question highlights the issue – price.

      I found eero to be less stable than Google WiFi, so there are a couple of reasons I’d take GW over eero.

  9. thanks for the awesome review, this indeed is exactly what i am looking for, but i have a single question

    router is connected to WAN and chained to port1 of node1, node1 port2 is connected to node2 port1

    will that work ? having node one connecting the router with the furthest node2

    1. and i noticed that the radio speeds are 1200, how much is that effect compared to the 1900, 2600 that regular routers offers ?
      i have wired connections, but would love the hassle free setup/managment for all the nodes in my network

    1. thanks for the answers terry, 1 last question
      does the OnHub integrate with the google wifi ? single SSID, shows up in the mesh app, and activate the guest network

  10. did you connect the mesh Onhub to ethernet via LAN or WAN? WAN has been shown to slow down ethernet backhaul speed.

  11. Is it possible to connect a switch to the Orbi satellites or Google’s Wifi secondary points to connect more than four wired devices?

  12. Hi I was WO daring which would you recommend? Getting rid of current ISP router and then getting three google WiFi nodes. Or getting rid of ISP router and getting an onhub and two google WiFi nodes or getting two more on hubs instead? And BTW I agree with you on the fact that google severely failed on the smart home aspect.

  13. Thanks for this thorough review. Glad you checked the wired backhaul numbers. Netgear says they plan to add that to their devices. It could be awesome if do it right.

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