All Hands on Tech: Google’s WiFi router, OnHub

By now you’ve probably heard about Google’s OnHub router. You know, the WiFi hub that’s easy to set up and you’re supposed to display in your home like a nice vase. We wanted to know if the router could be useful to a business. So we put it to the test ourselves.

OnHub’s set up process is simple. You pair the hub with your smartphone – make sure it’s close enough to ‘hear’ the frequency emitted by the speaker. There’s no need for an admin password. You follow a few steps on the app, setting up one WiFi password for both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks. Don’t try to access OnHub via a web browser like you would with other routers – you’ll just get a message telling you to use the app.

The app will be helpful to anyone that might not be used to setting up a WiFi network. It’s even context aware, guiding you to install the hub successfully in different network scenarios.

In an office with about 150 different wireless connections taxing the network, Google’s OnHub held its own. In fact, we replaced three Apple routers with this one router without any issues.

The range on the OnHub also proved excellent. OnHub is outfitted with 13 antennae – 12 for sending and receiving data, and one for evaluating network congestion. It also automatically decides what channel to assign a client to and whether they should connect to the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz network. Look at the app to see what device is using the most bandwidth, and then give it higher priority if needed.

Businesses will appreciate some extra security features not normally found on consumer-level routers. The OnHub’s trusted platform module prevents it from booting if the firmware has been tampered with. A quick look at the app tells you what version of firmware is currently installed. If you need support, Google issues a one-time code through the app to authenticate your identity.

Yet OnHub has many limitations a business might not be able to accept.

The one USB port isn’t active, it’s just there in case you need to restore the firmware from a USB backup. That means you can’t use it to attach a shared network drive or printer. Also, there’s no options to set up a VPN or FTP server. Setting it up as an access point is possible, but you’ll have to dig for that option.

And since Google’s focus is on wireless with this hub, there’s just one LAN Ethernet port. That limits the use of some appliances that require a wired connection to your router. Finally, you can’t manually configure a device to always connect on the same channel, or even select what frequency of network it uses, and there’s no option to set up a separate guest network.

At $270 Canadian, the OnHub has a hefty price tag. If you’re a small business owner that doesn’t want to fuss about a WiFi setup, this will be worth the money. If your business wants some more advanced customization of your network, this isn’t the best option.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Former editorial director of IT World Canada. Current research director at Info-Tech

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