Google Wifi for the Smart HomeBy - 01/30/2017
I’ve got gadgets. Lots of gadgets. And all of a sudden, it appears that running multiple FHD security cameras, hubs, smart light bulbs, and perhaps the occasional Netflix movie might be a problem.
I first noticed a problem while testing Canary Flex, so I gave my internet service provider a call (Comcast), purchased a new modem, and picked a plan 3x as fast. But even after the upgrade, things still seemed slowwwww. Out of options, I had to do something I really didn’t want to do, spend $300 on a router.
What is Google Wifi?
Google Wifi is a WiFi system that is supposed to do exactly what I need it to do: support multiple devices that are streaming, downloading, and otherwise sucking up every last bit of bandwidth Comcast allows me to have while eliminating dead zones. Sold in multiples of one or as a three-pack, Google Wifi is capable of creating a mesh network that can cover a small apartment or even a 4500 square foot home (or bigger of course). It includes Network Assist, which sends your traffic to the closest Wifi point (fancy name for one of your Google Wifi routers) and takes a lot of the guesswork out of setting things up. If you have multiple points, each one will act as a router, continuing to boost the signal throughout your house and reducing dead zones.
Features That Enhance Your Smart Home
Beyond creating a mesh network, Google Wifi has features that could potentially be of interest to smart home owners; all accessed through the included mobile app. The features include the ability to tell what’s online, offline, sucking bandwidth, device prioritization, IFTTT integration, Hue integration, and more.
What’s online, offline, and eating your data.
Via the Google Wifi app, you can see which of your devices are online. With so many smart devices in my home, this feature was a crucial selling point. I had big dreams, assuming it would tell me what was online, what wasn’t, send alerts, and perhaps even show how much bandwidth each device consumes. It does most of that.
The app can tell you what’s online, what’s not, and bandwidth usage, but it can’t send status alerts. Out of the box, the ability to see what’s connected is somewhat useless as most of the device names are unrecognizable. Looking at the app, I can tell that Nest, Amazon Echo, Ring, and others are online, but I can’t find other devices like Arlo Pro, Canary, Canary Flex, or Blink.
Mystery devices can be renamed using the mobile app. Open the app, tap the network tab, and then tap on the last bubble, which should show your online devices. Finally, tap on the device to change its name. Of course, figuring out what device is “C100Ak725B” in order to rename it is a bit of a process. You can match up devices using MAC addresses to make the process easier. From this same screen, you will also be able to view bandwidth usage.
The app also provides access to Family WiFi pause, a feature that allows you to cut the cord on internet access for anyone or anything at any time. When you pause a device, you can choose to keep the pause in effect forever, for one hour, two hours, four, until morning, or you can create a custom time. You can even group devices together. For example, you can group your teenager’s smartphone, your child’s iPad, and their laptops under one category to pause them all with one click.
The app includes its own speed test. It tells you the speeds from not only each of your Wifi points but also the speed from your internet service provider.
Guest Access and Admins
Using the app, you can also add and remove guest access and manage network admins.
Device prioritization is extremely handy in a smart home as some devices are mission critical (security cameras, security systems) while others are more periphery (smart plugs, temperature sensors). Unfortunately, the feature doesn’t work like I was hoping. Instead of giving infinite prioritization to certain devices, this feature allows you partial control over what devices should have the fastest and best connection. You can choose to prioritize a device for one hour, 2 hours, or 4 hours. If you want to schedule device prioritization as an automatic daily occurrence, you will need to do that via IFTTT.
Notifications and Smart Home Integrations
The Google Wifi app can’t send alerts when devices are on or offline, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. By connecting Google Wifi’s IFTTT channel, you can receive alerts to your phone or even to a smart device. For example, when your Nest Cam connects to your internet, you can set Hue to turn blue. Or, when Nest loses Wifi connection, you can receive a text message.
The Google Wifi IFTTT channel has both triggers and actions. Triggers include device connection and disconnection. Unfortunately, you cannot receive an alert when an unknown device tries to connect; you must pick a device that is already known to Google Wifi. Finally: actions. Google Wifi has one action: Prioritize a device for one hour. For example, every day at 8 pm, you might want to prioritize your TV so that you can relax and stream a show without problems.
In addition to IFTTT, you can integrate directly with Philips Hue via a feature called Home Control. Why use Home Control instead of the Hue app? Because it allows anyone connected to your internet to control your Hue bulbs by visiting On.Here. You can even decide if you would like to share Hue with those connected to your primary network or also with those who are connected to your guest network. Connected members can adjust Hue’s brightness and change a bulb’s color.
Thanks to CNET, I found a handy tool called NetSpot. NetSpot will help you find dead zones, a problem that a mesh network system like Google Wifi should solve. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, my home is and was dead zone free.
While dead zones were a non issue, I did have a speed issue. I wasn’t getting the speeds I was paying for (300Mbps Download Speed, 25Mbps Upload Speed). As a result, smart devices, especially cameras, were not staying connected. Did upgrading to Google Wifi solve my speed challenge? Yes and no. Though I’m still not getting the speeds I pay for, my speeds are faster, but importantly my smart home devices are staying connected.
What I found is that speed is not consistent. The speeds I achieve seem to vary greatly depending on which Google Wifi endpoint I connect to. It seems as though connecting to the head router is consistently faster than connecting to the secondary points. Regardless, the speeds are faster.
Speed test of computer using Comcast Xfinity’s Speed Test:
Speed test of computer using Google’s Speed Test:
Speed test of iPhone using Google’s Speed Test:
After using Google Wifi for one month, I feel confident in saying that my connectivity is better. I can run nine home security cameras and watch Netflix. What more can a girl ask for?
What I like:
- Improved speeds and connectivity.
- IFTTT notifications that alert when devices are on or offline.
- The router is dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz). Google Wifi will automatically move your traffic to the best band.
- Automatic updates from Google for added security.
- Simple to use, easy to install.
- Great app UI.
What I don’t like:
- Google isn’t always loyal to those who buy their hardware: Revolv, Google OnHub, etc. This makes me nervous.
- Each Wifi point only has two Ethernet ports per point. Smart homes are hub-y, hubs need Ethernet.
- That I can see the routers. I prefer them in the closet (I know, I know, out in the open is better…)
- The three pack only included one Ethernet cable. Seriously? I just paid $300 you cheapskates!
I went cheap. I considered spending a couple of hundred more for eero or Orbi, but I’m glad I didn’t. Others who have tested all three mesh systems have found that Google Wifi isn’t always the fastest nor does it provide advanced features like Eero. However, Google Wifi was easy to install, it’s easy to use, and it’s provided consistent connectivity for my smart devices.
What I recommend to you is to first test for dead zones. If you don’t have dead zones, you might not need a mesh style router. In fact, you might want to consider a single, powerful router. Otherwise, you can purchase a Google Wifi system (set of 3) for $300.
How long did it take to setup? I don’t really know. Maybe 45 minutes? I got distracted a couple of times.
What package did you buy? Though I don’t own a 4500 square foot home, I bought the three pack, because deal = buy one for $129, two for $258, or three for $299.