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Say Hello to Google's Kinder, Gentler Router

By John P. Mello Jr.
Aug 19, 2015 3:01 PM PT
google-onhub-router

Google on Tuesday unveiled OnHub -- a router that is not only good looking but also fast, secure and easy-to-use. It developed the router in partnership with TP-Link.

"Many of us keep our router on the floor and out of sight, where it doesn't work as well," said Google Group Product Manager Trond Wuellner. "We replaced unruly cords and blinking lights with internal antennas and subtle, useful lighting, so you'll be happy placing OnHub out in the open, where your router performs its best."

During setup, OnHub searches for the best channel for the fastest connection. It has a unique antenna design -- 13 antennas are hidden in the unit's body. Smart software works in the background, automatically adjusting OnHub to avoid interference and keep a network at peak performance.

App Controlled

Another convenient feature of the router is that it can be controlled by a smartphone app -- Google On for Android or iOS. It can tell you how much bandwidth your devices are using and let you run a network check. If there's an issue with the network, the app offers suggestions to help. It even lets you prioritize devices on the network so your favorites get the bandwidth they need for optimal performance.

Another feature of the mobile app -- which may set security experts' teeth on edge -- allows you to reveal passwords with a single tap and lets you text or email them to friends.

"How secure can a router be whose primary way to get into it is an app on a smartphone?" asked Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy.

"There are routers that use an app to do a few things, but tried-and-true security is done through an Ethernet port," he told TechNewsWorld.

However, OnHub does perform automatic updates, which are key to keeping a router secure.

"If they're doing security updates automatically when vulnerabilities are found in the router, they'll be able to deliver fixes for them quickly," said Tripwire Senior Security Analyst Ken Westin.

Smart Home Trojan Horse

With OnHub, Google appears to be making a move to expand its presence in the Internet of Things space.

"What Google is trying to do with this is put out a router that supports some of the IoT wireless standards it's been working on, like Weave," Moorhead said. Weave enables IoT devices to communicate with each other.

"It allows Google to have a Trojan Horse for getting different standards that they support into the home," Reticle Research Principal Analyst Ross Rubin told TechNewsWorld.

OnHub does appear to be a Google play for the smart home, said Stephanie Gibbons, a senior analyst with IHS.

"It seems to be setting itself up as a gateway," she told TechNewsWorld.

"With all the protocols Google is supporting with this, it's going to be a pretty decent device," Gibbons continued. "It's a pretty cheap and affordable device for consumers to bring into their home, control with an app from their phone, and really make it part of their smart home system as it starts to grow."

Privacy Concerns

As attractive as OnHub's features may be, consumers should exercise caution when considering opening their homes to Google, advised Tripwire's Westin.

"Google has a history of collecting a lot of information about us," he told TechNewsWorld.

"It's one thing to have a relationship where you're online and Google is tracking you. With this router, it's like living together. You invite this device into your home where it has the capability to do a great deal more monitoring of your behavior," Westin pointed out.

"Unless Google says it's not going to mine the data, consumers should be concerned about privacy," said Moorhead.

A Google spokesperson was not immediately available to comment for this story.

Future plans for OnHub include the design of new OnHub devices with other hardware partners, including Asus.

OnHub is available for preorder from online retailers in the United States, including the Google Store, Amazon and Walmart. Later in the year, it will be available in retail stores in the United States and in Canada. It's currently priced at US$199.99.


John Mello is a freelance technology writer and contributor to Chief Security Officer magazine. You can connect with him on Google+.


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