+ Saturday November 23rd, 2019

Standards are apparently hard, I mean they’re so standard, and (mostly) well documented and openly available it’s easy to understand how they can be overlooked. We got an early look at the new Nest WiFi hardware at last week’s Made by Google event and I have to admit it left me wanting more. Quite a bit more.

With the second generation of Mesh WiFi product, Google has decided for the Nest WiFi that they won’t have a single device, rather they have released 2 pieces of equipment, the Nest WiFi Router and the Nest WiFi Point. You might have guessed it the Router is the main router that sits between your modem and switch and ‘runs’ your network and is intended to be locked away in a cupboard. The Point is a combined mesh repeater and Assistant smart speaker in one that you can distribute throughout your house.

While the new industrial design is nicer, and the WiFi range is improved and the inclusion of an Assistant Speaker (the same one in the Nest Home Mini – check out our review is an excellent idea. Unfortunately for a new product released in 2019, that is supposed to be the single product offering for Google in the Mesh Router space, I’m afraid it has fallen short of my tech nerd mark.

The Port
For those not aware, WiFi is inferior in basically every way compared to a good old fashioned wired Local Area Network or LAN. WiFi does exactly one thing better – and that’s not needing cables. As the central ‘backbone’ of your house’s network, trust me when I say it’s preferable to have all of the “backhaul” communications happen over a nice, stable 1Gbps wired network.

Not only is it faster, more reliable and not prone to interference, it also won’t compete with the very same wireless signal you’re using on your devices. While Google has evidently figured out how to store and shift your data around the world with ease, that they can’t figure out how to give you options to move data around your house is a bit limiting. Granted, most consumers won’t want to use wired backhaul, but for those that do, it’s simply not an option.

This trend follows the general trend in consumer tech of dumbing down products to the lowest common denominator and removing options for those who know how to use them.

The Nest WiFi point would have been better with at least a single LAN port, or USB C power with an optional LAN adaptor. I would have paid for that or added the Assistant speaker into the WiFi Router, and those who wanted more options could have made that choice. Now I have to choose between an integrated Smart Speaker or LAN ports, or a different product.

The Protocols
With the Nest WiFi Google has also introduced IoT capabilities in the form of a Thread Radio, alongside the existing Bluetooth and WiFi of course. Thread is an IoT standard currently supported by about 0 products in Australia and not that many more internationally. Now we understand that Google wants the Thread protocol (that they gave life to) to become a thing, and perhaps it will, but it isn’t that common right now.

So if Google wants to have the Nest WiFi be an integrated IoT Hub then where is the ZigBee and Z-Wave support? Some Amazon Alexa speakers already include a ZigBee radio allowing those devices to act as the primary hub for devices from manufacturers such as Phillips Hue, who is also a Google Assistant partner. Z-Wave is another popular IoT protocol, especially amongst the enthusiast community.

Now, I know that Z-Wave has different frequencies in different markets, and had Google included ZigBee and not Z-Wave I likely would have accepted that as a reason, despite many OEMS making country-specific devices with Z-Wave radios. But without either of the dominant IoT protocols present, it just feels like a ham-fisted attempt to drive adoption of their standard.

From all reports, Thread is a perfectly usable standard and something I’d like to see more of. However, considering there are so few devices using in on the market it seems like a miss to have restricted the Nest WiFi to only support that IoT protocol.

The Frequency
WiFi 6 has been a thing for a while now, the 802.11 ax standard has been in open development for some time now and there are even consumer devices on the market that include it. WiFi 6 is not the cure-all to every WiFi problem, in fact, it has a limited range, poor penetration and isn’t widely supported yet.

However a good router, especially a very expensive Mesh router set up should last you many many years, not including WiFi 6 now means that it will never get that option, and while it’s not the panacea it does have some excellent options that many users would use. Again Google’s response that there aren’t many devices that support WiFi 6 on the market, and that including the option would increase the cost by $100 USD just seems disingenuous.

Yes, there are limited devices available today, yes for the next few years the options for WiFi 6 devices may be limited. However, especially in the IoT world, WiFi 6 will have some great applications and the Nest WiFi will be incompatible with any device that tries to build on that technology. And please Google, you could absorb any additional costs of building WiFi 6 into your hardware ecosystem, stop pretending your thinking is so short term.

So where does that leave us? Honestly, I’m not sure. If none of these things matters to you then I am sure that the Nest WiFi will be amongst the best WiFi Mesh routers on the market. With the improved integration into the Assistant, I want to stick with Google’s WiFi offering as I am so deep into Google’s ambient computing ecosystem.

It just seems Google’s hardware efforts are falling along way short of the top of the hill when looking at capabilities, technology and yes the dreaded specs. I guess Google knows who they’re building hardware for, and it’s just not people like me, and I guess they’re ok with that.

Duncan Jaffrey   Associate

Duncan Jaffrey

Duncan has been interested in technology since coding "Mary had a little Lamb" in Basic on his ZX Spectrum. A fan of all things Android, most days you'll find Duncan trawling the web for Android news or quietly editing away on Map Maker.

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Colin Jones
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I think you misunderstand the significance of the Thread capability when commenting on “where’s the zigbee, zwave…”. All three (and many others) are IEEE802.15.4 standard for the air interface. You can add any layer 3+ protocol over the top of it. Obviously Google chose the one they are promoting (and notably many others such as Samsung, Apple, Qualcomm, ARM, etc have joined the alliance). The significant adjacent point is – Google have been progressively adding local capability to all the Home/Nest devices, such as the local IoT protocol and the ability for 3rd parties to write their own plugin code… Read more »

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