Google Wifi offers Canadians a sleek 3-piece mesh network for $439

Google Home

Nearly seven months after debuting in the United States, Google has now brought its Google Wifi expandable mesh network system to Canada. The tech giant joins a relatively small pool of mesh offerings currently available — primarily Linksys’ Velop system, Netgear’s Orbi, Securifi’s Almond 3 and Amped Wireless’ Allyand it does so at the competitive price of $439 CAD for a three-pack and $179 for one individual router.

Since it hit the shelves today, April 28th, at the Google Store, Best Buy Canada, Staples Canada and Walmart Canada, I took the system for a test drive to see if it was a drastic improvement over my own single router, the Rogers-provided Hitron CGN3ACSMR.

So what is a mesh network and why is it better than a single router? If you’ve ever encountered dead zones within your home where the Wi-Fi connection is weak and perhaps even non-existent due to the construction of your home, interference or sheer range, then you’ve hit on the reason behind wireless mesh networks.

Google Wifi in box

A wireless mesh network uses multiple wireless routers — or as Google calls them, ‘points’ — to provide better coverage over a certain area of space. The routers communicate with each other, thus providing more seamless hand-offs than a wireless repeater may be capable of, and enlarging the size and stability of Wi-Fi access in your home.

Google first began developing its interest in Wi-Fi hardware approximately four years ago, according to the company. It eventually came out with the OnHub router (co-developed with TP-Link) in August 2015. The router came along with an app that promised users the ability to carry out troubleshooting and administrative changes using an app — rather than the more common, and confusing, web interface.

Google Wifi, which can be used together with OnHub, is the next evolution of the Mountain View company’s router aspirations.

Visually, it has a beautiful, minimal all-white aesthetic that would look very much at home in an Apple Store. It’s round with a flat top and the width of an average grapefruit. Everything about the device is matte white, apart from a very subtle ‘G’ on top and a cutout around the middle that emits blue light. On the back is an in-line reset button.

There’s a distinctly futuristic vibe about the whole thing. I feel as if a robot voice may emit from it at any moment — though Google Home and Wifi product lead Ben Brown refrained from commenting on whether the company’s AI speaker Google Home might eventually be packaged together with the system at a recent press briefing in Toronto.

google wifi kitchen 2

At that same briefing, Brown said that the stylish appearance of Google Wifi was in fact a key design element for functionality. After all, typical routers usually aren’t something that people like to display. They have big antennas, bulky cords and designs that don’t take interior decor in to account. As a result, they are often confined to closets or secluded areas of the home where guests won’t see them. They’re Boo Radleys. Unfortunately, tucking your router away also reduces its signal strength.

“The fact that it was ugly and had to be hidden was a design issue,” said Brown, noting that the Google Wifi points are designed to be attractive enough to place in plain view on a side table or shelf, for instance.

In that regard, Google Wifi succeeds. I find the points actually add to the aesthetic appeal of my home. Though I will note that the system didn’t completely solve the issue of displaying my less beautiful Hitron router, since it must be connected to Google Wifi by an ethernet cord for the system to work, and there is no handy place in my living room to hide it.

Another aspect of the traditional router experience that Google aims to solve with its Wifi mesh network is the user interface with which you control it. Instead of going to your router’s daunting web control interface, you just download an app — Google Wifi — that first helps you through setup and then provides a robust set of functionalities for ruling over your own Wi-Fi kingdom.

One of my favourite features of the app is the setting that lets you easily prioritize certain devices to receive more bandwidth. You can also easily see and share passwords and create a guest network while still allowing friends to access specific devices like a Chromecast.

google wifi app screenshot

Those who have kids will likely enjoy the fact that they can pause Wi-Fi access for their childrens’ devices (or schedule pauses) and those with less tech-inclined parents or seniors in their lives can become a remote network manager for another home’s mesh system through the app.

Additionally, you can see what devices are connected, remotely check the health of your own network and run speed tests. All this, in an extremely simple-to-use app that looks a bit like a network-specific version of Google Now.

At the press briefing, Brown brought up the fact that “a good bulk of [the] team was based out of Canada and still is,” and that they contribute primarily to the mobile app and on-device software — which means Canadians are to thank for its ease of use.

Yet another key selling point for Google Wifi — it’s easier to setup than other routers. In theory, this is true. In practice, I ran into some trouble with the super simple one-page card of instructions.

On every Google Wifi point (all of which are identical) there are two Gigabit ethernet ports and a USB-C port. What I didn’t know, and what the instructions didn’t state explicitly, is that only one port on each point is able to function as a WAN port and so I first plugged the ethernet cord from my Hitron router into a LAN-only port. After a period of confusion, it was pointed out to me that a visual on the card showed a green globe by the WAN port which matched up with an indicator on the device itself.

Stupid mistake, sure. But I also think it’s an indication you can go too far when it comes to minimal instruction pages.

google wifi rear

In any case, once that issue was resolved, setting up the other points took only a matter of minutes. All my roommate and I needed to do was plug them in and pair them with the app.

As a side note on security — Brown states that during the setup process an encrypted connection is made between the phone, the app and the device in order to secure data, and each point has a trusted platform module (TPM) — a dedicated microcontroller designed to secure hardware by integrating cryptographic keys into devices.

Additionally, in case you were wondering whether Google is standing by its motto of “Don’t be evil” and respecting your privacy, the company published a post that states: “the Google Wifi app and your Wifi points do not track the websites you visit or collect the content of any traffic on your network,” though it does collect data such as Wi-Fi channel, signal strength, and device types. Users can manage the three types of data collected — cloud services, Wifi point stats, and app stats — in the app.Google wifi on floor

Once I had all the points setup and named by room, I got to work speed testing in order to compare the results with my pre-Google Wifi tests.

For reference, my household runs on a Rogers Ignite 60 internet plan — a plan that is no longer on the market, replaced by Rogers Ignite 75. It promises speeds of up to 60Mbps download and 10Mbps upload. While those speeds (and higher) have been accurate where the router sits, in the front part of my very long apartment, service has been terrible in my bedroom about five rooms down. Can’t-even-watch-Netflix-terrible.

In the living room, where the router has always been, Google Wifi didn’t provide a hugely significant improvement to speeds.

The average download speed I was receiving before setting up Google Wifi (tested through Speedtest by Ookla, Netflix’s Fast.com and Rogers’ own tool) was 67.74Mbps, the average upload speed 10.97Mbps and the average latency 12ms.

After setting up Google Wifi, I saw an average of 70.40Mbps down, 10.89Mbps up and 13.5ms latency. Then, curious to see if there would be a tangible difference in performance, I tested once again after I turned off wireless for the Hitron router. The result was a slight increase of 70.67Mbps down, 11Mbps up and 13.5ms latency.

More important to my overall enjoyment of my home’s Wi-Fi network, however, was the reception in my own bedroom, separated by a long corridor and five rooms’ worth of thick walls. In that respect, the difference is extreme, and significantly improves my quality of digital life.

After setting up the point in my bedroom, I experienced a robust 71.47Mbps down, 11.07Mbps up and 14.5ms latency. Without the point, I receive 32.09Mbps down, 10.83Mbps up and 16.5ms latency.

Google wifi side

Google Wifi provides these speeds through AC1200 2×2 Wave 2 Wi-Fi technology with simultaneous dual bands (2.4GHz/5GHz) supporting IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac. It should be noted that its specs and slightly meager port offerings per device certainly aren’t the best on the market.

In contrast, the Netgear Orbi two-pack (which retails for about $549.80) is tri-band (2.4GHz/5GHz) and has four gigabit ethernet ports on each router.  The Linksys Velop three-pack (about $550) is also tri-band and has two WAN/LAN auto-sensing gigabit ethernet ports per device.

Of the other Canadian wireless mesh competitors available in Canada, neither boast tri-band technology. The Amped Wireless Ally-0091K (about $429.44) has a USB port, modem port and three gigabit LAN ports on the main router and one gigabit port on the ‘extender,’ while the Securifi Almond 3 comes in at about $499.99 and has one WAN gigabit port, two LAN gigabit ports and one USB 2.0 port per device.

But when it comes down to it, Google Wifi isn’t really about the specs. It’s about design and simplicity of use. And with its easy-to-navigate and extremely functional app and gorgeous design, the device has nailed that value proposition.

Comments

  • Burl House

    The price point is absurd. No thanks.

    • ToniCipriani ✓pǝᴉɟᴉɹǝʌ

      Actually if you bothered reading the article, there are comparisons to similar systems, they’re all are priced in the same range. One missing is the Ubiquiti Ampli-fi which is also in the $500 range.

      Now you can argue you get similar setups with a bunch of old routers on DD-WRT, but one key thing missing is AP hand-off, which prior to these mesh systems were only available with enterprise-grade managed access points.

    • Burl House

      Who cares, the price point stinks. You do the arguing about old routers, it doesn’t apply to this article whatsoever.

    • ToniCipriani ✓pǝᴉɟᴉɹǝʌ

      So in your opinion everything should be free then. Got it.

    • Burl House

      In my opinion it’s overpriced. End of story.

    • Alanalan11

      He’s right. This price point is ridiculous. It’s 47% more expensive here in Canada vs the USA. Adjusting for the dollar, the price should be closer to $408 CAD not $439. At the very least they should have kept it under $400 CAD. If I were google I would have priced it at $389 CAD.

    • Eluder

      Your math is terribly wrong, it’s roughly 7.5% more expensive here than the US, not 47% as you stated. $409 or even $399 would have been a nice round number, but it’s not grossly overpriced vs the US price as you stated.

    • Paul Lefebvre

      Given the price of other mesh systems, I don’t feel they are out of reason for what they are asking. If you can get good service out of one router, good for you. Many can’t.

    • Paul Lefebvre

      I think it’s all relative. I’ve got an ASUS Black Knight serving as my router, a Netgear Nighthawk access point, and an Amped Wireless Titan extender all working together to cover a 2500′ house plus a finished basement, and I still have major performance issues.

      Collectively I’ve spent more than $408, so if $408 would provide a superior solution, it’s worth the money.

  • john smith

    just buy 3 onhubs for 100 each and u get WAY BETTER signal

    • mike m

      totally! this is a rip off. antennas on Google WF are very small and range is limited. onhub is a lot better, despite slower chip

    • vn33

      Don’t have OnHub, so curious .. Does the OnHUb allow a “mesh”? Do you see them as one SSID or you have to configure it as three separate ones?

    • mike m

      Onhub is identical in H/W and S/W to google wifi but has better antennas.

    • vn33

      So if I have three OnHub, it will also create a “mesh”? No advantage in using the Google WiFi? If that’s true, that would be a great deal!

    • Can’t Fix Stupid

      Where do you get them for $100? I see them at $180 new.

    • john smith

      ebay

  • windsorsean

    Bought mine (3 pack) in the US a month ago and LOVE IT! I was worried as a geek who used to run a DD-WRT based router this wouldn’t have the customisations I want, but it does everything I need. The only thing I didn’t like was not being able to set my own LAN network subnet, but I can get over that.

    It provides great coverage in my mid size house and I was able to take advantage of my existing Ethernet wiring for back haul (although this isn’t well explained in the online documentation).

    Ability to disable kids devices is also huge for me with two YouTube addicted kids in the house.

    Great value for money and I definitely recommend it!

  • Francois Nguyen

    I’m glad that Google finally offers the 3-pack Google Wifi in Canada. But my DD-WRT setup with my old 3 routers (for a total of 200$ back in 2012) still work and coverage is still fine in my house (basement + 2 floors; the backyard isn’t covered though), so I’ll wait for a price drop lol.

  • DonatelloNinjaTurtle

    Think the price is a concern to us technically savvy folk? Try explaining these mesh options to regular users who are used to either having their wireless router subsidized by their ISP or used to spending $50 on one.

    Compared to the others (Eero, Ubiquiti, etc) google came in at a decent price at $299 USD.

    Wish Eero would drop in price and come available in Canada though.

    • AJ

      You dont need 3 AP in most situation. I get 850mpbs on my Ubiquiti on my four level town house.

    • DonatelloNinjaTurtle

      That’s fair, but I’ve come across several homes where 3 was required. And still, even if I mention a single good router or AP (never mind 2) at $150-200 for very good performance they think I’m nuts.

    • john smith

      i got 4 in 3000 sqf house.

  • BigM

    It is nice that Google does something for Canada, how about Android Pay ?????

  • Stephane Malo

    Netgear Orbi is a far superior product

    • Eluder

      No, it’s buggy as hell. I had one for a few weeks and it wreaked havoc on my network with devices dropping connection every couple of days, my wired NAS even had problems being detected on my network. I returned the Orbi and went back to my nighthawk and my network works great again. Can’t speak for Google Wifi’s stability, but Orbi is not ready for primetime and still isn’t since the firmware on their website currently is what I was using Orbi with.

  • AJ

    Ubiquiti UniFi® AP is much better product. These consumer grade item just don’t cut it.

    • Stuart Steventon

      This… I have 2 unifi ap pros which were cheaper and better performing

    • Mike Lovell

      100% agree. These APs just kill everything else on the market. My clients, friends, and family love the range and performance!