Google Wi-Fi – It’s Missing Key Features

First, let me say that I have been using Google Wi-Fi for over two months now and it has virtually eliminated all of the Wi-Fi handoff problems and all of the dead zones in the house. Let’s get this out of the way early: it’s powerful, it is designed for easy setup and management. Compared to the other folks in the market, it is the price:performance leader by far. But it has some warts too. Big warts. I will continue to use it (for now), but I am not 100% bought in on the long-term strategy. There are some things that need to be addressed:

  1. IP Address assignment – While most of the world uses 192.168.1.X or 192.168.0.X for handing off Class C IPs through DHCP, the IP range for this product is 192.168.85.X (or .86.X). And there is no way to change this. If you have lots of static IPs set up, you’ve got a lot of work on your hands. Nothing else in the market is expecting this IP range. Worst of all you cannot change it. You are stuck with this range.
  2. No support for mesh on bridged mode – People buy Google Wi-Fi for the mesh capability, filling the home with Wi-Fi and seamlessly handing off as clients move around. But if you already have a network, with lots of wired clients, you’d prefer to run this mesh in a bridged mode; all of the access points create a mesh and then it sits on top of a regular wired network, getting it’s DHCP assignment from your wired router. But this won’t work. You can run in bridged mode, but the mesh will not operate. The primary node that runs all of the DHCP, DNS and gateway functions for your network is a single Google puck, with one LAN port. Which means adding one more device at that point. More cables, more power adapters. More hassle.
  3. Automatic updates – These are great, when they work right. But you have no control over them. You don’t get to choose. And when Google screws up, you are hosed. The other evening they dispatched an update that hosed thousands of access points, including one of mine, putting them in “factory reset mode.” Luckily it was not my main access point or my entire network would have been offline. And I would have to set up everything all over again. Which leads to #4…
  4. No way to back up configurations – When Google decides to kill your system, you have to start all over again. There is no way to save a configuration or reinstall with last known settings. You could be losing IP reservations, port forwarding and other critical information. This should be a trivial addition.
  5. No easy way to see logs – perhaps there is a way to look at logs, I have not seen one. I also don’t really know what is going to Google and what is not. While they claim to “not be evil”, a little transparency would go a long way here.
  6. No web-based configuration – All configuration requires a smartphone. Which I keep on the kitchen counter most of the time. I spend 90% of my online time at home on a laptop, but if a change is required, I must go find my phone.
  7. Lack of configurability – Every other product on the market gives the end user much more control over the configuration. While I understand that the target market is novice consumers, how about a choice for experts? Maybe make that available only through the web interface?
  8. Performance monitoring – Every time I run the test in the Google app it says great performance, 177Mb/s. Except that I am on a 300Mb/s plan and Speedtest always returns speeds in the 280-290Mb/s range. This probably causes a lot of heartburn for people.
  9. App – Ugh, the app. It is really awkward, trying to navigate around is a mess. Some things hide in the menus, other things can only be accessed by clicking on the devices or access points. Terrible UI, I can never remember what to click on to get where I need to be.
  10. Static IPs – The system uses IP reservations instead of static IPs. With a static IP you are setting the address at the device level. Should your system blow up (or Google wipes it out), the device still has the same IP. IP reservations are ruled on the system side of things (most likely stored in the cloud or on the main device). They look for MAC addresses and assign the IP address at that time. Less efficient, quite annoying.

There are a host of other things that need to be corrected, the Google forum is full of them, but these are the critical ones for me. There have been complaints that the system will not work with certain cable modems because of the need for bridged mode (see above) but I have not had that problem; we use fiber optics with an ONT.

Some of these things are clearly tied to how Google is monetizing the data they get from you, so they are unlikely to change. Others should be trivial for a company of their resources to address.

As I said at the beginning, I will continue to use the product, but this list may lead me off to investigate products like Eero or maybe even Linksys if Google can’t get its act together quickly. Unfortunately, the return window has already closed, but that does not mean that if the right product showed up I would not jump on it.