On Tuesday, Google unveiled its answer to the Smart Home market in the form of a Smart Home hub called OnHub.
Interestingly, OnHub serves a dual purpose. It’s a standard wireless router capable of the latest 802.11 standards, but also capable of supporting both modern in-home wireless protocols like Bluetooth 4.0 and some of the most popular smart home network protocols.
Whether this new router measures up to today’s latest wireless routers offered by leaders like Linksys and Belkin remains to be seen, but it is one of the first all-in-one routers that allows you to connect nearly any of the wireless devices that people use in their home today.
About Google OnHub
Touted as a “new way to Wi-Fi”, the OnHub looks more like a network device reminiscent of the Amazon Echo than a simple router.
It comes with a dual core 1.4GHz CPU, 4GB e-MMC flash memory, and 1GB DDR3L on-board memory. It includes a single USB3.0 port, a single LAN port and a single WAN port, so it clearly isn’t meant to be used as a wired router – it’s function is purely wireless.
Unlike most routers on the market today, which are more about function than appearance, the OnHub was clearly designed to be aesthetically pleasing – the kind of unit a person may place right on the corner of a desk or on a shelf, rather than down in the basement.
To this end, there were features built into this device that make it more in line with something like the Amazon Echo or similar wireless devices that are meant to serve more as a central control unit in the home rather than as a simple wireless appliance for providing Internet connectivity.
The OnHub includes the following hardware:
- A 3 Watt speaker
- An integrated ambient light sensor
- Six tri-collor arrays of LED lights
- Multi-directional dual-band antenna arrays
Google explains on the OnHub website that the visual design of the router was meant to encourage people to place the router “out in the open, which gives you the best signal.”
Which Protocols Are Supported
There isn’t much stopping a homeowner from simply buying any other dual-band router on the market and placing it out in the open for a better signal. However, beyond its aesthetics, it’s really the added smart home connectivity that’s the major selling point of this new device.
Google offers a free Google On mobile app, which will walk you through connecting new smart home devices to your wireless network, so long as the device can communicate using one of the protocols that OnHub supports.
These include some of the most common smart home wireless protocols today such as:
- Bluetooth 4.0 – used by a number of smart home product manufacturers
- Weave and Brillo – Android’s smart home communication layer and OS
- Thread – The protocol used by Samsung and Google’s own Nest
- Zigbee – Based on IEEE 802.15.4 standard
With Google throwing its weight behind these specific protocols, it could either provide a boost to the wider adoption of those protocols, or it could leave the OnHub behind if some other protocol still gets more widely adopted.
On the other hand, just like Google’s Chromebook OS, the OnHub’s system will automatically get updated with the latest features and security upgrades from Google – meaning that if you own an OnHub, there could be additional features added down the road, making it one of the most future-proof devices to buy in the smart home market today.
Pros and Cons to Using OnHub
While the smart home industry and various products have been applauded by enthusiasts within geek communities across the web, widespread adoption of these technologies may not happen unless those technologies are more easily integrated into the wireless networks that people already have set up in their home.
The OnHub is the obvious common-sense starting point for smart home products to enter into the mainstream.
Pros: Many consumers who spot interesting smart home products while shopping, things like Philips Hue LED lights or smart switches and plugs, tend to shy away from buying those products because usually there’s also the requirement to purchase a special hub.
However, if those same consumers can purchase a single hub – like OnHub – and then keep an eye out for whether smart home products use those supported protocols, buying smart home products becomes much more tempting (and easy to set up) for consumers. Just one hub purchase could support a multitude of smart home products.
Cons: The flip side of this is that by focusing on a single hub for all of your smart home needs, you’re also limited to only using those smart home products that are supported.
Would You Buy One?
You can pre-order the OnHub at several retailers like Amazon or Walmart for about $200, and units are set to ship on August 31st.
Do you see the benefit of owning a multi-protocol wireless router like OnHub? Or is trying to get homeowners to use smart home wireless protocols an exercise in futility? Are you planning to buy one? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!