On August 19th, Google announced a new Wi-Fi router, named the OnHub, in a move to strengthen its position in the smart home. The search giant partnered with networking device manufacturer, TP-Link, to develop the OnHub, which will be priced at $199. It will support 802.11ac (along with backwards capability for 802.11n/g/b/a) and offer a more appealing design than what we see in most home networking routers today. The impetus for the sleeker design is that instead of tucking the router away out of sight, home owners will be more inclined to place the OnHub in the center of the home network in plain view – improving Wi-Fi transmission. The OnHub will be controlled via a smartphone app over Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android operating systems (OS). The app will allow users to get software updates automatically and designate which connected device is allotted the most bandwidth.
Initially, the OnHub will ship with Wi-Fi functionality. However, Google is establishing its own smart home ecosystem via its Thread, Brillo and Weave initiatives, and the OnHub would sit in the middle of this home automation environment. Thread is a networking protocol built on open standards and designed for low-power 802.15.4 mesh networks. Its aim is to promote device interoperability among connectable devices that are power sensitive. “Project Brillo” is a scaled-down version of Google’s Android OS designed for connecting simple devices that do not need to run on a hefty OS platform. It has built-in support for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Smart and Thread, and Weave is the communications layer over which all devices will communicate.
Traditionally, the router is the central device in the home network, which is why Google is trying to enter the router market with the OnHub. However, the router market is not the end game. Consumers are starting to expand their home networks beyond traditional Wi-Fi devices, such as PCs and tablets, to include low-power wireless devices, such home appliances, thermostats, lighting, and other home automation products. So, while the first iteration of the OnHub will ship with only Wi-Fi activated, the device has additional integrated radios that will offer future functionality, including support for Thread, Zigbee and Bluetooth Smart – connectivity technologies projected to be key enablers of the smart home. This future-proofing illustrates that Google is looking to expand its presence further into the smart home. So the question is, just how large of an opportunity will the global smart home market represent for Google?
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