Google WiFi launches in Singapore — First Use Impressions and Why It’s Exciting

This article was embargoed until 30 Aug.

On the 28th of August, Google invited a small group of media to showcase what is their first official hardware foray into the Singaporean market — Google WiFi. What is Google WiFi, you ask? Great question.

Yep, that’s it. This is your Google WiFi router — small, clean, and very good looking.

Traditionally, Google has been a software-centric company, and has always earned the bulk of its profits via software. In recent years, they have been starting to venture into hardware, with the best-known products being the Pixel laptops, the Pixel smartphone, and now Google WiFi.

Google WiFi is a fairly new kind of WiFi system, called a mesh networking system. A mesh networking system is something that has one base router unit that communicates with other identical sub-units placed all around your house to eliminate dead-zones and ensure a strong connection wherever you are. This is highly beneficial for Singaporean homes, full of thick, hard concrete walls, and often with narrow corridors that aren’t conducive to WiFi signal transmission.

What are Google WiFi’s key features?

1. Auto-switching between units and frequencies — all on one SSID

Gone are the days when you have to bring your laptop out into the living room to stream Game of Thrones for the best quality, instead of having to languish in the dead-zone on your bed. With multiple units, the WiFi signal will overlap and cover a far greater zone than what you get with a single (albeit powerful) router placed next to your modem. The best part about it is that if you are walking throughout your house and need the fastest, uninterrupted connection, the Network Assist functionality will switch your device’s connection to whichever Google WiFi unit, frequency (2.4GHz or 5GHz), and channel  that is offering you the fastest connection.

The benefit over using a mesh solution over range extenders is also apparent here — you only have one network name (SSID). There’s no need to manually switch to the now-stronger network when you go into another room, or be slave to your device’s whims of strongest WiFi selection.

2. Manually prioritise devices’ bandwidth allocation

If you need the bandwidth for your cooking tutorials, you can have it

Usually, WiFi routers aren’t that good at prioritising bandwidth to devices that are really craving them. Suppose you are downloading a sizeable file, but it’s coming along at a painfully slow pace due to other devices that are hogging the bandwidth but not necessarily utilising it. In such a scenario, you can open the Google WiFi app on your Android or iOS device and simply choose a duration for which to prioritise bandwidth allocation to your device.

There are only 3 options available, though — 1, 2, or 4 hours, and there’s no way to input anything else. The ability to input a manual duration would be great to have, and it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility — Google has said that they will push an update to your Google WiFi every 6 weeks, and have already set a precedent of adding entirely new features in such updates.

3. Pause WiFi at scheduled or unscheduled times for all or certain devices

No WiFi for the kids when it’s time for homework

Ever faced the issue where your family members simply won’t tear themselves away from their games or shows to come for dinner, or worse — bring their devices with them? No matter if you are a parent or just a frustrated spouse, Managers (aka Admins) on your Google WiFi network will be able to pause the WiFi connection to devices for fixed or indefinite periods of time. You can target this at every device connected to your network, or only certain ones. This means those devices will still remain connected to the network, but will simply be barred from accessing it for that period.

How is it to use?

Since it’s just been two days since I have set-up my Google WiFi units, all I can give you here are my first impressions. That being said, they are highly favourable.

Before you even start using Google WiFi, the setup itself if stupidly easy. All you have to do is download the app, connect the ethernet cable from your modem into your base unit, power all the three units, and simply follow the instructions on the screen. You can name each unit based on where it is, add emojis to your WiFi network name, monitor the network use all from the comfort of your smartphone (given that it is running Android 4 or iOS 8 and above). There is no need to shell out extra for a WiFi tech to come over for setup, or even maintenance — all support options are present on the app, direct from Google.

The power cable (right) uses micro USB Type C

Simple as setup was, though, I did encounter an error where my initial choice of the Google WiFi router refused to recognise that it was connected to the modem and had internet. It kept trying to connect, and eventually gave up (recommending me to contact support) when trying to set it up as the main router that connected to the modem. The fix was far simpler — all that was needed was to swap it with another router unit, and use the original one as a sub-unit instead of the base unit. Nevertheless, this is an issue that could confound less tech-savvy users, though it points to either a hardware issue with the unit over a software one.

With Google WiFi being able to cover up to 251 sq m. of area, three units for my 94 sq m. apartment might seem overkill. However, for the first time in ages, my PC doesn’t need to languish on a weak 1-bar signal. Now, it can get 5 bars of signal in the same spot thanks to the overlapping coverage of the three units. Furthermore, while previously my mother couldn’t enjoy her VOIP and video calls if she went out of the living room, now she can roam wherever she pleases and face no issues with the connection.

While all that is great, when compared to my Asus RT-AC56S router, Google WiFi is far slower on my PC, and this is because Google always keeps my PC on the 2.4GHz frequency, never switching it over to the 5GHz one. This means that web pages load slower, my games take longer to download, and is a frustrating experience when coming from super-fast 5GHz WiFi. There is somewhat of a workaround for this (for me, at least), though. Placing one of the units directly next to my PC switches it over to the 5GHz frequency — but with such close proximity I can forgo WiFi altogether and connect my PC to the Google WiFi router via an ethernet cable for maximum speed.

Now, with how Google demonstrated their WiFi works, there should be no reason I am on 2.4GHz for I originally placed two units in the two rooms next to where my PC is. Given that there are no thick or hard walls between those rooms and mine, the overlap should ensure that the 5GHz frequency is available for my use. Even if Google’s system feels that my PC shouldn’t be on the 5GHz frequency, it should at least give me the option to switch to it manually, but with only one SSID (both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies are under one network) and the “idiot-proofing”, this option is missing from the Google WiFi.

Still, the workaround is not that much of an issue (even if it is one that should not be necessary), and I am seriously considering adopting Google WiFi for my own personal use. Look out for my full review as I continue to use Google WiFi over the next week.

Where can I get one?

Unfortunately for all you M1 and SingTel customers, Google WiFi is currently exclusively available from Starhub upon a new internet plan sign-up or recontract. You’ll have to pay S$360 for it, and is only available in a 3-pack. The money can be paid upfront, or in S$15 monthly installments over 24 months. It will be available from 31 August onwards, and on the 1Gbps Fibre BroadbandSurfHubHomeHub 1000 and HomeHub Go 1Gbps bundles only.

Fret not if you’re not enticed by Starhub or already in their thrall, though — a quick check on Amazon shows that the 3-pack is available for as little as S$18 more, when selecting the free shipping option. There’s no restrictions on shipping to Singapore, but as far as support goes, you will not get a WiFi technician coming down to your residence to troubleshoot issues for you, as someone from Starhub will for locally purchased units.

Users who purchase Google Wifi from third-party routers can still visit the Google Wifi Help Centre though, or contact the Google Wifi support center by phone 24 hours, 7 days a week. However, if there are any large issues, users might need to start an RMA exchange with Amazon — something they are (thankfully) very happy to do almost all the time.

Is it worth it?

It certainly is, in my opinion. Instead of triplicating networks with extenders, suffering added latency with powerlines, you can avoid all of that for not much more. Google’s WiFi also gives you added features that are super useful. If you have the cash for it, and have wanted a better internet experience, Google WiFi is certainly the one to beat.

Specifications

WiFi Device

Wireless AC1200 2×2 Wave 2 WiFi
Expandable mesh WiFi
Simultaneous dual-band WiFi (2.4GHz / 5GHz) supporting IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
TX Beamforming
Bluetooth® Smart Ready
Ports 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports per WiFi point
WAN and LAN on primary WiFi point; both act as LAN ports on additional WiFi points
Colour & Material White, lightweight, durable plastic
Security WPA2-PSK
Automatic security updates
Infineon SLB 9615 trusted platform module
Memory 512MB RAM
4GB eMMC flash
Processor Quad-core ARM CPU, each core up to 710 MHz
Power 15W power adapter
~9W consumed
Dimensions & Weight Diameter: 4.17 in (106.12 mm)
Height: 2.70 in (68.75 mm)
Weight: 12 oz (340 g)

One-pack:What’s in the box

1 Wifi point
1 power adapter
1 6.5 ft Ethernet cable
Quick start guide
Three-pack:
3 Wifi points
3 power adapters
1 6.5 ft Ethernet cable
Quick start guide

Requirements

A mobile device running Android 4.0+ or iOS 8+

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