It was no surprise to hear Google introduce a new WiFi router this week as an update on last year's OnHub product.
But given the flashy launch demos of the Google Home device, Pixel phones and more, the new router -- dubbed Google Wifi -- drew limited attention. (See Google Home Could Be Pay-TV's Nightmare.)
In fact, one of the most important statements of the router launch was a throwaway line by Product Management Vice President Mario Queiroz: "We're continuing to build on this technology for the benefit of the partner ecosystem, including ISPs."
Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) isn't just taking its router to retail. The company also wants to sell its hardware into the service provider channel.
And why not? Wireless carriers sell Apple and Google phones, and ISPs are already leasing TiVo-powered set-tops and bundling Netflix service. Why not add another big-brand consumer product to the mix?
Google's aims are clear. OnHub Product Manager Trond Wuellner pointed out last spring that a huge percentage of Google traffic travels over WiFi, which means the company has every incentive to improve WiFi performance. Wuellner also said then that Google was already in conversations with operators around the world about selling the OnHub router. And in September, a Google spokesperson pointed to OnHub's availability through Frontier Communications Corp. (NYSE: FTR)'s product catalog, which also highlights hardware like the Apple iPad, Dell computers and various cordless phones. (See Google Is Promoting OnHub to ISPs.)
Of course, Google has plenty of competition in the WiFi router market. The new Google Wifi system looks an awful lot like other mesh networking solutions, including retail products from Eero and mesh technology from AirTies that have been deployed by big names like Sky and Vodafone, as well as Midcontinent Communications (Midco) , and yes, Frontier, in the US. (See Frontier Calls In WiFi Fix With AirTies Mesh.)
There are also the traditional broadband home equipment vendors to consider. Both Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) have invested in Celeno Communications 's WiFi chip and software technologies, which combine high-performance WiFi silicon with management applications that provide fine-tuned control over bandwidth allocation. (See Winning at WiFi – Celeno Closes $38M Round.)
And Arris CEO Bruce McClelland told Light Reading last week that his company is very focused on home WiFi and is currently offering both WiFi repeater and mesh networking products to customers.
The big issue here for Google -- and for all home WiFi competitors -- is not only the immediate goal of improving WiFi, but also the aim of establishing a major hardware presence in the home. Google is pursuing that goal on multiple fronts, notably through its Chromecast products that connect TVs to smartphones, as well as the new Google Home. The complete product line-up gives consumers several entry points into the Google hardware ecosystem and complements well new Google Pixel phones also announced this week.
As for details on Google's new router, the Google Wifi is a modular mesh system that includes Network Assist features for automatic channel optimization and user administrative control over WiFi access for individual connected devices. A Google Wifi single-pack with one module will sell for $129, while Google will offer a three-pack for $299. Pre-orders will start in November, with commercial availability planned for early December.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading