The use case that has made Google Wi-Fi one of the company’s sleeper hits
The Google team leading the gadget’s development are surprised to find how much people value its ability to stop bad habits
By Jillian D’Onfro
As the biggest tech companies fight to invade your living room, Amazon’s Echo product line still outsells competitors, like the Google Home, by a huge margin.
But while Amazon is dominating smart speakers, one of Google’s hardware products for the home has emerged as a market-leading hit: Its mesh Wi-Fi product.
Little over a year after it first went on sale, Google Wifi has become the best selling mesh technology Wi-Fi system in the U.S., according to new data from NPD Group. The retail tracking company based this distinction on unit sales of routers and mesh Wi-Fi systems between December 2016 and November 2017.
Using mesh networking technology, which has become increasingly popular over the last several years, Google Wifi basically serves to make sure your Wi-Fi works consistently well throughout your house or apartment. By arranging access points around your place, you can kill dead-spots and achieve faster internet speeds.
“It’s not necessarily sexy, but it’s super useful,” Ben Brown, head of Google Wifi told CNBC.
Brown has led the connectivity team through the release of its OnHub router to this latest product. He says that one of the unexpectedly popular use cases that surfaced after Wifi launched was how much people used it to curb their bad digital habits.
“We’ve been so successful in terms of actual quantity of sales because there are a lot of people that are from a non-traditional segment,” he says. “We’re not just marketing to tech enthusiasts, for sure — we know that from all of our engagement with customers and usage data. A lot of what’s driving people to the product is the ability to be a better parent.”
It’s turned out to be a key selling point. Google Wifi lets users pause the Wi-Fi access of specific devices for periods of time or block certain websites. With a few taps in an app, a parent could stop their kids from using their phones during dinner or streaming videos after bedtime.
“[People are] coming to a need they have in the home that has nothing to do with Wi-Fi itself,” he says.
Other mesh Wi-Fi systems, like Eero and Luma, have similar features.
While Google’s product is the top-selling, it hasn’t wowed everyone.
Although the device received rave reviews from CNET and others, it earned low marks in Wirecutter’s intense testing of a handful of different mesh-networking kits, ranking poorly in both long-range testing and latency.
On Google’s main Mountain View campus, the company has Wi-Fi testing chambers where it continually works out ways to improve its connectivity through software tweaks.
Ultimately, Brown says that he sees machine learning and artificial intelligence as the secret sauce already making Google’s Wifi product such a hit. But one area where Google’s product could shine moving forward is through integration with its smart speaker, the Home. The Information reported earlier this year that Google plans to release a version of Home with mesh Wi-Fi connectivity built in, and although Brown wouldn’t go as far as to confirm the report, he conceded that further integrating connectivity and Google’s Assistant is something the team is thinking about.
As of now, Amazon hasn’t released any sort of Wi-Fi product of its own, though it did invest in Luma’s Series A in 2016.
Regardless of which company a mesh Wi-Fi system comes from, the consumer desire has grown as people are using more smart home products, according to IDC analyst Adam Wright:
“Demand for Wi-Fi mesh networks is also increasing as consumers are connecting more media streaming devices across the home,” he says. “Traditional extenders can’t keep up with the bandwidth and signal demands.”