Networking & Cables

Hands On: When Google Fiber Meets a Mediocre Network & OnHub Router

Networking guru tries out Google Fiber in Austin with a consumer-grade Google OnHub router, and the results weren't pretty. Here are some lessons for smart home integrators.

Hands On: When Google Fiber Meets a Mediocre Network & OnHub Router
All the promises of Google Fiber gigabit Internet (shown with Network Box and Fiber Box) only come true with a good network inside the home. Ihiji's Michael Maniscalco tests it out with a Google OnHub router.

Michael Maniscalco · November 4, 2016

After eagerly watching Google Fiber’s slow and painful construction project progress through my neighborhood it finally arrived, and boy, was I ready to test that blazing fast Gigabit Internet service!

I rolled up my sleeves and got to work hooking everything up. Sadly, months later, things are still not living up to the hype. 

We all know the challenges of the home network. Working with existing wiring, meeting wireless coverage demands, wireless roaming, crowded wireless spectrums, supporting larger number of connected devices and constantly streaming content make it increasingly difficult to deliver a reliable and high-performing system.

This isn’t getting easier with ultra-high speed internet services which are expected to quickly go nationwide. Austin happened to be one of the first cities in the country to get Google Fiber and my neighborhood was one of the first to go live. I wanted to share some of my bleeding edge experiences so that they may help you avoid some painful and costly challenges in the future.

The hype and frustration all began with the physical fiber install. The Google contractors spent months tearing up our neighborhood and yard with crews, trenches, and heavy equipment.  Between cabling underground through solid rock, hitting water mains, contractor labor shortages and city permits, let’s just say things took much longer than expected for the fiber to be “lit.” 

Lesson learned: Have patience and set proper expectations when discussing these services and timelines with your customers.

FiberBox Install

When it finally came time for installation, the Google crew had to determine where to run the fiber and install their “FiberBox” in my home.

Built in 2001, my 2,000-square-foot house has some limited structured wiring in one of the closets, which seemed like the logical place to run the fiber and install the FiberBox and “NetworkBox.” Onward! Unfortunately, there were some issues getting the fiber lit up at my home which required another crew coming onsite to do a new run from the curb to my house, taking a few more hours to get things installed. It was clear to me this was more work than they’d initially anticipated and they were in a hurry to move on to the next job.

Takeaway: Allow additional time for the install crew to get the job done and be sure to test everything out before they are gone.

When You Don't Subscribe to TV

Once the service was live I began to do some testing and quickly determined that the Wi-Fi signal from the NetworkBox wasn’t the strongest.

A little research confirmed this and I learned that with Google Fiber TV services, Google utilizes MoCa (multimedia over coax) to extend Wi-Fi through Google’s TV set-top boxes. But since I don’t subscribe to the TV service, there were no set-top boxes acting as access points, which left me looking for other ways to expand my wireless coverage.

This is where I started to hit real challenges. I also quickly learned that the limited structured wiring installed in my house was Cat 5, and 90% of it was unusable due to bad installation practices such as no slack or beanies on twisted pair.  Since it was a single fiber run to the closet I couldn’t easily move the fiber drop to a different location. I tried everything I could to salvage existing wiring but was left with mostly unusable runs. Even if I could find good Cat 5 in the wall, it wasn’t rated above 100 Mbps so I wasn’t sure what performance I’d get.

Critical lesson here: pick your distribution point carefully and pay close attention to existing wiring. 

Google OnHub Router

My home network set-up at the time was pretty basic, almost embarrassing for a network-savvy tech-centric, IoT-oriented guy.

At the time, Google required that you use their router so I had the Google Fiber Network Box, which has 802.11ac Wi-Fi router in the main closet. From there I had a good Cat 5 that was a short run to the attic, where I was able to place another AP. The wire run was so short that I was able to push 1 Gbps reliably over the Cat 5 - score!

The AP I tried was a Google OnHub router (the original TP-Link version) set to bridge mode. Google says the product takes a “new approach to wireless” and “delivers stronger Wi-Fi connections and faster speed for every device,” so it must be good, right?

The unit promises to connect to more than 100 devices simultaneously and cover up to 2,500 square feet, but I still had gaping coverage issues with Wi-Fi -- nothing on the patio or in the rear of the house, and devices on the fringes seemed to drop offline quite a bit.

OnHub operates over both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, switching to the fastest band at any given time. But the 2.4 GHz spectrum is crowded and 5 GHz only goes a short distance, so it was tough to solve coverage issues.

Even if the Wi-Fi coverage is improved, I still have another challenge with a number of “legacy devices” like an original Google Chromecast that can’t take advantage of the 5 Ghz space.

Lesson learned: understand what the limitations of the current technology are, set proper expectations and have an upgrade plan.

Establishing Benchmarks for More Reviews

Being in an urban location I have a lot of wireless competition from my neighbors in close proximity. As such, the biggest wireless challenges seem to come from 2.4 Ghz interference and limited coverage in certain parts of the house.

Since both APs were placed centrally, when I went to remoter places like my office, front porch, or garage I started to get significant performance degradation. This may not seem like a big deal but it actually is, I have IP cameras, a Ring Doorbell, Chamberlain MyQ garage door opener, and Wemo light switches. My office was also an obvious issue, and since I often do Skype or Google Hangout calls from the patio, this was also problematic.

With all of the wireless systems out there, I was eager to see if any of them could help alleviate my issues. To get a true benchmark I did some initial testing. My results made it clear that my Wi-Fi was subpar - meaning that 1 Gbps symmetrical fiber connection was next to useless unless improvements were made.


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I measured my initial performance using a variety of tools, including a simple ping test for packet loss and latency, iperf for throughput, and finally a speed test using both fast.com and speedtest.net.

My baseline wired test with an Ihiji Invision network appliance showed about 900 Mbps for both upload and download, so I knew I had a solid starting point.

Ihiji Invision had been reporting a lot of online/offline events and packet loss/latency issues on many of the devices on the edges of my house, so I knew I was on the right path.

Generally speaking, when I ran my manual tests I found that where I had close proximity to access points I’d get very low latency and no packet loss (not surprisingly). The resulting speed tests were 150 Mbps – 400 Mbps.

Insight gained: It is also worth noting that speedtest.net almost always had higher throughputs than fast.com, so be sure to test with more than one service and/or server.

On the Fringe

When running the performance benchmarks on the fringe locations of my home it was easy to determine why the connections in those parts of the home were always so frustratingly problematic.

My office was clearly on the edge of my Wi-Fi coverage, reporting 1,000ms latency with 20% packet loss. When I was able to get speedtest.net to run it was only getting 5 Mbps (when it would actually run).

The front patio was even worse, with 0.79 Mbps download speeds, 14% packet loss, and 400+ms latency that was killing any throughput. This explains why my doorbell video was always a little slow to load.

Google recently announced a complete wireless mesh solution called Google Wifi that is modeled after eero, Luma and others, supporting multiple APs that supposedly work together to create a stronger whole-house network.

The devices can be used standalone (no third-party router required) or in conjunction with an OnHub router. Perhaps one of these APs ($129 for one; $299 for three) would solve some of my coverage issues. We can find out in December when the product is supposed to ship.

Key information: WiFi coverage demands are higher than ever with new connected devices around the outside of the home.

Not Exactly Pro-Worthy

The OnHub has some home automation features (via IFTTT) but I was only interested in Wi-Fi reliability. There are also some interesting features such as bandwidth consumption broken down to the device level. For instance, you could see how many gigabits of data the family room Roku used over the past 30 days, or you can view or all of the currently online devices. 

But Google OnHub is a consumer router, make no mistake about it. There are a lot of power-user features and functionality that aren't there. For example, this and similar routers lack DynDNS and VPN capabilities, which are critical for remote support. Most of these devices force you to do all configuration via the mobile phone that is associated to with the customer's account, making it tough for a professional to manage.

Next Up

Fascinated by the experience and resulting data, my goal now is to test some “prosumer” and commercial grade equipment to see how I can maximize my coverage and throughputs. Once I can get my Wi-Fi optimized I’ll start replacing some of the legacy devices and see if I can get the most of that gigabit fiber connection.

It’s an increasingly connected world full of new technology and new challenges. As the trusted technology partner to your customers, staying on top of these networking trends will ensure success in the future. Hopefully my experience helps give you a leg-up. I’m already working on the next article that takes a deeper dive and begins to lay out the challenges in infrastructure, design and equipment when it comes to home networks. It’s a journey, for sure.

Stay tuned!



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  About the Author

A former integrator, Michael Maniscalco is co-founder and vice president of technical operations for ihiji. He served as one of the principal architects of invision, the company’s cloud-based, real-time remote systems monitoring and servicing solution. For more information contact info@ihiji.com or visit www.ihiji.com. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Michael at info@ihiji.com

Follow Michael on social media:

Michael also participates in these groups:
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View Michael Maniscalco's complete profile.



  Article Topics


Networking & Cables · Networking · News · Products · Google · Ihiji · Review · All Topics
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Comments

Posted by Bjorn Jensen on November 14, 2016

Anyone putting Mike down on this thread really doesn’t understand Mike at all.  Mike is a doer and a helper.  It’s obvious to anyone that knows him that this was written in an attempt to help people understand the difference between DIY products and the type of gear he really needs to make his network solid and reliable.  I think he did a great job.

Mike, when it comes time to test out some real gear, don’t hesitate to reach out my friend.

Posted by Bmaxey on November 7, 2016

Mike I hope you can find a new location for your 2nd AP before the next Texas summer rolls around.

Posted by jmcdermott1678 on November 7, 2016

What’s “embarassing” is seeing Mike get torn apart for writing an article that is supposed to be helping us out. We are seeing an example of what consumers are to expect when jumping into Google Fiber.  As Hagai said, Mike intentionally took the challenge and we are all meant to learn from what our clients would experience.  This is something to be used as an example when asked “why do I need this” to a new managed network.  And, I’m sorry, but I would never say a client does not need Ihiji or another network management tool because I’ve put in a high quality managed network.  If you believe that, then you have no idea what products like Ihiji are capable of.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on November 7, 2016

(I DID take the easy way out, getting a pre-configured Ruckus solution from Access Networks for my dead-zone-infested home. Works like a charm, while every consumer product failed, but that was before this year’s interesting crop of new players.)

Posted by Ihiji on November 7, 2016

Thanks for the continued commentary, there are some excellent points.  Hagai is absolutely right, I could have easily picked the path of least resistance, reached out to one of our many industry friends and put in a world class solution.  What I really wanted was to get a real world perspective because I believe in this experience lies opportunity.

- Opportunities for CE Pros to learn from an everyday consumer experience.  This is where you can understand your customers pain points and find new sales, marketing and service opportunities for your business.

- Opportunities for manufacturers in the space to highlight their professional product offerings as a solution to these real world problems.  Many of your customers believe that an all-in-one router is all they need and then they don’t understand that they could get improved performance with better product.

- I really enjoy facing these every day challenges because they uncover opportunities for new product and services that can benefit our channel and the end user.

Those were the main goals - now I can’t wait to write up my Eero experience for all of you.  I also have the Luma APs installed and plan on testing them over the next month.  Then I’ll reach out to Hagai or Bjorn and see what an enterprise grade solution does for the experience - I think you all know what the outcome will probably be!

~Mike

Posted by Hagai Feiner / Access Networks on November 7, 2016

Morning all,

I am trying to sort this out. First, thank you Mike for taking the time to put this article together. As to everyone’s comments: I think its pretty obvious Mike could have taken the easy path, call me and get a Ruckus (or a full blown AN) system in there on day 1. Mike intentionally took the challenge of being the standard homeowner getting Google fiber with a Google router to see how it works and if the service delivers.

I recently had a Verizon FiOS (aka Frontier…) install at home, and saw similar challenges. Do you think my Frontier installer had any idea how to add my Jandy system to the network? No. Do you think he had any inclination or desire to understand my home technology? No. And this is a good thing. “Why”, you ask? Because we, the CEDIA channel, solve these problems. We provide personalized service, better gear with an actual configuration that caters to the homeowner’s lifestyle choices.

There is a digital tipping point for all homes and homeowners. I define it as the point where a homeowner realizes there is too much technology in the home, regardless of the square footage of said home, for this technology to be handled in a DIY manner. More and more homeowners are reaching this tipping point with every day that goes by.

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”

― Albert Einstein

Posted by dbendell on November 7, 2016

Great article on the importance of why a home should be properly hardwired for streaming and more. Contractors/Home Buyers need to read this article and make sure your homes properly wired by a “Good” low volt contractor!    Everyone comes to our shop thinking, “you mean we can’t WiFi or Bluetooth it?”  DIY, if you are reading this: WiFi for video should always be a last option!

Posted by highfigh on November 6, 2016

Why would you place an access point so close to a router that’s already providing WiFi, to whatever extent it does? That’s the reason the range isn’t what you thought it would be and what you need- move the access point in the attic to suit the demands of the outdoor locations and mount it after determining the best location..

Your house was built in 2001, which means it probably doesn’t have many materials that block WiFi, although it may have metal roofing and if it does, you may need an outdoor AP if you want to reach the “remoter” areas. Probably best to lay it out on paper to show the range of each AP and show where the gaps are.

Posted by Fliphayes on November 5, 2016

OK, I’m a little puzzled. Why would anyone expect an IP supplied WiFi AP to do the job that you expected? I have Google Fiber and before it was even installed, reading the Google forums or was evident that I didn’t want to use Google’s net box.

I bought a Ubiquity Edgerouter Lite3 which has three gigabit interfaces - WAN, LAN, & one for incoming VPN connections to my Cisco ASA (my idea). I don’t do TV but I could. I hard wired my Open-Mesh access points but I could have meshed them. They are all bridged. My Rokus are all hard wired. I don’t recommend WiFi for rock solid streaming. Open-mesh offers free cloud controller services and it is awesome! Wifi is distributed around the house and there are zero coverage problems. I VPN to my home network. I am hosting a Plex Media Server (for family), have hosted Skype video conferences and guitar lessons, etc. I was able to upload 750 GB of family videos to my Amazon Cloud and have it done before morning. The reality of Google fiber isn’t that you are actually going to use that much bandwidth unless you host a party for a few hundred people who will simultaneously stream Netflix; in which case your bottleneck will probably be wifi. Most of the problems you talk about have nothing to do with Google fiber. The article title is really misleading.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on November 5, 2016

Thanks again for taking the time to put this together, Mike.

View all comments.

Posted by smarthousecontrol gmail.com on November 5, 2016

Michael…......I have a one word…... solution and answer….... for you…...RUCKUS…....and as in ruckus wireless managed WiFi system of high end antennas.  You work for a company that is a Cedia member….....and should know this already…..if you are lucky enough experience the best broadband….......why not use a no nonsense Wifi system…..with the best beamforming connections in the business…....your company is not in the DIY business…....why post a review in the professional integrator magazine….with DIY products?.......why not contact Ruckus and get a professional wifi system for review…...and post an actual relevant review that applies to CEPro readers…..

Posted by AustinCinesound on November 5, 2016

Probably for the same reason he “Bridged” a consumer router to an all-in-one RG, the exact same RG (Google Network Box) that has the easiest to configure DMZ settings of any RG I have ever encountered. The other point is that a “Managed” solution completely eliminates the need for ihiji, because your network will be both stable and reliable. Lastly the above points, combined with the fact that this article was written by a ‘Former Integrator’, “network-savvy tech-centric, IoT-oriented guy” and the “vice president of TECHNICAL OPERATIONS for ihiji”, is just embarrassing.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on November 5, 2016

Yikes, Michael, sorry I roped you into this. I asked Michael to test some of the “cool” new consumer-grade networking products on the market and he was gracious enough to put this report together. He is trying eero and Luma next. And the key takeaway is: just because your customers have fiber to the curb, it’s still about what’s inside that counts—the wiring, the devices, the configurations .... I hope dealers show this to their clients.

Posted by Ihiji on November 5, 2016

Hi All,

Thanks for the comments, I’m encouraged by the quick responses that point out that proper configuration and equipment is essential to a good network.

As Julie mentioned, this article is meant to share some real world consumer experience, encourage thought and discussion and finally set the stage for the testing of other wifi solutions such as Luma, Eero and Ruckus.  When Julie asked me to do this article I was on the verge of upgrading my network to something of professional quality but I thought this would be a great learning opportunity for everyone - and so I’ve invested some time into testing, configuration and sharing in hopes to help the community.

I have intentionally tried to go through this experience as a typical consumer and have suffered through the first line tech support and poor recommendations to get a feeling for the current state of affairs.  It’s been both frustrating and exciting as we are pushing the boundaries of home networking.

Without spoiling the future pieces I’ll just ask for some patience and hope that you can appreciate that what I’d really like to do is educate CE Pros on using the “right equipment for the job” so that they can design and confidently recommend better networking gear. This was a big topic in the CEDIA Advanced Networking Bootcamp I was instructing in Indianapolis at CEDIA HQ last week - where we were lucky enough to teach using a Ruckus wireless network.

Lastly, AustinCinesound, I see you’re in my town.  If you’ve had some good experiences with Google Fiber installs and would like to help contribute to the next few articles I’m happy to meet up for lunch.

Keep the commentary going!

~Mike

Posted by Julie Jacobson on November 5, 2016

Thanks again for taking the time to put this together, Mike.

Posted by Fliphayes on November 5, 2016

OK, I’m a little puzzled. Why would anyone expect an IP supplied WiFi AP to do the job that you expected? I have Google Fiber and before it was even installed, reading the Google forums or was evident that I didn’t want to use Google’s net box.

I bought a Ubiquity Edgerouter Lite3 which has three gigabit interfaces - WAN, LAN, & one for incoming VPN connections to my Cisco ASA (my idea). I don’t do TV but I could. I hard wired my Open-Mesh access points but I could have meshed them. They are all bridged. My Rokus are all hard wired. I don’t recommend WiFi for rock solid streaming. Open-mesh offers free cloud controller services and it is awesome! Wifi is distributed around the house and there are zero coverage problems. I VPN to my home network. I am hosting a Plex Media Server (for family), have hosted Skype video conferences and guitar lessons, etc. I was able to upload 750 GB of family videos to my Amazon Cloud and have it done before morning. The reality of Google fiber isn’t that you are actually going to use that much bandwidth unless you host a party for a few hundred people who will simultaneously stream Netflix; in which case your bottleneck will probably be wifi. Most of the problems you talk about have nothing to do with Google fiber. The article title is really misleading.

Posted by highfigh on November 6, 2016

Why would you place an access point so close to a router that’s already providing WiFi, to whatever extent it does? That’s the reason the range isn’t what you thought it would be and what you need- move the access point in the attic to suit the demands of the outdoor locations and mount it after determining the best location..

Your house was built in 2001, which means it probably doesn’t have many materials that block WiFi, although it may have metal roofing and if it does, you may need an outdoor AP if you want to reach the “remoter” areas. Probably best to lay it out on paper to show the range of each AP and show where the gaps are.

Posted by dbendell on November 7, 2016

Great article on the importance of why a home should be properly hardwired for streaming and more. Contractors/Home Buyers need to read this article and make sure your homes properly wired by a “Good” low volt contractor!    Everyone comes to our shop thinking, “you mean we can’t WiFi or Bluetooth it?”  DIY, if you are reading this: WiFi for video should always be a last option!

Posted by Hagai Feiner / Access Networks on November 7, 2016

Morning all,

I am trying to sort this out. First, thank you Mike for taking the time to put this article together. As to everyone’s comments: I think its pretty obvious Mike could have taken the easy path, call me and get a Ruckus (or a full blown AN) system in there on day 1. Mike intentionally took the challenge of being the standard homeowner getting Google fiber with a Google router to see how it works and if the service delivers.

I recently had a Verizon FiOS (aka Frontier…) install at home, and saw similar challenges. Do you think my Frontier installer had any idea how to add my Jandy system to the network? No. Do you think he had any inclination or desire to understand my home technology? No. And this is a good thing. “Why”, you ask? Because we, the CEDIA channel, solve these problems. We provide personalized service, better gear with an actual configuration that caters to the homeowner’s lifestyle choices.

There is a digital tipping point for all homes and homeowners. I define it as the point where a homeowner realizes there is too much technology in the home, regardless of the square footage of said home, for this technology to be handled in a DIY manner. More and more homeowners are reaching this tipping point with every day that goes by.

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”

― Albert Einstein

Posted by Ihiji on November 7, 2016

Thanks for the continued commentary, there are some excellent points.  Hagai is absolutely right, I could have easily picked the path of least resistance, reached out to one of our many industry friends and put in a world class solution.  What I really wanted was to get a real world perspective because I believe in this experience lies opportunity.

- Opportunities for CE Pros to learn from an everyday consumer experience.  This is where you can understand your customers pain points and find new sales, marketing and service opportunities for your business.

- Opportunities for manufacturers in the space to highlight their professional product offerings as a solution to these real world problems.  Many of your customers believe that an all-in-one router is all they need and then they don’t understand that they could get improved performance with better product.

- I really enjoy facing these every day challenges because they uncover opportunities for new product and services that can benefit our channel and the end user.

Those were the main goals - now I can’t wait to write up my Eero experience for all of you.  I also have the Luma APs installed and plan on testing them over the next month.  Then I’ll reach out to Hagai or Bjorn and see what an enterprise grade solution does for the experience - I think you all know what the outcome will probably be!

~Mike

View all comments.