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Google’s WiFi router runs Linux, offers home automation hooks

Aug 18, 2015 — by Eric Brown — 14,472 views

Google and TP-Link unveiled a Gentoo Linux based “OnHub” WiFi-ac router for consumers with 13 antennas, Bluetooth, and ZigBee, controlled by a mobile app.

Google’s embedded and IoT horizons appear to be expanding beyond its own Nest subsidiary. The company, which is now technically just another company in the new Alphabet umbrella organization, has partnered with router-maker TP-Link to launch a $200 WiFi router, and potentially, a home automation router. Later this year, Google says it will announce other OnHub branded devices, including an Asus-made device.

OnHub, front and back
(click images to enlarge)

The 802.11a/b/g/n/ac router is said to offer bandwidth of up to 1900Mbps, with sessions protected with while implementing WPA2-PSK and TPM security. It also supports Bluetooth Smart Ready and 802.15.4, the protocol behind Zigbee and the emerging Google-backed Thread alternative to ZigBee. According to Google, the OnHub will also support Weave, Google’s upcoming IoT protocol, which will work with its lightweight, Android-based Brillo OS for IoT devices.

Currently the OnHub works with smart devices including the Nest products, and support will be added for many more, says Google. Indeed, the router could emerge as the missing smart hub part of the Nest ecosystem, which uses more of a peer-to-peer approach to home automation. This supports the likely trend in which typically Linux-based home automation hubs will disappear into the router on the one hand, and the cloud-enabled mobile apps on the other.

OnHub top view (left) and Google On app
(click images to enlarge)

Like most new WiFi routers, such as the mesh-enabled Eero, the OnHub is claimed to be easy to configure, while also offering greater bandwidth. Also like most WiFi routers, it runs Linux, in this case Gentoo Linux, according to the OnHub open source licensing page.

Gentoo runs on a Qualcomm Atheros IPQ8064 system-on-chip, a networking focused variant of the APQ8064 (Snapdragon 600). The dual Krait core SoC runs at 1.4GHz, but lacks the usual Adreno GPU.

You can setup and control the OnHub from an Android or iOS ready “Google On” app, which lets you monitor performance remotely over the web. The OnHub is designed to update in the background, as well as prioritize certain devices for optimized bandwidth, says Google. The mobile interface has been designed to mask the complexities of networking, says Google.

The stylish, circular design is a case of form following function. The device uses a unique circular configuration of 13 hidden antennas, including six antennas each for 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies. Each antenna is paired with a perpendicularly oriented partner antenna designed to select the strongest polarization for each WiFi-seeking device, according to the TP-Link product page. There’s also a “congestion-seeking” antenna that seeks out network problems. The software then reconfigures the array to clear up any congestion.

OnHub LED ring glowing green
(click image to enlarge)

The sleek appearance should help to bring the router out from behind TVs and computers, or up off the floor, where the signal is impeded. The simple design reduces the number of cables involved, and replaces the typical status LEDs in favor of a single dimmable light ring that uses one of four color indicators. A Wired story quotes Trond Wuellner, a Google product manager, as saying the product design was based on extensive interviews with consumers about their many problems with WiFi routers.

Specifications listed for the OnHub include:

  • Processor — Qualcomm Atheros IPQ8064 (2x ARM/Krait cores @ 1.4GHz)
  • Memory:
    • 1GB DDR3L RAM
    • 4GB eMMC flash
    • 8MB NOR flash
  • Wireless networking:
    • 6x 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n 3×3 antennas
    • 6x 5GHz 802.11b/g/n /ac 3×3 antennas
    • AUX 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 1×1 antenna
    • Bluetooth 4.0 with Smart Ready
    • 802.15.4 (ZigBee and Thread)
    • WPA2-PSK security
  • Wired networking:
    • Gigabit Ethernet LAN port
    • Gigabit Ethernet WAN port
    • QCA8337 gigabit switch
    • Other I/O — USB 3.0 port
  • Other features — 3W speaker; ambient light sensor; 6x tri-color LED arrays; TPN (Infineon SLB 961); built-in diagnostics; removable outer shell; blue and black colors
  • Power — <12V/3A DC in; 100~240V 50~60Hz AC in
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 40°C
  • Weight — 1.9 lb
  • Dimensions — 10.8 x 5.0 x 5.0 in.
  • Operating system — Gentoo Linux

OnHub YouTube introduction

Further information

The OnHub is available for pre-order at $200 at a variety of locations including the Google Store. Retail availability is set for Aug. 31. More information may be found in the Google OnHub announcement, the Google OnHub page, and the TP-Link OnHub page.

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One response to “Google’s WiFi router runs Linux, offers home automation hooks”

  1. dslachut says:

    >802.15.4, the protocol behind Zigbee, ZWave,…

    ZWave does not use 802.15.4. It operates using its own protocol stack on the 900MHz band.

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