Sunday, October 25, 2015

Google OnHub Review

I get kidded in the office as "Mr. Google" for talking about all of my Google gear (a Lenovo Chromebook and two ASUS Chromeboxes, and four original Chromecasts, with one revised version). So when Google announced a wireless router (produced by TP-LINK, with an ASUS-manufactured version to be released later) named the "OnHub" with 13 internal antennas (one is supposed to check for wireless congestion, so that it can adapt to the network environment for better performance), I thought it might be a good replacement for a re-purposed VisionNet DSL modem I am using as a WAP (Wireless Access Point). Occasionally it drops the wireless signal just long enough to interrupt activity, with much more wireless devices at home than wired.

You know wireless has hit critical mass when a customer asks what the Ethernet cable included with her wireless-capable DSL modem does...

At $200 (and replacing a WAP is otherwise free for me), the OnHub is rather an expensive solution. It turns out there is a 1.4GHz dual-core CPU, and 1Gb of memory inside (along with 4Gb of flash memory), to run a modified version of Chrome OS. So, it is Chromebox as a wireless access point. I did want the dual-band expansion (adding 5Ghz to avoid the commonly overlapped 2.4Ghz wireless everyone uses now), as well as the newer 802.11ac wireless standard.

There is speculation with such capabilities that the OnHub could be expanded later on. An integrated speaker on the top isn't used much currently. Interfacing to the OnHub is done through an app from an Android or iPhone; it doesn't have a web browser or even a Chrome plug-in to change the configuration. As with the Chrome OS, it is your Google account that is authenticated (you can add other Google accounts as administrators later) to change settings, view connected devices, and run diagnostics.

I tested all three modes (in reality, there is also a fourth setting): 'DHCP' (which is the default), 'Static IP', and 'PPPoE'. To change modes, the OnHub is unplugged from the network (only the 12-volt DC power connection) and the app is used to select the appropriate method:

The default 'DHCP' setting will work for most occasions. OnHub plugs in to your existing modem, but serves up IP addresses for the wireless devices connected to it (there is also one wired connection on the OnHub) independently. The Google DNS server values are also a default, but can be changed to automatically obtain them from your ISP or "custom" values.

'Static IP' is for those instances that a manual address is needed for the WAN or your LAN. While I tested this mode, Western New Mexico Communications sets single WAN IP addresses through authentication. There are instances where we transport a subnet of public-side addresses, but a more common occurrence would be using the 'Static IP' mode on your LAN connected to your modem like the 'DHCP' mode.

'PPPoE' is used when you 'bridge' your DSL modem (it "bridges" the DSL signal to Ethernet), and the OnHub does all of the routing for your network. Your ISP username and password are set on the OnHub. This would also be a very functional method in many situations.

In my situation, I have a pfSense firewall that assigns all network addresses, so I set the OnHub in that fourth method I referred to, in a minimal bridged mode where it only connects wireless devices to the network. That is a costly method for just a wireless access point, but so far I haven't seen any wireless dropouts. Much of the OnHub functionality is turned off (I use my own DNS servers as well), but I will be able to have the 5GHz wireless band and faster 802.11ac wireless (of all my devices, only on my Nexus 6 and revised Chromecast for now) with the OnHub.

Despite a listed power draw over 2 amps (at 12VDC), I am powering it using my "roll your own" Power over Ethernet. An excellent disassembly page showing all the internal components is at OnHub Teardown on iFixIt. For the really technical "rooting" process, here is the YouTube video:

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