Google Wifi: Why pay £230 for something you usually get free?

THE WIFI router in your home is like your central heating boiler: you don't care what it looks like and you don't aspire to own a nicer one, yet the moment it stops working, almost nothing else in your life matters.

The Google Wifi attempts to make the purchase of a router a lifestyle choice

Part of the reason we care so little for the device itself is that, nine times out of ten, we did not choose it; it came through the letterbox as part of our broadband contract, and the broadband company may eventually want it back.

But Google is out to change all that, by attempting to make the purchase of a router a lifestyle choice - in the same way as a phone or TV, and at a similar price point.

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Why would you want to pay up to £230 for something you currently get for nothing? In the first iteration of Google Wifi, it’s a question the company has only partially answered.

The Google Wifi attempts to make the purchase of a router a lifestyle choice

The idea is to simplify the whole process of creating and managing the wifi network in your home, with uniform coverage everywhere and no need for hard-to-configure network extenders or other paraphernalia. However, in stripping down wifi to its basics, the Google product may be less functional in some areas than the router currently sitting behind your sofa.

The unit is white and circular, far smaller than a conventional router and with no aerial stubs protruding. It will look at home on a desk or bookcase - but where you put it will be determined in practice by the position of your phone and broadband sockets, since the Google Wifi needs to be plugged into your existing modem.

The modem is the bit of kit that decodes the internet data sent down your telephone line. These days it is typically built into your router - and if that is the case in your home, the Google device will have to sit alongside your existing installation, not replace it.

This at least overcomes another shortcoming of Google Wifi, which has very limited connectivity for wired, rather than wireless, internet devices: you can leave those plugged into your old box.

The Google Wifi attempts to make the purchase of a router a lifestyle choice

So what do you get for your money? Fast and reliable wifi, certainly. But a single unit is £129 and Google says that to cover all areas of a medium-to-large house, you will need a twin pack, at £100 more. You control both as a single entity from an app on your phone.

The app lets you see at a glance what sort of wifi speed you’re getting and who is currently using your network. If you want to restrict access at bedtime or during meal times, it lets you invoke what it euphemistically calls a “scheduled pause”, and it’s very easy to beam your wifi password to a guest’s phone - or, for that matter, set up a separate network for guests. You can do all of this with your existing router, but not as easily.

This controllability is the product’s principle selling point. A clean and simple user interface lets you tweak the settings quickly and easily, and there is none of the arcane technical jargon that bedevils the unnavigable control panels of conventional routers. This does mean that some of the more advanced networking options are hidden, and if you’re the sort of person who enjoys tinkering with those, the Google Wifi is clearly not for you.

Who, exactly, is it for, then? If not the 64-thousand dollar question, that is certainly the £230 one.