Gain Your Edge is a twice-monthly podcast on all things IT. Today we’re sitting down to discuss how a new WiFi router from Google has created a ton of excitement and thousands of delighted customers, thanks to its beautiful design and user interface.
Combining form and function, the Google OnHub WiFi router is turning heads as “telecom jewelry” and represents a new wave of high-performance, aesthetically-pleasing tech design. We’ll take an in-depth look at this revolutionary new device with Rod Imbriani, vice president of product development for Frontier Communications.
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Announcer: Welcome to Gain Your Edge, the podcast created for IT professionals, business owners, and leaders looking to sharpen their edge over the competition. Our ever perceptive host Skip Lineberg introduces you to industry thought leaders. Listen and learn from their insights as Skip gets inside the minds of our guest gurus, revealing new ideas, opportunities, and insightful updates for you. It’s all sponsored by Frontier Business Edge, your edge in success. Now, here’s our host, Skip Lineberg.
Skip: Welcome to another exciting episode of Gain Your Edge, a twice-monthly podcast on all things IT. This is episode 21 and I’m your host, Skip Lineberg, Senior Marketing Manager with Frontier Communications. Our goal with Gain Your Edge podcast is to help you gain a competitive edge for your business. When we look into the gear of technology, you know, the wires, cables, and boxes of our business, it can appear pretty plain and ordinary. It’s not often that the design and user interface associated with such items results in excitement. But today, we’re talking about a Wi-Fi router from Google that has created a lot of buzz because of its form as well as its function. Some folks are even calling it “Telecom jewelry,” a status item. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Google OnHub Wi-Fi router. Here with me to walk us through why this router is turning heads is Frontier Communications, vice president of product development Rod Imbriani. In this role, he has responsibility for the company’s development and management of core commercial products. Rod has a deep background in all facets of marketing, channel, and product management. Prior to his joining frontier, Rod served within marketing roles at other telecommunications companies, including FairPoint, CenturyTel, Qwest and MCI, and he started his career at AT&T Bell Labs. Rod is a graduate of the University of Colorado, graduating with a Bachelors of Art Degree in Mathematics as well as a MBA. Rod presently lives in the Dallas area with his wife and their children. Good afternoon Rod. Thanks for joining us on the show today.
Rod: Happy to be here, Skip. Thanks so much for having me.
Skip: Yeah. Hey, Rod, before every show, we like to warm up the microphones with a little starter question that’s pretty much just for fun. Now, today we’re talking about a really special new product from Google, and of course, Google Search Engine gets asked hundreds of thousands, if not millions of questions every day. So Rod, here is the warm up question for you. What’s the last thing you googled?
Rod: So Skip, actually, I’m pretty excited about the last thing I googled. It’s the end of the baseball season, playoff start in another week or so.
Skip: Oh, yeah.
Rod: And my Texas Rangers here, I’m in Dallas, Texas. My Texas Rangers actually are making the play offs.
Rod: So I’ve looking to see when tickets go on sale and their last home stand of the regular season this weekend. So I’ll be heading out to the ballpark, thanks to my Google search.
Skip: Awesome. Awesome. Have they clinched?
Rod: They have clinched, they took in division and now they’re just waiting to see where they feed.
Skip: Okay. Well, my Baltimore Orioles are fighting tooth and nail to claim the second wild card spot in the American league, and it is…
Rod: Maybe we’ll meet each other.
Skip: …it’s down to watching the scores every night. Now it’s really thrilling, a little bit unnerving, but certainly thrilling. And I think the last thing I Googled was, honestly, how to properly wind string onto a weed trimmer.
Rod: You live life in the fastly my friend.
Skip: Which I can never get quite right. Hey, let’s get on with the show. We’re talking today, of course, about the Google OnHub Wi-Fi router. Rod, why did that product, the OnHub, got so much attention and publicity at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show?
Rod: You know, Skip, it was different. When you look at the router, it’s different than your traditional router. The molders was just broken. It’s kind of a rethinking of that router from the inside out. So really, what they did was they wanted to design something that was aesthetically pleasing, but also something that could evolve over time, because the one thing that is constant is change. And the devices we have today will not be the devices that we connect to the internet tomorrow. And so, they’ve built a device that really works extremely well today, but is well positioned for tomorrow and it’s really nice to look at.
Skip: Yeah. And is sure it’s beautiful. So what else is different about the OnHub Wi-Fi router in addition to its appearance and design?
Rod: So appearance and design is what really jumped up first, but the cover actually comes off of the device, so you can turn it and lift it off, and underneath are 13 antennas. Now, the first thing is just from the design perspective, that cover can be changed so you can have other colors, designer patterns and the like. So it really adds a little bit of flare to it. But then once you get inside, that’s where the good stuff really starts. So its AC technology, which is the current 802.11 specification, handles video extremely well. It goes up to 1.9 Gigs or 1,900 Megabits per second is what will be on the box. But also, it’s got a Wi-Fi radio in there that’s congestion seeking. So it is gonna find the right spot for you to get the best signal, not spot in terms of physical location, but the best signal for you. So whether it be 2.4 Gigahertz or 5 Gigahertz, it supports both. You’ve got six antennas of each, and then you have one front facing antenna which kinda acts like a satellite dish and finds that at least congested Wi-Fi channel. So it will change and get you to the right channel, so you have the best performance.
Rod: Then in addition, you can prioritize your devices on it, you can do network management. For example, you were gonna probably talk a little bit later about how you set it up.
Skip: Yeah, we will.
Rod: Well, there is an application that you will have where right now, I can go to my house’s OnHub and I can see whose on it, and I can manage the users and I can manage the connections and I can also test.
Skip: And of course you’re office right now, you can do all this remotely, right?
Rod: I can.
Rod: I can. And I use it quite often, actually. For Frontier, for example, we like to talk about our speeds on our DSL and FiOS network. I actually use this device in order to show what great speeds I get with my frontier service.
Rod: So it’s a fantastic device in a fantastic application because when you think about Google, you think about customer experience.
Rod: And that just comes out and exudes in this product. It is all about the customer experience.
Skip: That’s exciting. So the question was, what’s different about the OnHub? And I’m hearing from you, pretty much everything. So in contrast to the Wi-Fi routers and the communications modems that we’re used to, these are rectangular boxy, not sexy at all looking devices that we want to hide in a corner somewhere or behind the sofa. This one, we’re gonna wanna put it out on the coffee table or somewhere, and it becomes a bit of an art item. I’ve even heard it referred to as “Telecom Jewelry.” How do you feel about that statement, Rod?
Rod: You know my understanding from Google is that that was the intent. It is much better from a performance perspective if your device is out in the open. You’re gonna have better lines, you’re gonna be able to get to that device much easier if you put it into your closet and put it under a bed to hide it because typically those routers are very ugly.
Rod: It’s gonna impede your signal. I’m making an aesthetically pleasing device. You are proud to put it out and it’s got colors on the top, the colored lights on the top. It’s just a nice thing to look at. And then when you take the top off and put on a designer cover instead, it’s even better. And the whole idea is, it’s out in the open, you’re gonna get better signals.
Skip: That customizable aspect that you’re talking about, I’m getting shades of iMac and Volkswagen, those sorts of things where the look of it matters and we give the user some individuality, right?
Rod: Absolutely. What I can see down the road, they’re not available yet on what I’m about to describe, but wouldn’t it be great. I happened to be at Tampa Bay Buccaneer fan. Wouldn’t it be great to have a Tampa Bay Buccaneer cover? I would put that on my shelf and be looking at it every day.
Skip: Oh yeah, I love it. Love the idea. So let me ask you my next question. What is the user reaction, the perception or feeling that Google was hoping to achieve when someone uses the OnHub for the first time?
Rod: That’s a great question, Skip. And normally, when someone uses for the first time, they’re blown away by how easy it was to set up and then use going forward. And once again, user experience is what Google is all about. So they’re really focused on that. But the other thing that we noticed and we’ve heard this from so many people that we’ve provided this device too and then talk to afterwards is the performance is just spectacular. Let me give an example, out in our western region, a customer was having a hard time with their current device. It wasn’t covering their entire house and they didn’t have a big house, but it was big enough that they could not go to the other end of the house and get a signal, a signal that could do any kind of video. So we provided an OnHub for them, and I can tell you first, he called me back and he said, “You’re gonna have to help me set this up. I’m just not very good.” And he said, “I’m not very technical.” I said, “Please, try it.” He said, “How? I really can’t.” I said, “Please, just try it. I just wanna see how easy it really is.”
Rod: He called me back about 20 minutes later and said, “Oh my gosh, I did it myself. It was so easy.” And then he walked in his house with his device and he had a great signal everywhere. And time after time we hear that. We provided when we first delivered the devices, we were training some of our internal people on it, and everyone was very excited about it. So we provided a couple for them to test and play with, and one of the individuals took it home, he said, “I’m gonna try it. I have not been able to get a signal to the other end of my house for my kids.” And came back the next day and said, “You made my kids so happy. They have a signal for the first time.” And we’ve heard that over and over.
Skip: That parent was a hero.
Skip: That’s another part of the takeaway is that user has a feeling of accomplishment and confidence after they’ve successfully set up something like a Wi-Fi router, and that’s unusual, isn’t it?
Rod: It absolutely is. Normally, they go into it and they expect the worst. But in this case, what Google has done is, as a matter of fact, they have a video. They’ve designed this for kids to install.
Skip: Yeah. I’ve seen that video and if I’m not mistaken, it’s a classroom of kindergarteners.
Rod: It absolutely is. It takes them seven minutes to set up.
Skip: Makes me think of, are you smarter than a fifth grader? But I guess it’s, are you smarter than a kindergartener?
Rod: That’s it.
Skip: Yeah. So we’ve talked about a couple of examples in residential or home type settings. So my next question, Rod, is this. Is OnHub reliable and tough enough to be used as a commercial strength device, in essence, in a small business environment, say a small manufacturing shop or a warehouse setting even?
Rod: Absolutely. When you look at the OnHub, its rating is approximately 2,500 square feet is what they say. Now, we’ve got it working in, for example, a 6,000 square foot library.
Rod: And it has three floors. So it goes beyond the rating, but it is definitely tough enough. We’ve got it working in one of our contact centers, as a matter of fact, in Rochester, New York, which is an environment that it’s an older building that used to be a grocery store, a large grocery store, and it provides a fantastic signal in an environment that is commercial strength. So it absolutely works in the commercial strengthens. As a matter of fact, we encourage businesses to use this because of some of the features, which I’m sure we’ll talk about in a little bit, in terms of the number of channels that we can have and the number of SSIDs.
Skip: Okay, perfect. Hey, for now, let’s take a short break, and when we come back, we’ll learn more about the OnHub router.
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Skip: Welcome back to Gain Your Edge. We’re joined by Rod Imbriani, Vice President of Product Development with Frontier Communications, and we’re continuing our discussion of the exciting new Google OnHub Wi-Fi router. Hey, Rod, why did Google decide to have the setup process for the OnHub to be handled through an app?
Rod: So Skip, as we mentioned earlier, Google is all about the customer experience. And we live our lives now in an app filled environment. We have our phone with us at all time. It’s handy, we use it constantly. In this case, what they did was they created an app that would become the app that you use going forward, and it walks you through the setup. And I can tell you it is just an incredibly easy set up. It asks you a few questions, ask you to place it just above the device itself so that give your phone and the device can talk to each other and then it goes and sets everything up.
Skip: Wow. It’s that easy, huh?
Rod: It is that easy. It is all about simplicity of use.
Skip: Awesome. I love that. I love that. So we’re talking about the Google OnHub Wi-Fi Router, and in our show notes with the podcast, you can find a link where you can get a number of different looks and views of the product and you can learn more about it. So Rod, let’s talk about the manufacturer. I know that Google is launching this and bringing it to market, and of course, Frontiers part of it. But who is the OEM, I believe TP-Link? What can you tell us about them and talk a little bit about why Google decided to lend its name to the product?
Rod: So TP-Link actually is one of the largest providers of the equipment, telecommunications and internet related equipment in the world. So there are known name and you can through almost any store that has this type of equipment and you will see TP-Link’s equipment. So it is a well-known name and a very, very reliable name. So as to why Google with TP-Link versus someone else, that’s something that we’d have to ask Google themselves. I don’t wanna speak for them. But they’re a wise choice, TP-Link as in opinion. They are well known, they are very reliable and they are easy to work with.
Skip: Okay. Do you happen to know if Google had a voice in the design part? Because this product is so designed forward that I almost feel like maybe Google took the lead on the product design and TP-Link, of course, took the lead on the manufacture and production.
Rod: Yes, my understanding is that Google did take the lead in that respect, and you can see that when you compare the other devices in the marketplace, whether it be TP-Link or anyone else is, this is a complete design change which really in my opinion is coming from Google. So they took a very much a lead in everything that was going on, and you can see it in the way it operates and what’s in the package. So it really is future proof. It is all about the customer experience. It is aesthetically pleasing. These are all things you would expect from Google.
Rod: And it’s quite frankly, was not part of what was going on in the space for routers prior to Google getting into it.
Skip: Yeah, great insight Rod. Great insight. Let’s shift focus just a little bit and talk about a case study, use case. How might a small business owners, say an accountant, who does public accounting and tax returns, for example, how would they setup an OnHub for their office?
Rod: So, first of all, having the OnHub in office it would, depending on the size of their office, but would likely for small business provide just incredible connectivity for the internal people. But also I’d have to believe in such a situation that you have external people coming into the office as well sitting down to talk about their taxes.
Rod: So in this case, I would set up two separate SSIDs so that you can keep your traffic separate between the internal folks and your external folks. So for security reasons, I would set up two separate SSIDs which is possible through the Google OnHub. In addition, being able to manage the network remotely via these apps that are on your phone also allows you to make sure that you have bandwidth available at critical times. So there might be some times when you’re uploading some files or you’re downloading some files from your customers and you wanna make sure that you have priority over everyone else because maybe it’s late in the day, maybe some of your employees are checking out the baseball game on mlb.tv, for example.
Skip: Yeah, if I work there, that would be the case for sure.
Rod: Absolutely. So one thing that you can do here is the app will allow you to prioritize the users so that you can prioritize those that are watching mlb.tv lower for that period of time that you need it, then take them back up to their normal. So for a small business, it’s perfect because you can really manage your network, you can separate the traffic so you’ve got security, and you’ve got a great signal.
Skip: Cool. And so the other thing that comes to mind in our hypothetical here is, let’s say there’s an owner, it’s a small, you know, let’s say it’s a small standalone tax practice, or in this case, maybe the general manager is away from the shop, from the office, and if those changes were needed or monitoring is needed for diagnostics that the person in charge is gonna be able to take a look at that from their smart phone, wherever they might happen to be, maybe the ballpark or wherever, right?
Rod: Absolutely. Wouldn’t it be great to know at any point you’re sitting in the ballpark, the Rangers are beating up on the Baltimore Orioles.
Skip: No, no, no, no. Wait a minute. I can’t agree with this scenario. Let’s shift it to they’re beating up on the Yankees.
Rod: Okay, fair enough, except they won’t make it this year. But in any case, so you’re sitting in the ballpark and you decide you wanna check out the status of your network and you see someone who maybe shouldn’t be on the network or you’re a little suspect but is on there. You can knock them off.
Rod: Just an additional level of security that goes beyond what we’ve seen in the industry before.
Skip: I love it. I love it. All right, let’s go technically speaking. And we don’t wanna get into deep into the technology in the bits and bytes and the layers of communication here. But technically speaking, what are some of the performance highlights that set the OnHub apart from competitors’ devices?
Rod: You know, probably the biggest things are the antennas and the radios.
Rod: So you’ve got 13 antennas there, so your performance is gonna be that much better. And the way they’re designed, so it’s a cylindrical device. When you take the top off, so the top flayers up at the top of the cover. When you pull out off, it’s a cylindrical device underneath, and that’s where your antennas are, and there’s 13 of them. There’s six 2.4 Gigahertz and six 5 Gigahertz antennas, and then there’s one front facing antenna. But they’re laid out in such an array that they go around the device so that you get coverage everywhere. Typically, what happens is, in a standard router, they will be arrayed in a certain direction.
Rod: Typically up doesn’t work particularly well.
Rod: In this device, because of the way that they’re situated, you get coverage up-down and to all sides, so your performance tends to be better.
Skip: Cool. And what about the number of devices that a Wi-Fi router can handle at any one time? Is that different on the OnHub?
Rod: This device actually is designed to handle many devices. Now, a lot of that is gonna depend on a number of things. It’s gonna depend on the device, it’s gonna depend on your broadband speed. So what you don’t wanna do is you don’t wanna just throw all these devices on it and expect it to work. You have to be a little careful there. But easily over 100 devices is what this is rated for.
Skip: Wow, a 100.
Rod: Yes. And once again, you don’t wanna have 100 devices on there if you have the 6 Meg service, because depending upon what they’re doing, you might not get great performance to each individual.
Skip: Sure, that’s reasonable.
Rod: Right. But if you had the right connection, yes, you can go over 100 devices.
Skip: Wow. And Rod, just contrast that, if you would please, to other Wi-Fi routers that are common in our industry, let’s say for small business or residential use. How many devices on the typical router?
Rod: That really depends on the device and depends on the type of device. There’s a number of different versions of devices, whether they be in radio devices, an AC, and how many antennas and whether they’re four-by-four or two-by-two. There’s a lot of different type devices. I just say that it’s a fraction of what the Google OnHub has.
Skip: Okay. That’s what I was thinking that this capacity of the OnHub just dwarfs everything else out there for the most part.
Skip: I don’t wanna put you on the spot or put you out there on a limb, but it sounds like you agree. Rod, would you talk just a bit about the signal, strength and coverage pattern on the OnHub produces and how does that compare with competitors devices?
Rod: Yes, Skip. As I mentioned before, it’s a cylindrical device and the 13 antennas are within that cylinder. Now, of those antennas, they’re arranged in a circular pattern, they’re all 120 degrees apart. So when you arrange them that way, that signal is strong in every direction. That’s very different from your typical device, your typical router, which it might be strong in one particular direction or a couple of directions, but not all directions. So really is a testament to the design of this device so that it will optimize your signal strength.
Skip: Okay, awesome. Let me ask you about the Internet of Things. In the Internet of Things environment that we live in today, there are more and more connected devices that are operating in our homes and offices. So I’ve gotta imagine that the OnHub is a great solution in the environment of the Internet of Things. Would you agree with that statement?
Rod: I absolutely would, Skip. When you think about just the name OnHub, the hub, the on hub becomes the hub for your home or your business.
Rod: So, it really is designed around the Internet of Things. So there’s a number of radios that are in the OnHub and there’s a number of radios that are not used. Those will be used later on. So for example, radios for all the Internet of Things devices, whether it be ZigB or Z-Wave, those are already in the OnHub, and they will be turned on at later time as updates are made. And updates made on average every six weeks by Google. They push up the updates to the device and provide some kind of notification of what the changes are.
Skip: Fascinating times we live in my friend, fascinating.
Rod: It absolutely is.
Skip: Rod, as we wrap up here, let me just ask you again to talk a little bit more, take us a little bit further inside the capabilities with regard to set up and partitioning of this device for multiple Wi-Fi networks. And what are some of the common use cases for those capabilities?
Rod: Great question, Skip. So we talked a little before about the accountant, small business, that was an accountant that would have an internal network for its employees as well as a network potentially for its guest, so its customers that are coming in. That is a standard normal use case. Now, the great thing about the OnHub, though, is you’ve got the 2.4 Gigahertz and a 5 Gigahertz bands. Typically, most routers will separate those so that they are two separate signals and two separate networks. So for example, if you look at your home or business router, you probably have to be there and you have to connect to them separately. Google remains in the same, and then band steers between the two so that you’re always getting the best signal.
Skip: Oh, wow.
Rod: So you essentially have multiple networks in your location. You’ve got the guest network, potentially, you’ve got your four network, but then you’ve got the 2.4 and the 5, but that’s somewhat transparent to you and it just works by steering you to the right one.
Skip: Very cool. Rod, before we let you run, I’d like you to share with our listeners a bit about yourself and your hobbies. What I’m asking about is, what do you do when you wanna get away from the world of technology? What’s your favorite way, let’s say, to spend a relaxing Saturday afternoon?
Rod: You know what, Skip, there’s nothing better than going out to the ballpark watching the teams, especially if it’s the Rangers beading up on the Orioles.
Rod: Or Yankees.
Skip: Yeah, thank you.
Rod: Sitting in the ballpark, soaking up the rays and watching some good baseball. Whether it’d be major league baseball or minor league baseball, it’s America’s past time and it’s just a great game that I thoroughly enjoy. So that’s how I love to spend my Saturdays and I’m dreading the upcoming weeks when the season ends and have to wait until spring.
Skip: I hear you. Rod, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about this truly special new product. We really explore the ins and outs of what could be a game changer in the world of Wi-Fi.
Rod: Thanks so much, Skip.
Skip: Well, that’s a wrap for this short episode, episode 21, the Google OnHub Wi-Fi router. You can download this podcast and share it with a friend or colleague if you go to business.frontier.com. You can also find us on iTunes, the Podcast app, or your favorite content aggregator. As always, I welcome your questions or your suggestions for show topics. Just send over an email to email@example.com. Please join me again next time on Gain Your Edge. I’m your host, Skip Lineberg. Until then, have a great week.