Google defends its use of Wi-Fi 5 in Nest Wifi  10/18/2019 11:15:53   Jim Salter
A Google Wifi Router sits next to a Google Wifi Point in this product shot from the Made by Google 2019 event.
Enlarge / A Google Wifi Router sits next to a Google Wifi Point in this product shot from the Made by Google 2019 event.

Google's new Nest Wifiis notable largely for two thingshaving a built-in smart speaker and digital assistant in every node and not using the newest Wi-Fi technology at all.

We still don't know exactly what chipsets are used in the replacement for Google Wifi; Google's not telling, and the company has submitted confidentiality letters to the FCC that kept it from needing to release photographs of the devices' boards for now, as well. All we know for sure is that the Nest Wifi Points are AC1200 (like the original Google Wifi) and the Nest Wifi Router is AC2200. Consumer AC speed ratings are largely bogus, but this should translate into one 2.4GHz 2x2 radio and one 5GHz 2x2 radio on the Points as well as one 2.4GHz 2x2 radio with two 5GHz 2x2 radios on the Nest Router.

We also know that Google decided to go with Wi-Fi 5 in the new kit rather than Wi-Fi 6. Google wasn't the first to make that callAmazon's new Eero models also continue to use Wi-Fi 5 chipsetsbut Google's rationale for the use of the older technology raised eyebrows at Ars Orbiting Headquarters. When VentureBeat askedNest WifiProduct Manager Chris Chan to explain the lack of Wi-Fi 6, he pointed to both cost and performance. He said, "You do see a lot of routers with Wi-Fi 6 built in, but it charges quite a bit of a premium in order to get that, and in fact, you need to have Wi-Fi 6-compatible other devices in order for it to be a faster experience."

So far, we're pretty much on board with Chan's explanation. We are also skeptical of the real-world benefits of a Wi-Fi 6 router in an ecosystem where both customers and their adjoining neighbor networks will be almost entirely populated by Wi-Fi 5 and 4 devices. With that said, although most of Wi-Fi 6's anti-congestion featuresare only applicable when all or most devices present support 6, spatial frequency reuseWi-Fi 6's ability to "use its inside voice" and transmit quietly to nearby devices when farther-away devices are talkingcould be of real benefit both in communication with client devices and backhaul from node to node of a Wi-Fi 6 mesh kit itself.

When VentureBeat pressed Chan further, he claimed the use of Wi-Fi 6 chipsets in Nest would be "hundreds of dollars more expensive." This statement, in our opinion, deserves some contextyou can purchase Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6 m.2 cards for $20 or entire TP-Link Wi-Fi 6 AX1500 routers for $70 apiece. We could see an argument for Wi-Fi 6 chipsets driving up the cost of Nest Wifi devices by $20 or $30 each, but "hundreds" seems a bit precious.

With that gripe out of the way, we do still largely agree with Chan's core premise that there likely won't be much real-world difference between Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 routers when most consumer devices are still stuck on older protocolsand we still strongly advise Ars readers to upgrade most of their devices before getting serious about Wi-Fi 6 support in the routers or mesh kits that serve them.

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