Google Will Cripple OnHub Routers Starting Next Year

from the you-don't-own-what-you-buy dept

We’ve long written about how you don’t really own what you buy in the modern era. Books, games, and other entertainment can stop working on a dime due to crappy DRM. Game consoles you’ve purchased can find themselves suddenly with fewer features. Or worse, hardware you’ve bought thinking you’d own it for a decade can wind up being little more than a pricey paperweight.

But quite often, products that should work for years just slowly stop being supported, leaving you with hardware that gradually becomes less and less useful. We saw this recently when Sonos initially bricked still working (and expensive) speakers. The phenomenon popped up again this week when Google announced that its OnHub router, launched back in 2015, will no longer be supported starting next year. The products will still technically function as a basic router, but they’ll no longer see security updates, and many of the cloud-based functionality and advanced features will be stripped from the devices.

To be clear this isn’t an end of the world type of scandal. Google’s providing 40% discounts to OnHub owners off of new Google routers (which will experience the same fate in a few years). The Hub also had some initial performance problems, and was quickly supplanted in Google’s lineup by its Google WiFi (now Nest) products a year after they launched. But the downgrades are still part of an annoying shift in which companies hype all manner of cloud-based functionality at launch, then gradually strip functionality away once they no longer want to pay to support their own products:

“That Google can take an aging but perfectly functional router and switch off big parts of its functionality is one of the downsides of networking hardware that requires you to sign up for an account or use an app to administer it. While most advanced mesh routers are moving in this direction, offerings from Asus, Netgear, Linksys, and others at least retain some kind of web administration interface so you can continue to handle basic configuration tasks if those companies discontinue support or cease to exist.”

It’s not only annoying, but it’s obviously not great for the environment to be routinely discarding fully functional kit. This may be less of an issue for more technologically sophisticated users who keep tabs on trends like this, but it’s much more of a headache for Luddites who barely understood how their old router worked in the first place — and now suddenly have to navigate the fact that perfectly good hardware has been crippled remotely.

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Companies: google

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Comments on “Google Will Cripple OnHub Routers Starting Next Year”

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10 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

The products will still technically function as a basic router

No, not really. OnHub reportedly doesn’t have any configuration interface other than the soon-to-be-discontinued app; i.e., it doesn’t have a web interface like every other "basic router". So if your PPP password changes, you’ll be screwed; if you want to change your Wifi settings, screwed. Saying that "router configuration will no longer be available through Google’s apps" is therefore quite misleading—it won’t be available at all.

By the way, Google still advertises this router for sale:

A self-improving system: From the moment you activate it, OnHub automatically starts learning and improving itself so you’ll always have optimal Wi-Fi performance. Plus, it stays current with the latest changes in device software or security, making it compatible with new devices.
Next-gen capable: OnHub can support the next generation of smart devices,
Continuously improving: OnHub regularly updates its software with the newest features, so it never stops working well.

Also: "Quick support …if you need more support, Google is there with personalized help." What? Since when did Google ever provide personalized help for anything?

One shouldn’t rely on vendor-provided software for anything. In this case, OnHub has no support from OpenWRT or any other third-party firmware I’m aware of, so nobody should’ve bought it. Those who made a bad decision might still get lucky—the announcement caused some renewed interest from OpenWRT people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: If you the know how

It’s little help for OnHub owners, as no third-party firmware supports that hardware (yet). That said, there seems to be an influx of routers every year or so at my local thrift stores—usually there are 1 or 2 really old ones, but sometimes there are like 10 recent models on the shelf. I managed to get an 802.11ac model with OpenWRT support for $5 by looking up model numbers on the OpenWRT site.

The OnHub routers have unusually good hardware, though—better than anything I own. That was done intentionally to allow for long-term use, almost as if Google deluded themselves into thinking they had an attention span. 802.11ac, 1 GB RAM, 4 GB flash (which is unheard of), 1.4 GHz dual-core ARM CPU, Qualcomm Wifi (generally well supported by Linux), a USB3 port, Bluetooth and Zigbee for some reason… By the end of 2022, thrift stores will probably have these in large numbers, and, ironically, they’ll make excellent OpenWRT boxes if developers pick them up cheaply and manage to port it.

Anonymous Coward says:

yet another fuck up made by our courts (done to please the entertainment industry, in particular!) that has given companies the right to take our money in return for a service or piece of merchandise but can then just prevent it from working or make it so insecure, we, the trusting (but totally stupid customers) have no option but to replace or upgrade! talk about making sure that the consumer gets constantly kicked in the nuts just so companies can keep screwing us into the ground!

Anonymous Coward says:

How many times have we seen manufacturers make their own stuff planned-obsolete?

Microsoft makes both the Windows OS and the Visual Studio compiler set. The current version of the compilers, by default, builds code that won’t run on XP, NT/2000, Win9X or whatever previous version of Windows – as a way to trick people who already paid for Windows into buying it again, or even buying an entire new PC. Then there are individual apps, like the Office programs, where new versions are infamous for saving things in slightly-different formats that the old version won’t read.

Home automation products are even worse. Wink’s hub depends on a central server, only allowing your local device to talk to their hub for long enough to ask for your wifi password. Something like Chapin’s "Cats in the Cradle" – "what I’d really like is to borrow the car keys, see you later can I have them please…". Once that server goes from no-extra-cost to onerous-monthly-subscription, the system becomes a whole lot less useful (or even unusable) to anyone not willing to pay the unreasonable added cost. If all I wanted was a timer to turn one light on, I’m not paying a monthly subscription for that.

Then there are the platforms like "Iris by Lowe’s" which went outright dead. You might be able to return the hardware to the vendor but, unless it complies with some other standard (like Zigbee) it’s a boat anchor or a paperweight now.

And it’s not just computers and animation. Remember a tiny company named "Evolve" and the "guide remote" which was supposed to download TV listings using an RS232 cable and an Internet-connected desktop PC to be displayed on a small monochrome LCD built-in to the remote? The company is gone, the domains which are needed to make this work are cybersquatted with spam, and the one interesting feature that differentiated this from every other "universal" remote no longer works. At least the device still changes the channel, but our discount and hardware stores are filled with one-for-all style remotes that already do that.

Once the manufacturer has your money and they’re gone, you have a paperweight or a device with greatly reduced capabilities. All warranties voided by payment of invoice.

fairuse (profile) says:

I said no to cloud and it moved in anyway

I have routers that work fine even though the ISP keep nagging me to dump them for cloud services – for TV all the so called great features are annoying.

The internet access via ISP box has reduced wired ports, 2 down from 4. WIFI is the way, Comcast for example, ties up all services.

This computer is wired connection, Apple Extreme wired to internal net. And all have web interface, however, Comcast is the least useful because it keeps forcing ISP DNS.

I will fix that someday or all the Comcast boxes will die and new net box replaces DVR box.

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