Google has finally brought WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E to its router lineup with the new Nest Wifi Pro. This mesh networking system is relatively inexpensive with one-, two- and three-packs of units priced at $199.99, $299.99, and $399.99 respectively. I’ve been using a trio of Nest Wifi Pro units and expected a wireless performance boost compared to my Eero Pro 6 system, which supports WiFi 6 but not WiFi 6E. Perhaps I should have kept my expectations in check.
That’s not to say the Nest WiFi Pro system is bad. Actually, it’s quite good, costs less, and is simple to set up. And you get features included that require a subscription fee from Eero. In terms of speeds, however, I did not experience a large wireless uplift using my 1 Gbps fiber-to-the-home internet connection. Latency, or the round trip time for a signal to travel up to the web and back, was slightly worse in some cases. Still, there are reasons to consider Google Nest Wifi in your home.
While Google says one unit can provide up to 2,200 square feet of coverage, that’s probably the best case on a single-floor building. I tested a single unit in my three-story townhouse and the network was barely usable one or two floors up. I always recommend at least one mesh access point per floor.
Nice looking hardware with limited ethernet ports
The units themselves are nice to look at, or at least, they don’t look like routers and access points. They’re a bit glossy for my taste but they don’t scream out “Look at me, I’m a fancy piece of technology!”, which I appreciate. Available in four colors, these blend in nicely if you prefer a minimalist style. The front has an LED light which you can disable or brighten in the Google Home app, while the back of each unit has a power jack and two ethernet ports.
The latter is nice because the previous Nest Wifi models only included these jacks for the main router; not for access points. I took full advantage of the ports on each unit by hardwiring various smart home bridges. That includes a Wyze Base Station, Lutron hub, and Philips Hue bridge. Note that the ethernet ports can only handle up to 1 Gbps. That’s not an issue for me, since that’s the speed I get from my ISP. However, if you have a multi-gigabit home internet connection and want that full-speed hardwired to a computer or other device, you won’t get it.
Of course, most of your devices will connect to the Nest Wifi Pro units wirelessly. And here is where that “Pro” name comes in with tri-band support. You get 2.4, 5, and 6 GHz wireless frequencies to spread that Wi-Fi goodness throughout your home. Even if you don’t have devices that use the 6 GHz frequency for WiFi 6, theoretically you should see network improvements. That’s for two reasons.
First, any WiFi 6 devices will free up bandwidth from the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies. So older devices may get a speed boost as a result of new device traffic getting offloaded to the new airwaves. Second, the wireless connection between each Google Nest Wifi Pro access point uses 6 GHz. That means any traffic traveling on your home network to or from the internet should be faster. But is it?
Speeds are good and stable
Based on my testing, it sometimes is, but even when it is, the speeds aren’t that much faster. For example, devices that typically see 170 Mbps downloads and 190 Mbps uploads on my Eero Pro 6 network topped out around 180 Mbps down and the same 190 Mbps for uploads. I tested various devices on both networks in the exact same locations and this was typical. About half of the time during my tests, the Nest Wifi Pro network showed slightly higher latency as well. If you’re a gamer, this is bad. And it could impact video calls as well although I did not experience any lag or choppiness on Google Meet or Zoom calls.
Every home is different of course, so your results may vary. But I’m comfortable suggesting that you’re not going to see a large, noticeable speed boost if you already have a Wi-Fi 6 mesh network in your home. During testing, I did notice that the speeds were more consistent on the Nest WiFi Pro setup. And out of the two devices I have that do support WiFi 6E, I saw between a 15 and 20 percent uplift in wireless transfer rates.
Smart home support and setup
Google also includes a Thread radio in the Nest WiFi Pro models, so the main unit can act as a Thread Border Router. The others extend that Thread network as well. Since Matter and Thread are still in the early rollout phase, I can’t speak to how well these work for Thread devices yet. I plan to test that in the coming months, however. Interestingly, when using the Eve app, which shows details of your Thread home network, the Nest WiFi Pro units didn’t appear. That could be due to Eve being an Apple HomeKit-only device maker, which will change with the full Matter rollout.
Note that WiFi 6E support really doesn’t bring much to the smart home. Most bulbs, switches, video cameras and the like still use older 2.4 or 5 GHz Wi-Fi radios. So there’s no direct benefit there.
On the plus side, the Nest WiFi Pro units are very easy to set up. You simply connect the first one to your home router, or substitute your existing router, and plug it into your modem. In my case, I connected a unit to the ONT, or optical network terminal, for my fiber connection. Then just wait for the Google Home app to find the router and self-configure it.
This process took me less than five minutes, and to its credit, the Nest WiFi Pro properly configured itself. You replicate the process using the Google Home app and additional units to set them up as access points. Google Home even tests the mesh network speeds between units and suggests placement if there’s an average or weak connection.
Since I used the same SSID, or network name, as I had on my Eeros, all of my devices reconnected without any issues. Even those that use a 2.4 GHz radio added themselves back to the network. It can sometimes be challenging to connect these devices to a mesh network that combines both 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies into a single network.
Extra features included
The Google Home app supports custom network configuration and a few other features. You can set up a guest network, of course, but also use the “Family Wi-Fi” feature. This allows you to schedule internet downtime for the kids or the rest of the family. Also included is the ability to pause the network for anyone with a button press or Google Assistant voice command and block all adult content sites. I like how you can group connected devices in the Family area; just add all of the kid’s phones, tablets, and computers so their downtime doesn’t interfere with your TV streaming time. You can also prioritize the wireless connection of one or more devices in your home.
Keep in mind, you must enable Google’s Nest Wifi cloud services, which is on by default, to use the “Family Wi-Fi” feature. This is under the Privacy Settings because with it turned on, you’re allowing Google to view network activity. If you do, you get this feature as well as other cloud-based protections.
These include software updates to protect the unit from running unauthorized software and prevent router hacks. Google will automatically install security and software updates as well.
Some of these features are add-ons to my Eero network through a $99 yearly subscription. That Eero subscription also gets me other features such as a VPN service and password management software for my family. So for now, Google isn’t going the subscription route to include some of the advanced protections and features, which is nice.
One additional option allows you to provide the 5 GHz band with 160 MHz of spectrum. That can boost WiFi 5 device speeds but can also cause issues for some devices that don’t support this feature.
I didn’t experience any problems with it enabled and saw a slight speed boost during testing but most of my devices are only a year or two old. If you have older WiFi 5 devices that don’t support this setting you want to be careful with this setting.
Should you buy the Google Nest Wifi Pro?
If you have an older, WiFi 5 network system in your house, then I’d strongly consider this mesh networking system. You should see faster throughput on your network at a relatively inexpensive cost compared to competing models. Yes, you may get additional features or speedier connections with alternatives but you’ll pay much more.
Folks like me that are happy with their current WiFi 6 system should pass. I don’t see any compelling reason to upgrade from WiFi 6 to 6E at this point. There simply aren’t enough devices with 6E radios to make the investment when you probably spent several hundred dollars a year or two ago for your current mesh system.