Google accidentally resets OnHub and Google Wifi routers with server error

Electronics cj Times
Google Wifi

Google has now taken two swings at making your home wireless router smarter, and it’s seeing modest success with the second one. The recently released Google Wifi mesh routers have been well-reviewed and they’re priced competitively with other mesh networking solutions. However, the company temporarily broke a large number of routers recently thanks to an error in its cloud services. Maybe those fancy Google routers are seeming a bit less smart today.

The issue affected both the older OnHub routers ($200 at launch) and the new Google Wifi system (priced between $129 and $299 depending on how many nodes you want). Owners at first thought it was a botched firmware update, which are downloaded in the background every couple of weeks. However, Google later said it had not pushed any updates. The plot thickens.

Those affected report that their networks went offline with blue blinking lights from the OnHub and orange blinking lights from the Google Wifi nodes. The suddenness of the outage led many to believe their devices were defective in some way, so Google’s support lines were flooded with angry customers. It took a few hours to get everything sorted out.

Now that the dust has settled, Google explains the outage was caused by a bug in the Google Account Engine. Setting up and managing one of these devices requires a Google account, which at least explains the connection. The routers occasionally ping Google servers for authorization, and on February 23rd the server was sending back an error message. Through some esoteric fallback mechanism in the routers, this caused them to reset to factory settings. So, a problem on Google’s servers can reset your router. Oops.

The OnHub router.

Luckily, the hardware is fine and owners were able to reconfigure the network. That’s an annoyance for most people, but those with complex mesh setups with multiple primary nodes probably had a pretty crummy night. The reset also meant all DNS and device settings were lost. Google’s routers aren’t particularly good at extracting the right name from connected devices, so owners also have to add all the custom device names again.

A failed update could have caused much more severe problems, up to and including permanently bricking the device. At least that would have only happened once. Some owners of OnHubs and Google Wifi are worried another server error could break their networks at any time. Google hasn’t noted any specific steps it’s taking to prevent this. These aren’t cheap routers. It’s reasonable to expect them to continue working in spite of whatever issues Google’s servers are having.

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