Google WiFi – A Few Notes

Like a lot of people who work in IT as their day job, the IT situation at my house is a bit of a mess. I think the real reason for this is because, once the working day is done, I don’t want to put any thought into doing this kind of stuff. As a result, like a lot of tech folk, I have way more devices and blinking lights in my house than I really need. And I’m always sure to pile on a good helping of technical debt any time I make any changes at home. It wouldn’t be any fun without random issues to deal with from time to time.

Some Background – Apple Airport

I’ve been running an Apple Airport Extreme and a number of Airport Express devices in my house for a while in a mesh network configuration. Our house is 2 storeys and it was too hard to wire up properly with Ethernet after we bought it. I liked the Apple devices primarily because of the easy to use interface (via browser or phone), and Airplay, in my mind at least, was a killer feature. So I’ve stuck with these things for some time, despite the frequent flakiness I experienced with the mesh network (I’d often end up connected to an isolated access point with no network access – a reboot of the base station seemed to fix this) and the sometimes frustrating lack of visibility into what was going on in the network. 

Enter Google Wifi

I had some Frequent Flier points available that meant I could get a 3-pack of Google access points for under $200 AU (I think that’s about $15 in US currency). I’d already put up the Christmas tree, so I figured I could waste a few hours on re-doing the home network. I’m not going to do a full review of the Google Wifi solution, but if you’re interested in that kind of thing, Josh Odgers does a great job of that here. In short, it took me about an hour to place the three access points in the house and get everything connected. I have about 30 – 40 devices running, some of which are hardwired to a switch connected to my ISP’s NBN gateway, and most of which connect wirelessly. 

So What’s The Problem?

The problem was that I’d kind of just jammed the primary Google Wifi point into the network (attached to a dumb switch downstream of the modem). As a result, everything connecting wirelessly via the Google network had an IP range of 192.168.86.x, and all of my other devices were in the existing 10.x.x.x range. This wasn’t a massive problem, as the Google solution does a great job of routing stuff between the “wan” and “lan” subnets, but I started to notice that my pi-hole device wasn’t picking up hostnames properly, and some devices were getting confused about which DNS to use. Oh, and my port mapping for Plex was a bit messed up too. I also had wired devices (i.e. my desktop machine) that couldn’t see Airplay devices on the wireless network without turning on Wifi.

The Solution?

After a lot of Googling, I found part of the solution via this Reddit thread. Basically, what I needed to do was follow a more structured topology, with my primary Google device hanging off my ISP’s switch (and connected via the “wan” port on the Google Wifi device). I then connected the “lan” port on the Google device to my downstream switch (the one with the pi-hole, NAS devices, and other stuff connected to it). 

Now the pi-hole could play nicely on the network, and I could point my devices to it as the DNS server via the Google interface. I also added a few more reservations into my existing list of hostnames on the pi-hole (instructions here) so that it could correctly identify any non-DHCP clients. I also changed the DHCP range on the Google Wifi to a single IP address (the one used by the pi-hole) and made sure that there was a reservation set for the pi-hole on the Google side of things. The reason for this (I think) is that you can’t disable DHCP on the Google Wifi device. To solve the Plex port mapping issue, I set a manual port mapping on my ISP modem and pointed it to the static IP address of the primary Google Wifi device. I then created a port mapping on the Google side of things to point to my Plex Media Server. It took a little while, but eventually everything started to work. 

It’s also worth noting that I was able to reconfigure the Airport Express devices connected to speakers to join the new Wifi network and I can still use Airplay around the house as I did before.

Conclusion 

This seems like a lot of mucking about for what is meant to be a plug and play wireless solution. In Google’s defence though, my home network topology is a bit more fiddly than the average punter’s would be. If I wasn’t so in love with pi-hole, and didn’t have devices that I wanted to use static IP addresses and DNS, then I wouldn’t have had as many problems as I did with the setup. From a performance and usability standpoint, I think the Google solution is excellent. Of course, this might all go to hell in a hand basket when I ramp up IPv6 in the house, but for now it’s been working well. Coupled with the fact that my networking skills are pretty subpar and we should all just be happy I was able to post this article on the Internet from my house.

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