Here’s a hint: It doesn’t matter.
If you are part of the small percentage of Americans that are lucky enough to live in a Google Fiber coverage area, you may be wondering, what is the best router to buy for use with your new Google Fiber service? After all, if you are going to be getting an ultra high-speed direct fiber service, you want to make sure that there are no bottlenecks in your internal network, right?
This is excellent thinking, and as a network professional, I had the same thoughts when considering Google Fiber.
Traditionally, we’ve been exposed to slow internet connections such as cable and DSL services (or even dial-up if you go way back, eek!). Typically, these services run at speeds of 25Mbps to 50Mbps, or maybe something closer to 100Mbps if you are lucky.
The speed of your internet service is limited by the slowest link in the chain. Traditionally, this was always your broadband internet connection, but that is changing.
Today, with Google Fiber and similar fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) serices, you can get up to 1000Mbps (1 Gig) service at your home. Suddenly, the slowest link in the chain can easily become a device on your internal network, such as your router.
Many people still run routers that max out at 100Mbps. They literally don’t support Gigabit.
You said something about it not mattering?
Here’s the rub for Google Fiber subscribers: It doesn’t matter what the best router for Google Fiber is. Well, maybe it matters a little for power users, but for the average Joe, not so much. Let me explain.
When Google Fiber is installed at your home, there are at least two pieces of equipment provided. A “Fiber Jack”, which is really just a micro ONT (Optical Network Terminal) which terminates the GPON signal coming from the OLT (Optical Line Terminal) port at the nearest hut, outside plant cabinet, or data center.
Your Fiber Jack then connects to a little black box which Google has affectionately dubbed a “Network Box” (who named these things?). The network box acts as your router, terminating the service (likely PPPoE) and allowing you to share the connection throughout your house.
It also supports WiFi, has a firewall, allows basic port forwarding, etc. Many of the features of your average consumer-grade router are supported.
What’s the problem?
The problem, is that per Google, the Network Box is required. Unfortunately, you can’t just plug your shiny new Netgear/Linksys/TP-Link router into the Fiber Jack and get online. You must use the Network Box – which is why the selection of a new router may not matter (your traffic still goes through the Network Box, regardless of what you plug in).
So, for the average user, there is no real need to use a regular router with their Google Fiber service – the Network Box is enough. Google says that you can still plug your router into the Network Box and use it – but this isn’t generally recommended unless you are trying to solve a problem, such as poor WiFi coverage.
Installing a router behind the Network Box will create a scenario where all of your traffic is getting NAT’d twice, which can cause problems, impact performance, and make firewall modifications and port forwarding a real headache.
On the other hand, if you are an average user, you aren’t needing to make firewall modifications and you probably aren’t using port forwarding. Also, the performance impact of double NAT-ing your traffic is negligible.
So I wouldn’t discourage an average user for adding a router of their own behind the Network Box if they had a good reason to do so – it just isn’t something I would do.
Our suggestion is to just stick with the Network Box. If you are having WiFi coverage issues, add additional access points that are wired into your LAN, but don’t add another router unless you know what you are doing.
But surely there is a way!
If you are a power user and feeling ambitious, there are supposedly ways to use Google Fiber’s service without a Network Box. This typically involves use of a Ubiquiti Edgerouter or setting up a PFSense box, and is completely unsupported by Google.
That information is beyond the scope of this article due to it’s advanced nature, so I’m not covering it here. But you should know that it is possible.
Here is some info on the Edgerouter if you are curious: