We’ve already gotten a pretty decent taste of what’s coming at this year’s Made by Google event, between official Pixel 4 teasers, Pixelbook 2 leaks, and early evidence of a Google Home revamp. It seems at least one more device is on the horizon, new Google WiFi hardware with WiFi 6 support.
Three years ago, at the 2016 Made by Google event, the company released their mesh networking hardware, Google WiFi. You may remember that this wasn’t Google’s first foray into router hardware, as the year before, Google co-released two “OnHub” WiFi routers with TP-LINK and ASUS. It may or may not surprise you to learn that under the hood, all three of these devices are considered part of one project, “Jetstream,” which is closely tied with Chrome OS.
Last July, Google began working on a new addition to the Jetstream / Google WiFi family, under the windy codename “Mistral,” spotted first by Kevin Tofel of About Chromebooks, who believed it to be a smart display. The windy codename alone is almost enough to tip off that this is a Google WiFi device — given the history of “Storm,” “Whirlwind,” “Arkham,” and “Gale” — but this comment settles any debate (emphasis mine).
This is adding in a temporary kernel branch for the jetstream team to bring up their Mistral project.
The folks at Chrome Unboxed make an even stronger case for a Google WiFi refresh, as a Mistral-related code change makes reference to “previous Google WiFi products,” pretty clearly implying that Mistral is also a Google WiFi product. We also found a conversation between developers about Google WiFi hardware that makes immediate reference to both the original Google WiFi (Gale) and Mistral.
Assistant smart speaker?
What’s interesting about this new hardware is that unlike the OnHub and Google WiFi routers, which used Qualcomm’s IPQ “Internet Processor” series chips, Mistral is based on the Qualcomm QCS405 chip, intended for smart speakers. To that end, it has advanced audio playback and input options, including “multi-mic beamforming noise suppression.”
Assuming Google takes full advantage of the new hardware’s capabilities, we could be looking at a two-in-one WiFi router plus smart speaker device. This would be extremely clever from Google, because both kinds of product require good strategic placement in various parts of people’s homes to be most effective.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any further evidence pointing to a microphone or any other audio hardware being in-use on Mistral. There could be another unrelated reason Google opted to use the QCS series chip, instead of an updated IPQ chip.
While we can’t yet be sure of any Assistant integration in Mistral, we do know it will have at least one distinct advantage over today’s Google WiFi. Current generation Google WiFi hardware is capable of WiFi 5 (previously known as 802.11ac), while the QC405 found in Mistral is apparently capable of WiFi 6 (802.11ax).
If you’re not familiar with WiFi 6, 9to5Mac has a great breakdown, but the main improvements to look forward to are higher potential connection speeds and better handling of a greater number of devices on the same network. These advantages don’t make WiFi 6 an immediate necessity for most, but as we continue to fill our homes with more devices and IoT gadgets, WiFi 6 will only become more useful on devices like Google WiFi.
More Google WiFi hardware?
It’s also possible that Google may have multiple products in mind to build upon this Mistral hardware. Within the Chromium code, we found a given name for the board, “Mistral Qualcomm QCS405 reference board.” Using the phrase “reference board” implies that instead of being just a product, it may be a base for other products to be built upon.
For comparison, Google WiFi’s board, Gale, is referred to in this same fashion as simply “Gale.” A closer comparison is actually the “Storm” board which acted as the base for both OnHub routers, and is referred to as “Storm Qualcomm IPQ806X board.” Given the different form factors Google Assistant devices have taken over the last few years, Google could potentially offer a few Google WiFi hardware variants.
Whatever the case may be, some kind of Mistral hardware is fairly close to release, as Chrome Unboxed has spotted that it’s already in PVT phase (production validation test) which is just before a product hits the market. Until the 2019 Made by Google event rolls around, we’ll be keeping our eyes out for more evidence of what exactly Mistral is intended to be, beyond a WiFi 6 equipped Google WiFi.