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Google Nest WiFi Review: Home Networking Made Easy

Routers are usually big ugly things. They’re made of cheap black plastic, festooned with antennae that look like legs on some creepy spider, and fill you with the urge to tuck them away in the closet.Since these devices are supposed to cover your house in a warm, cozy blanket of Wi-Fi signal, that ugliness is…

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Google Nest WiFi Review: Home Networking Made Easy

Routers are usually big ugly things. They’re made of cheap black plastic, festooned with antennae that look like legs on some creepy spider, and fill you with the urge to tuck them away in the closet.

Since these devices are supposed to cover your house in a warm, cozy blanket of Wi-Fi signal, that ugliness is a problem. In order to spread signal far and wide, a router needs to be placed out in the open, not in an enclosed space. This dilemma has given rise to the era of the “beautiful router,” smartly designed networking devices to provide your smartly designed home with powerful Wi-Fi. These devices often perform other functions too, like play music or display the time.

Google’s new Nest WiFi—an updated and renamed version of its previous home networking product—looks good, or at least innocuous enough that it can live on a bookshelf or counter rather than hidden away. And, in line with the trend, Google Assistant is embedded into its mesh extension unit. The $149 satellite device, called a Point, not only extends the Wi-Fi coverage in your home but also doubles as the equivalent to a Nest Mini, with a built-in voice-activated speaker.

Wi-Fi With a Side of Google Assistant

I tested the Nest WiFi two-pack ($269), which consists of the main Nest router and one Point extender. Google says this combo will cover 3,800 square feet and up to 200 connected devices. It certainly had no trouble covering my 1,200-square-foot home. There’s also a three-pack available that adds a second Point and extends the coverage to 5,400 square feet and 300 devices.

Another option, if you don’t need the Google Assistant–powered Point or if you like Alexa better, is to pick up just the router, or even two routers for $299.

Photograph: Google

The Nest WiFi system does not function as a modem, so you’ll still need the broadband modem that was given to you by your internet service provider. (Most gigabit fiber connections, however, can plug straight into the router with a regular networking cable.) To get started, you plug your Nest into your broadband modem, download the Google Home app to your phone, and then connect to the Nest to get everything set up. The Google Home app had no trouble negotiating the setup with the two modems I tested, though it’s worth noting that the Nest does not work in “bridge” mode, which some ISPs suggest using (Verizon FiOS, for example). You can still get the Nest to work in these cases, but there may be a bit of extra setup involved.

Once you have the Nest WiFi set up with the Google Home app, things can get a little confusing. To access some more advanced features, you’ll need to use a different app called Google WiFi (unlike the router it controls, it has not yet been rebranded to Nest). This app will help you find the best location for your Point, set up and test the speaker, and test your network speeds—both between the router and the Point, and the speed of your actual home connection. Some—but not all—of these functions can also be done in the Google Home app, and eventually the Google Home app will handle everything. But for now you’ll need both apps, which adds some complexity to what’s otherwise a very simple system.

The Google WiFi app is where you can fiddle with the more advanced settings like prioritizing traffic from certain network areas at certain hours. For example, if the Point sits in your living room, you can prioritize traffic through that node in the evening hours for hiccup-free Netflix streaming.

One of my favorite features of the Nest WiFi is the ability to easily connect guests. Everyone who comes over wants to hop on your network, but I have all sorts of drives and data connected to my network that I don’t want anyone else accessing, so I use a guest network for everyone who doesn’t live in the house. Any router can do that, but then you have to remember a second secure password and help guests type it in. The Nest eliminates that hassle. All I have to do is open up any connected Google device with a screen (an Android phone or smart display) and I can get a QR code. My guest scans the QR code and they’re connected. There’s no typing in passwords; it just works.

Shortcomings

For as simple as the Nest WiFi is most of the time, that simplicity has some costs, the biggest of which is that this is very much a Wi-Fi system. The router has one Ethernet port, which means if you want to hardwire anything else beyond your modem, you’ll need an additional Ethernet switch. Worse, the Point extender has no Ethernet port at all. Google claims only about 5 percent of Nest users had other devices plugged in, so the lack of ports shouldn’t matter for most users.

Exactly how Google knows what its customers have plugged in is also something worth considering. The company collects a lot of data about its customers’ home networks, and what sorts of things they use their networks for. To set up the Nest WiFi using the Google Home app, you’ll need to have a Google Account, which means giving up some degree of privacy at the router level.

Each Point network extender doubles as a smart speaker. You can talk to it to access Google Assistant, and you can ask it to play music or podcasts. The perforated ring around the bottom hides the internal speaker, and the switch on the back of the Point (shown here) allows you to disable the microphone.

Photograph: Google

According to the various terms of service and privacy policy notices I encountered with setting up the Nest WiFi, Google’s Nest cloud services will collect information about your home network, the devices on it, and any surrounding Wi-Fi networks. That’s in addition to collecting stats based on usage. You can opt out of all the data collection stuff, but given Google’s history of recording customer data even when they’ve opted out, it seems best to assume at least some additional data is being collected. If you’re not OK with that, there are a lot of other multipoint routers on the market.

Another reason you might want to pass on the Nest Wifi is if you plan to be an early adopter of Wi-Fi 6. Also known by the less-friendly name 802.11ax, Wi-Fi 6 is a new networking standard that promises to boost speeds and connect more devices at once. It’s built for the near future, when the number of IoT gadgets in our homes and offices will have greatly increased. Google has opted to pass on Wi-Fi 6 support for now in order to keep the Nest WiFi’s price down, and because there are relatively few devices on the market that support Wi-Fi 6.

While that’s a logical decision right now, support for Wi-Fi 6 is picking up around the industry. Dell’s newest laptops support it, the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note10 smartphones are on board, and we expect even more devices with Wi-Fi 6 support to arrive early next year. Personally, I don’t update my router very often, and my current router has served me well for over seven years now. If I were looking to upgrade, I’d want at least some Wi-Fi 6 support to future-proof my purchase as much as possible.

Still, it’s hard to argue with the ease of use that the Google Nest WiFi provides. If you’re the sort who prefers to flash their router with an infinitely tweakable firmware package like OpenWRT, this is not the router for you. But for those who want a dead simple way to ensure good Wi-Fi speeds throughout the house with minimum fuss, the Nest WiFi system is a good choice.

The closest competitor to the Nest WiFi system is Amazon’s Eero mesh system, which behaves very similarly. The Eero package adds some nice features you won’t find in the Nest WiFi, like the ability to block ads on websites and in apps at the home network level. (I wonder why Google won’t let you do that?) Really, though, it comes down to which device ecosystem you want to invest in: Google or Amazon. If the answer is Google, the Nest WiFi is what you want.

The Nest WiFi two-pack I tested, with one router and one Point, is available from Google ($269) and Best Buy ($269). Amazon sells a two-pack of routers for $299.

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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion. This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would…

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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion.

This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would have been good for third place last year behind IBM’s mega deal plucking Red Hat for $34 billion and Broadcom grabbing CA Technologies for $18.8 billion.

Contributing to this year’s quieter activity was the fact that several typically acquisitive companies — Adobe, Oracle and IBM — stayed mostly on the sidelines after big investments last year. It’s not unusual for companies to take a go-slow approach after a big expenditure year. Adobe and Oracle bought just two companies each with neither revealing the prices. IBM didn’t buy any.

Microsoft didn’t show up on this year’s list either, but still managed to pick up eight new companies. It was just that none was large enough to make the list (or even for them to publicly reveal the prices). When a publicly traded company doesn’t reveal the price, it usually means that it didn’t reach the threshold of being material to the company’s results.

As always, just because you buy it doesn’t mean it’s always going to integrate smoothly or well, and we won’t know about the success or failure of these transactions for some years to come. For now, we can only look at the deals themselves.

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom. Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition. To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and…

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom.

Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition.

To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and opportunity, perhaps more than any other market in the world. Across major African economies, many of the requisites for online retail — internet access, digital payment adoption, and 3PL delivery options — have been severely lacking.

Still, startups jumped into this market for the chance to digitize a share of Africa’s fast growing consumer spending, expected to top $2 billion by 2025.

African e-commerce 2.0 will include some old and new players, play out across more countries, place more priority on internet services, and see the entry of China.

But before highlighting several things to look out for in the future of digital-retail on the continent, a look back is beneficial.

Jumia vs. Konga

The early years for development of African online shopping largely played out in Nigeria (and to some extent South Africa). Anyone who visited Nigeria from 2012 to 2016 likely saw evidence of one of the continent’s early e-commerce showdowns. Nigeria had its own Coke vs. Pepsi-like duel — a race between ventures Konga and Jumia to out-advertise and out-discount each other in a quest to scale online shopping in Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.

Traveling in Lagos traffic, large billboards for each startup faced off across the skyline, as their delivery motorcycles buzzed between stopped cars.

Covering each company early on, it appeared a battle of VC attrition. The challenge: who could continue to raise enough capital to absorb the losses of simultaneously capturing and creating an e-commerce market in notoriously difficult conditions.

In addition to the aforementioned challenges, Nigeria also had (and continues to have) shoddy electricity.

Both Konga — founded by Nigerian Sim Shagaya — and Jumia — originally founded by two Nigerians and two Frenchman — were forced to burn capital building fulfillment operations most e-commerce startups source to third parties.

That included their own delivery and payment services (KongaPay and JumiaPay). In addition to sales of goods from mobile-phones to diapers, both startups also began experimenting with verticals for internet based services, such as food-delivery and classifieds.

While Jumia and Konga were competing in Nigeria, there was another VC driven race for e-commerce playing out in South Africa — the continent’s second largest and most advanced economy.

E-tailers Takealot and Kalahari had been jockeying for market share since 2011 after raising capital in the hundreds of millions of dollars from investors Naspers and U.S. fund Tiger Global Management.

So how did things turn out in West and Southern Africa? In 2014, the lead investor of a flailing Kalahari — Naspers — facilitated a merger with Takealot (that was more of an acquisition). They nixed the Kalahari brand in 2016 and bought out Takelot’s largest investor, Tiger Global, in 2018. Takealot is now South Africa’s leading e-commerce site by market share, but only operates in one country.

In Nigeria, by 2016 Jumia had outpaced its rival Konga in Alexa ratings (6 vs 14), while out-raising Konga (with backing of Goldman Sachs) to become Africa’s first VC backed, startup unicorn. By early 2018, Konga was purchased in a distressed acquisition and faded away as a competitor to Jumia.

Jumia went on to expand online goods and services verticals into 14 Africa countries (though it recently exited a few) and in April 2019 raised over $200 million in an NYSE IPO — the first on a major exchange for a VC-backed startup operating in Africa.

Jumia’s had bumpy road since going public — losing significant share-value after a short-sell attack earlier in 2019 — but the continent’s leading e-commerce company still has heap of capital and generates $100 million in revenues (even with losses).

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between. It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in…

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in this coming year’s technology exit market. Expect the NYSE and Nasdaq to compete for the listing, bankers to queue to take part, and endless media coverage.

Given that that’s ahead, we’re going to take periodic looks at Airbnb as we tick closer to its eventual public market debut. And that means that this morning we’re looking back through time to see how fast the company has grown by using a quirky data point.

Airbnb releases a regular tally of its expected “guest stays” for New Year’s Eve each year, including 2019. We can therefore look back in time, tracking how quickly (or not) Airbnb’s New Year Eve guest tally has risen. This exercise will provide a loose, but fun proxy for the company’s growth as a whole.

The numbers

Before we look into the figures themselves, keep in mind that we are looking at a guest figure which is at best a proxy for revenue. We don’t know the revenue mix of the guest stays, for example, meaning that Airbnb could have seen a 10% drop in per-guest revenue this New Year’s Eve — even with more guest stays — and we’d have no idea.

So, the cliche about grains of salt and taking, please.

But as more guests tends to mean more rentals which points towards more revenue, the New Year’s Eve figures are useful as we work to understand how quickly Airbnb is growing now compared to how fast it grew in the past. The faster the company is expanding today, the more it’s worth. And given recent news that the company has ditched profitability in favor of boosting its sales and marketing spend (leading to sharp, regular deficits in its quarterly results), how fast Airbnb can grow through higher spend is a key question for the highly-backed, San Francisco-based private company.

Here’s the tally of guest stays in Airbnb’s during New Years Eve (data via CNBC, Jon Erlichman, Airbnb), and their resulting year-over-year growth rates:

  • 2009: 1,400
  • 2010: 6,000 (+329%)
  • 2011: 3,1000 (+417%)
  • 2012: 108,000 (248%)
  • 2013: 250,000 (+131%)
  • 2014: 540,000 (+116%)
  • 2015: 1,100,000 (+104%)
  • 2016: 2,000,000 (+82%)
  • 2017: 3,000,000 (+50%)
  • 2018: 3,700,000 (+23%)
  • 2019: 4,500,000 (+22%)

In chart form, that looks like this:

Let’s talk about a few things that stand out. First is that the company’s growth rate managed to stay over 100% for as long as it did. In case you’re a SaaS fan, what Airbnb pulled off in its early years (again, using this fun proxy for revenue growth) was far better than a triple-triple-double-double-double.

Next, the company’s growth rate in percentage terms has slowed dramatically, including in 2019. At the same time the firm managed to re-accelerate its gross guest growth in 2019. In numerical terms, Airbnb added 1,000,000 New Year’s Eve guest stays in 2017, 700,000 in 2018, and 800,000 in 2019. So 2019’s gross adds was not a record, but it was a better result than its year-ago tally.

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