Really, Google? (Or- Why We Can’t Have Nice Wireless Networks)

Ugh. It’s always astounding when a mammoth technology company shows how completely out of touch they are with everyday end user reality, or that they could give two figs about YOUR situation. This rant focuses on Google’s education-oriented Expedition application. Two weeks ago, I’d not heard of it. Then I got a request to figure out how to make Expedition work in a small area of a specific building where a dozen or so users might make use of it, surrounded by as many as a couple of thousands of wireless clients who would not. “It’s not working on our WLAN, but I set up a hotspot to test it, and that was fine.” Oh boy…

Before we get to the actual network stuff, consider how Expedition is marketed, with these among the promises”

-          With VR and AR, teachers are no longer limited by the space of the classroom. Google Expeditions allows a teacher to guide students through collections of 360° scenes and 3D objects, pointing out interesting sites and artifacts along the way.

-          Minimal setup for maximum engagement

-          The Expeditions app and Cardboard viewer and Cardboard Camera were built to bring immersive experiences to as many schools as possible.

Sounds awesome, yes? Sure, and perhaps it could be. But just as Google did with their Glass program a few years ago, it has put zero work into understanding the actual wireless network environments where their product will be used. The bullet they forgot to add to the product page”

-          Your network admin won’t know WTF to do with this whole thing, because educational settings are usually built on tightly controlled networks, and we’re encouraging you to do some really wonky stuff to use Expedition. As with Google Glass, we make our limited network support YOUR problem. That’s value, Silicon Valley style.

So how bad is it? See for yourself with this screen grab:

Yeah- that’s gonna fly real well IN A BUSINESS WLAN SETTING, which pretty much describes all K-12 and higher ed environments in the developed world. I do feel compelled to bring up the Google Glass thing again- although Glass has long since followed Elvis out of the building, it too was delivered to the masses with only it’s positive aspects touted and no mention that you’d have to do things that you’d rather not to accommodate it on business-secure WLANs. I smell a trend of irresponsibility in this regard from Google, and it’s limiting to the very end users Google wants using their stuff. 

In testing, I found that Expedition absolutely would not work on any of my enterprise-gear SSIDs and connected VLANs, even where I tried to make those networks as close to consumer-grade as I could. Move the same hosts to a small hotspot topology with my phone as the router and Expedition works fine. Some packet capturing shows a fair amount of multicast in play which could be part of the issue, or perhaps Expedition is one of those “all hosts must be on the same Class C living-room-quality network to work” applications. Whatever the case, the lack of details and real requirements for Expedition is maddening as a network admin, and to suggest that teachers simply work outside of their employer’s IT frameworks as a “solution” to use Expedition is ludicrous.

Shame on you, Google. Maybe hire someone who understands networks to help with your product offerings?