Setting up your Smart Home isn't easy. Don't make it harder by installing your Smart Home on a poor WiFi network. Learn from our mistakes and start your home right. More in our Smart Home WiFi tips below!
Why is a better WIFI needed for a smart home?
For you to be able to access your Smart Home devices efficiently, you need to have better WiFi coverage. The majority of Smart Home gadgets use the WiFi network to connect with 3rd party services or apps.
There are certain gadgets like the Elgato Eve lineup which are based on Bluetooth but remote access will still require a WiFi connection through your Apple Home setup.
Also Bluetooth Smart Home gadgets are more responsive when youʼre personally in range of them. There are noticeably slower if you are trying to access them remotely. We have a feeling that the limited range of Bluetooth 4.0 has something to do with the poor response times. Bluetooth 5.0 should solve this problem but the newest iPhones are only the one with this features.Hy
How to detect dead spots in your home?
Our Wifi setup
To contextualize our process, here’s our WiFi setup in 2017.
We live in a long two-story house. Our ISP installed our router in the basement of our house which was silly. We split the WiFi on that router between 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. In addition to the router, we also had an AirPort Extreme connected to the router running a 2.4GHz WiFi Network on the main floor. The majority of our Smart Home gadgets were connected through the AirPort Extreme which was another 2.4 GHz WIFI network.
When we started our Smart Home in early 2017, we thought that keeping the two separate networks would be beneficial. It really wasnʼt. In fact, certain bridges wonʼt work well unless it is sitting on the same WiFi network. After we upgraded, we found it quite frustrating to use the Hue lights through Apple Home as the Hue bridge sat on the AirPort Extreme network.
SIDE NOTE: The difference between the 5Ghz and 2.4Ghz is that the 5Ghz has higher connection speed but doesnʼt have the distance of 2.4Ghz
How did we detect WiFi dead spots?
To detect the dead spots in our home, we took WiFi strength tests at various locations around our house. We live in a house thatʼs over 100 years old. There was an add-on in the 80's which is important to note. Our house is approx. 75 ft long and 20 ft wide so thereʼs a lot of length that the WiFi needs to cover.
To measure the WiFi, we used an app called Dr. Wifi and it seemed like the best app out of the few we found on the app store when it comes to measuring the WiFi strength.
It took several hours to map out our WiFi multiple times. As you can see on the image carousel above, the WiFi signal strength was awful in our home. When it comes to signal strength, the smaller the number, the worse the signal is. This was why the 2.4 and 5Ghz bands were strongest right beside the router.
The distance between our office setup and router is approx. 20 ft and the signal drop is quite significant. That is because the signal has to go through part of the concrete foundation from the original house.
This means despite having two routers on different floors on our house, about 1/2 of the house gets poor WIFI coverage. The last punch to the face is that the best coverage is in the basement which is where nobody spends any time in.
We also used the Ookla speed test app to test the effect of poor WiFi strength on actual internet usage. At the source, our connection speed for downloads and uploads was 175/168 Mbps. Through the concrete wall, the same connection speed was ~30/37 which is a significant speed drop.
How bad does a poor WIFI connection affect smart home gadgets?
Our Nest Indoor Cam was incredibly laggy. It had to buffer every few seconds. This is unacceptable because we're currently using the Nest Indoor Cam to monitor the cries of a 4-month old infant. The feed coming from the D-Link Omna was slightly better but not by much.
The Kwikset lock on our backdoor was also flaky when we weren’t home. The flaky access to the lock was an issue when we try to access the lock remotely (i.e. to let family members in). The poor WiFi network also resulted in notifications being sent sporadically. During our testing period, we saw notifications being delayed by up to an hour.
For Bluetooth devices like locks and the Elgato Eve Lineup, they generally responded well when you are at home. But remote access was painful with a bad WiFi network.
But the most noticeable ones were the smart lights. The Lifx bulbs worked ~80% of the time. While the Hue bulbs in the bedrooms were unusable and the Aurora wasnʼt always available.
The Smart Home light bulbs were the gadgets that pushed us to do this post. Smart Home gadgets are sold under the guise of making your home easier to live in but we go VERY frustrated after the novelty wore off when we realized that the smart lights took more effort to use than the "dumb" lights we replaced.
We thought part of the problem was the fact that we spent most of the time connected to the 5Ghz network whereas all the other devices sat on a different WiFi network. This problem might be bearable but the poor WiFi compounds the frustration from the issue.
How to fix your WIFI connection?
We’ll be honest with you, the only way we were able to fix this problem was to spend money.
The first thing we tried was calling our ISP and complained about our connection being slow. They sent over a tech who told us nothing new. The techʼs solution was to spend more money and suggested that we buy a random assortment of gear from the ISP.
The next thing we tried doing was assigning the WiFi networks to sit on channels that were relatively free. This solution improved the WiFi connections slightly. However we were still unable to use smart home gadgets at the edges of home.
We then contemplated on getting a few more Cat5 outlets wired into our old house and moving the router but the concrete foundation was still going to be an issue.
The last thing we did was to see what our money can buy. We were most interested with mesh WIFi networks as our experience with WiFi extenders wasn't great. One of our previous setups involved using Apple Extremes and Expresses and it wasn't great.
We generally had our mind set on the Google WiFi system. This is because it would give us more reason to use the Google Home that has been neglected.
We wonʼt go into much detail with wireless mesh networks but the differences between the extenders and mesh networks are:
Price - Mesh networks are more expensive
Ease of setup - Mesh networks are easy to setup
Speed - Mesh networks are faster as each hub works with one other. While extenders connection is linear which means if one of your extenders or your base network is slow, everything is going to be slow.
Setting up Google WiFi was simple. All we had to do was download the Google WiFi app and follow the steps with the Google WiFi app. We went with the three node setup as we felt the length of the house was going to be an issue. We ended up putting a node in the living room, one right beside the router and one in the master bedroom. We actually contemplated going with a 2 node setup. However we went and re-tested the WIFI and everything was noticeably better.
Overall, the signal strength in our home improved in every room with a -9 dbm signal right beside the router. Having decent WiFi in the bedrooms was great but with the new setup, the worst room was still our office which is where we spend all our time. However, itʼs still a decent upgrade from the previous setup.
One of the things we were hoping to the WiFi upgrade was extending the network to the garage. With our old setup, the WiFi was non-existent in the garage. With the upgraded Google WiFi, we now have a decent amount of coverage which means we have a few more places to add smart home gadgets!
Are there any issues after fixing your WIFI?
We were actually surprised at how much better the internet connection was after the upgrade.
Everything just seemed snappier. Pages loaded quicker, images in instagram just showed up. We didnʼt have to switch between WiFi networks depending on where we were in the house.
For the Smart Home, everything works quickly. Lights turn on through Siri and Alexa quickly, Apple Home shows up-to-date information constantly and our video cameras spend less time buffering which is great!
There was a big hiccup with the upgrade though. We had to re-add almost 1/2 of the Smart Home gadgets. Which makes sense but we didnʼt realize how tedious the process was until we had to go and troubleshoot everything that didnʼt work. The only piece of hardware that we couldn’t get working was the iHome 5-in-1 sensor. It couldnʼt recognize the 2.4Ghz band in the Google WiFi network. Now, itʼs sitting on the old Airport Extreme network. We looked into splitting Google WIFI into 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands but nothing in the app allowed us to do it easily.
Our Aurora couldnʼt be added via Google WiFi even though their website say that the Google product was recommended. It took a couple of resets before we were able to add the panel lighting.
For Alexa, we couldnʼt see the Hue lights anymore so we had to re-add them back into Alexa. We were then reminded of how many more steps it takes to get something working in Amazonʼs Smart Home setup.
is $400 dollars too much for better Wifi?
Now, at the end of the day, is this improved WiFi access worth the $400 dollars we paid for Google WiFi? It seems like a lot of money up front but it's easily justifiable if we look at how much our home internet costs.
On a yearly basis, we pay almost $1000 dollars for internet and based on our speed tests, we weren't getting the full value of the service we were paying for. The length of the house, concrete foundation coupled with the poor router location made it almost impossible for our us to fully realize the internet speeds we were paying for.
On top of the cost of internet are all the Smart Home gadgets we purchased. The Smart Home gadget setup used in this article totalled around $2000 and they weren't performing well.
Spending the $400 dollars on a mesh WiFi network ensures that we get the most out of our internet package as well as all the smart home gadgets that we've purchased for review.
Seems like a justifiable expenditure.