The smart home is becoming more popular. If it's a conscious decision to update as much as possible around your house, or a piecemeal approach of installing one unit every couple of months before you have a fully functional smart home, there's a way to make it happen.
However, in addition to all of the latest gadgets and technology that you can easily spend thousands of dollars on, there's another important and much less expensive aspect to a good smart home: a secure and safe internet connection. But what does it mean to be stable? What is the minimum speed required for a connection? Is there anything else you should know before embarking on a smart home renovation project?
The good thing is that most gadgets used in a typical smart home don't use a lot of bandwidth. This makes complete sense when you consider that a few basic commands aren't nearly as complicated as a video file. You can rest easy knowing that just because an instruction produces a great result doesn't mean the instruction was anything special in terms of bandwidth or data.
Here's a quick rundown of popular devices or device types, along with what you'll need:
Devices that require a continuous connection should be your top priority. Perhaps something that records sound or streams media (which may include smart home devices) should be given more bandwidth. While some smart digital assistants, such as Alexa, might be mostly inactive, you should prepare for full use when setting up your internet.
Devices that are only active when you give an order (such as a voice-activated light-dimmer) will not consume much bandwidth and will only be applicable when they are active. Though you should prepare for them, they will not put a huge strain on your network unless you have one of the most unreliable internet connections available.
Smart light bulbs, thermostats, and home climate control systems, for example, can fall into this category if they only require a new set of instructions every now and then, as well as door locks.
Given that they will be transmitting video files (all of which are very large) to either your computer or a server, smart home devices with cameras (video baby monitors and smart doorbells) are a big exception to the rule that devices don't need much bandwidth. Even if the cameras aren't on all the time (perhaps because they're motion activated), the bandwidth will be needed.
If something slips through the cracks here, a general rule of thumb is that for every ten or dozen smart devices you have in your house, you'll need an extra 5 Mbps on top of what you'd normally use at home.
However, this refers to all devices, not just certain types of devices. If you have five smart speakers or a dozen smart bulbs in your house, you can budget an additional 5 Mbps for each dozen of those devices rather than treating them as a machine.
Consider a "worst-case scenario" with any potential system operating at full capacity at the same time by using the above to help you quantify what you need. It's safer to overestimate than to underestimate because you'll want to make sure your smart smoke detector will warn you immediately if something goes wrong. And, as you might have guessed, you'll need bandwidth for general usage and day-to-day activities, which we'll go through in more depth below.
The topic has two sides to it. While we focused on download speed in the previous section, you should also remember upload speed, which is a much lower number from most providers and a more popular stumbling block.
Fortunately, it isn't as common a requirement, as it will only be required in two situations:
Connected apps provide you with details. Your network's uploading capabilities will most likely not be strained by simply sending this material.
Video feeds (and, to a lesser degree, audio feeds) are the main culprits in consuming your uploading bandwidth, just as they were in the previous portion. You'll need 5 Mbps for each video feed if you're going to get a video feed from home on your smartphone, with some variations in video quality.
If you have a lot of smart devices in your house (which you probably do), the necessary upload speed for it to function properly will add up and cause problems if your network isn't up to the challenge. Again, it's better to overestimate and be pleasantly surprised than to underestimate and be caught off guard.
Even if it isn't always prominently advertised, checking your upload speed is easy. You can equate your upload speed to the upload speed promised in your internet service plan by using a simple speed test (it should be listed). If you don't think it's enough, talk to your Internet service provider about a different plan or switching providers. Another reason to bring the issue up with your ISP is if you aren't getting what you've been told.
Although we won't go into great detail about this because you will find a more in-depth description elsewhere, in order to operate a smart home, you must first be sure that your link is capable of keeping a regular home (with its normal internet needs) running smoothly.
Every application, software, game, downloading the file, and website (among other things) has its own set of specifications, and we can't possibly list them all. However, there are some general guidelines to follow, and you can use a specialized app, tools already installed on your computer, or a task manager to see how much bandwidth your device is using. Examining your use patterns can be enjoyable and informative, and making sure you have enough bandwidth for a smart home setup on top of anything else is a perfect reason to do so.
Yet, what are the general requirements of an average user and household? Here are some quick rules of thumb or guidelines you can use:
- You'll need 5-10Mbps to use the internet on a simple level, such as testing websites or email (one user at a time). Even if it's extremely cheap or seems like the only choice, don't settle for anything less than this. It won't be ok for your needs or your smart house, and the time and frustration you'll save aren't worth it.
- For many modern uses, such as streaming high-definition video, we think that 25 Mbps is a fair lower limit.
- If you have a link speed of at least 100Mbps, you should be able to accommodate multiple users doing whatever they want on the network without any problems.
- With a few exceptions, the fastest internet accessible (if available) is gigabit internet, which is around 940 Mbps. Unless you live in a smart mansion packed to the brim with TVs broadcasting 4K content 24 hours a day, you'll be covered if you have this.
Normally, these specifications can differ depending on the situation, but we've found that most applications and programs won't try to waste bandwidth for no reason. They can only turn off or exclude parts of their user base if they do so, which is the last thing they want.
Convenience and reliability are critical for many important devices and services in your life, as well as for those that aren't so important. For certain people, the fear and annoyance of something only functioning some of the time, even though it works most of the time, is not worth the effort of using whatever system is being used.
The excellent thing is that you most likely already know whether or not your internet connection is reliable enough to support the demands of a smart home.
You won't get some use out of your internet, no matter how fast it is if the link or signal doesn't reach every smart device in your home. Inadequate coverage can lead to mistakes, inconsistency in smart device performance, annoyance on your end, and slow response times (think about your printer, which might get the message to print 30 minutes late, startling you). In a nutshell, you'll need a powerful WiFi signal that reaches throughout your house (and perhaps beyond that).
Here are a few tips to better ensure you have full coverage throughout your home:
Perform a speed test in various areas of your home, ideally many times in a row and at various times of the day. If you need to install new equipment or update your strategy, you'll need as much information as possible to make the best decisions.
Don't be afraid to invest in a range extender or a second router to ensure that the signal reaches the entire building.
Although removing things that may be disrupting signals and placing modems and routers in places where they can properly provide a signal may be impractical or uneconomical in some situations, attempt to remove things that may be blocking signals and place modems and routers in places where they can properly provide a signal.
Your data transfer speeds are significant, but they are only one part of the equation when it comes to a successful smart home setup.
The total possible speed you can get from your ISP and manage by your modem or router is known as bandwidth. It's typically the first number you see in ads or specifications, such as 100Mbps or 1Gbps. While this is important for things like uploading files and streaming video if you have a good or average internet connection, your smart home will not need much of it. This test also assesses the ability to upload.
It is the time it takes for devices and computers to interact over a network or the internet. If you've ever played online multiplayer games, you know how crucial microseconds can be. You may also want this form of response for some smart home functions. Latency, on the other hand, can become a matter of trust, and excessively slow latency can cause you to lose confidence in your home's functionality, something you want to prevent (after all, why invest in a smart home that you won't use?).
There are a few potential issues with latency:
- A slow communication between devices connecting to each other in your home. If you're having trouble here, check to see if your home's coverage is adequate and that nothing is messing with signals.
- Should files or information need to be downloaded or uploaded, the ping rate between your devices and the rest of the internet. This will be less of a concern, but it can cause issues if you need smart home devices to react quickly when you're on the go.
- While it may be the least of your worries, a bad link may cause errors. If your latency is so bad that your smart devices aren't working, you probably already know this and can look at other internet connection solutions or troubleshoot your hardware first.
Solutions and Improvements You May Wish to Try
Because these aren't inherently solutions to the issue of sluggish internet that can't accommodate all of your devices, they can help you increase your coverage. Your smart home's productivity or ease of use, or otherwise, increase functionality.
A mesh network, which is a set of devices that function as one WiFi range extender, is one way to get as much coverage as possible. They keep more bandwidth available than range extenders and have greater coverage than virtually any other alternative due to their multiple nodes.
In terms of how they operate, each node actually takes on the role of being a part of the network, rather than the modem serving as the main hub. The nodes are interconnected and designed to act as a cohesive unit, sending information along the shortest path from one node to the next.
They're more common in larger homes, and they're a more recent advancement in home internet technology, with companies like Google and Amazon trying to build market products that will hopefully be adopted widely.
Mesh networks can be costly, depending on the model and number of nodes you choose to install in your house. Nonetheless, they are an excellent way to ensure that your whole household is protected.
Everyone's house is different, and there are more variables to consider than just pace (as we've already mentioned). Using the information above and your own measurements, you should be able to figure out how fast your internet needs to be to get your smart home up and running. Only then will you be able to order all of the technology you need and make any necessary adjustments to your home and routines. We hope you found this information useful, and we wish you only the best for your home.
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