How to Optimize Wifi for Smart HomesBy - 09/06/2018
Here at Home Alarm Report, our passion (obsession?) is smart home security products. We’ve tested and reviewed everything from self-monitored security systems to personal robots with admittedly creepy all-seeing eyes. But one problem that we consistently run into as we test these products in our homes is reduced bandwidth.
This is the most negative, and most immediate consequence anyone installing smart home security products or smart home devices will quickly find. Every connected device demands a part of your home internet’s wifi bandwidth. And for each device you add, the network can get strained. Add too many, and you may find none of your devices work effectively.
There are some solutions to the problem. One is to dig deep and request more bandwidth from your ISP (e.g., more speed). Depending on where you live or your financial situation, that may not be possible, however.
For example, I currently pay Comcast ~$90 per month for 150 Mbps of internet speed. I have several connected devices, including several computers, a smart TV, a few video game consoles, an Amazon Fire TV stick, a few mobile devices, a Lynx Solar Outdoor camera, and an Eken Video Doorbell. All of that puts a strain on my wifi network since I rarely wire anything through Ethernet. The bandwidth issues can get especially bad during peak internet hours. And in fact, I often have more connected devices going at once than Comcast recommends with my current internet plan:
If you’re like me and living in a rather rural area of the US, you may not have many options to inexpensively increase your internet speed with your ISP. I have a choice between paying Comcast over around $100 per month for an additional 100 Mbps or paying CenturyLink $50 per month for a maximum of 10 Mbps (all they offer in my area).
My best solution, and possibly yours as well, is to optimize my wifi for smart home purposes. There are a few tricks you can use to eke some better bandwidth from your home network without having to run up the long-term costs of increasing your bandwidth with your ISP.
Move Some Devices Over to Wired Connections
Let’s start here. Wifi is an amazing technology that reduces the number of wires we have crisscrossing our homes. But wifi is still far from a perfect data connection and does come with some downsides.
Take security cameras, for example. One of the main products we review and test are wifi-enabled security cameras. These are some of the biggest bandwidth hogs on your network, especially when you’re streaming or recording live video. We often consider whether wifi or wired security cameras offer a better experience (we usually opt for wifi) but if you’re having bandwidth problems, you may need to strongly consider moving to wired cameras to ease up some of the strain on your wireless network.
According to Reolink, there are several factors influencing security camera bandwidth usage:
- Video compression:
- Frames per second (FPS):
- Number of cameras:
Poorly compressed video will lead to more bandwidth usage.
HD video will require more bandwidth.
A higher frame rate means more video to compress, which means more bandwidth usage.
The more cameras you have, the more data they’ll consume at once.
Effectively, this means if you have the highest-quality, top-of-the-market wifi-enabled cameras all running on your network, you’re going to use up a lot of bandwidth.
Wired cameras will still count against your overall bandwidth. However, when you route your internet connection through a wireless router, you do lose some of your effective bandwidth. A somewhat dated (2011) study found that using a wifi router cuts 30 percent from your effective bandwidth. Changes in technology have likely reduced that bandwidth cutoff measurably, but the cutoff is still going to be a factor.
Relocate Your Wifi Router
Router location can have a huge impact on the strength of your wireless signal, and in turn, how much of a connection your devices are getting.
Take an assessment of your current wifi location and the range your wifi router achieves. Wifi signals are just radio signals, and with any radio signal, interference can degrade the effectiveness of the signal. All wifi signals will degrade over longer distances, while objects and walls can further impact the signal quality.
As such, if your security cameras or smart home devices are several rooms away from your wifi router, their signal may be heavily impacted by multiple walls and doors, metal objects, or even other wireless signals, such as from Bluetooth-enabled devices or your neighbors’ wireless routers.
Try placing your wireless router in as centralized a location as possible in your home. This should help reduce the distance for smart home products in the far reaches of your home.
Mesh Networks for Smart Home Devices
If relocating your router is difficult, or you have an oddly shaped home, you still have other options you can consider. One unique option to consider is a mesh network. Mesh networks for smart homes are a great idea for larger and oddly shaped houses. These routers effectively create a web of internet connection around your home, clearing up dead spots and extending your main router’s range.
Some popular options include Google Wifi, Plume, Netgear Orbi, or Eero. Fair warning: these options don’t come cheap. They’re emerging technology, and such tech is always expensive in early runs.
If a mesh network doesn’t seem up your alley, but you still want to extend your range, a simple wifi extender might get the job done. These devices plug into a wall outlet and bounce your wireless signal further along. There’s some degradation of the signal, but far less than without the extender.
Update Your Router
This one hurts because there’s an obvious cost to it. Routers don’t come cheaply, or at least, the good ones don’t. But there’s a chance your router is the chief culprit behind your bandwidth woes, especially if you are using either a cheap router or an old router (or both).
I know for a fact that my router is part of my bandwidth issues. I’m currently using a cheap, 4-year-old Securifi Almond Wireless Router. It served me well before I started testing home security products, but it’s currently the bane of my existence until I upgrade. To be clear, it’s not a bad router. It gets the job done. But it wasn’t designed for the type of bandwidth demands I place on it, and its signal strength is none too fantastic. In fact, it’s running on the 802.11bgn wifi standard, when the current, best standard is 802.11ac Wave 2, with an even faster standard, 802.11ax, coming sometime next year.
All told, my router is outdated, and there’s a chance yours might be as well. 802.11ac routers are more expensive, but they also offer better bandwidth preservation, almost on par with wired connections, and more range.
Newer routers running on upgraded standards are better able to handle multiple devices while preserving more of your bandwidth your ISP is feeding to your modem. Upgrading could be the solution you’re hoping for. However, you will want to make sure you’ve tried other, free fixes before shelling out the cash for a new router. And check your router’s specs first. If it’s running on an older or lower-quality standard like mine is, you probably need to upgrade.
This is only a small list of options to optimize your wifi to best maximize your smart home. You may want to check out some additional guides on how to extend your wifi connection. From a practical standpoint, the most likely solutions to solving your wifi bandwidth problems include moving your wifi router, installing wifi extenders, switching the most data-hungry devices over to wired connections, and if need be, purchasing a new wireless router running on a more efficient wifi standard.
Smart homes are both fun and highly practical. They can ultimately save you money if you purchase the right products. But they can also be a huge drag when they ruin the effectiveness of your home wifi connection. The more products you add to your smart home, the bigger the problem will become, so it’s a good idea to assess your home network’s capabilities before purchasing your next round of smart home goodies.