Week 19: Paul's Smart home diary

Over and out

Week 19: Paul's Smart home diary
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This post first appeared on Wareable, in July 2016...

If you've been following this diary's progress over the past 19 weeks, then you'll know that I'm approaching the end of my quest, stated in Week 1, to make my new abode: "As smart, efficient and as seamless as possible."

That's not to say I'm finished adding devices. Not a jot. Right from the start I made it clear that a key objective was to future proof my smart house. The IoT revolution has only just left the novelty stage and I didn't want to deprive myself of the awesome tech that's bound to land over the next few years.

So while I'm happy with my current setup, I've also made sure I can easily tweak and upgrade it as time goes on.

I've also encountered some issues and stumbling blocks along the way, so I thought I'd give you a quick overview of just what went right and what went wrong over the last five months…

Wires. Wires. Wires.

You'll remember from early diary entries that a lot of time was spent researching a suitable wired network setup for my house and then hiding Ethernet cables in walls that had yet to be plastered.

At the time, I thought that maybe I was being over-zealous with my wired setup. I thought that having a few Cat 6 Ethernets running to various rooms might be overkill and that there was a chance I might not even use them. After all, Wi-Fi is awesome now, right?

I was wrong. I under-did it. I should have had multiple Ethernet cables running to every room in the house. Modern building materials, such as the insulated plasterboards we've used, are a Wi-Fi killer. The more wired connectivity you've got, the better.

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My Wi-Fi network is actually pretty good – mainly because of Sky Q mesh (more on that in a moment) – but I do have a major blackspot in the kitchen where, foolishly, I didn't have the Ethernet extended to.

Luckily, there are good solutions – I've been using the brilliant Netgear PLW1000 to get a strong Wi-Fi signal in my kitchen. It takes a wired connection through the mains, direct from my router, and you can even have a separate Wi-Fi network broadcast, which is great if you're experiencing busy signal traffic on certain Wi-Fi channels.

However, it costs a lot more than a length of Ethernet cable.

Consider your other smart tech

I touched on the Sky Q mesh there and it really is a great new option from the digital TV specialist. My Sky Q setup, comprising of a Silver box and two mini boxes, plus the router of course, gives my connected tech eight access points to the web, hopping between 2.4GHz and 5GHz signals.

I've also got a Sonos Boost plugged into the router, meaning a separate SonosNet setup, away from my home Wi-Fi.

That's a whole lot of meshing right there. Throw in three security cameras (one being used as a baby monitor) and three different 'bridges' connected to the router and I'm dealing with a severely congested set of wireless signals… and that's not even mentioning the interference from my neighbours' networks.

Plan ahead for this. Don't expect everything to work seamlessly on the default broadcast settings. It just won't. Expect to be fiddling around in your device's admin settings for a while until you get everything running smoothly side-by-side.

Don't get bogged down with platforms

You don't have to decide to go all out Nest just yet. Likewise, it isn't crucial that you only buy HomeKit compatible devices.

Everything is a bit of a mess right now when it comes to smart home standards and connectivity options, so it's best not to worry about it too much.

I've ended up using the full suite of Nest products, with multiple devices, and while it's great to have it all boxed into one easy-to-use app, it's not that hard to add my Hue bulbs to the mix, or get my Nest kit working nicely with my smart doorbell and locks.

It probably makes sense to get a few devices that definitely sit in one camp – whether it be HomeKit, Works with Nest or even Samsung's SmartThings – and start things from there. With IFTTT and the like, it isn't too much hassle getting all your smart tech gadgets talking to each other.

Play the OS field

We'd also recommend mixing things up when it come to control methods for your smart home tech. I like using an Android phone but it was really useful to have an iPad on hand as well.

Most smart home devices will have an app for both Fandroids and Fanboys but sometimes the setup is much easier with one than it is with another.

It's also useful to have a dedicated smart home controller for the household. Sure, you can all set up your individual phones to control things but it's nice to have one centralised device that has easy access to all the apps you need. A tablet is obviously a great option.

Don't discard your dumb stuff

Got a lamp that you really love that isn't compatible with smart bulbs? An electronic heater in a spare room that can't be shifted? Or an expensive coffee machine that lacks Wi-Fi smarts?

Don't bin them just yet.

Devices such as a Belkin WeMo Insight Switch are handy for basic wireless on and off controls and, if you need extra functionality, you can use something like a WeMo Maker, combined with IFTTT, for scheduling and the like.

Smart home wish list

As I said, I'm happy with my setup. But it's far from perfect. Tech brands have got a long way to go yet. Setting up a smart home, even using the most high-profile devices (and even if you're a tech journalist), is a bit of a faff.

Adding devices to the mix should be as easy as adding an app on your smartphone. Nest gets that. And, by the sounds of the new Home app, Apple does too.

Samsung SmartThings is a muddle and, while IFTTT is great, third party applications shouldn't really be needed. Devices should just work, out of the box, and be able to jump straight onto your Wi-Fi; talking to all the other smart tech that's already hooked up.

I'm excited about the prospect of Brillo and Weave but it needs to be super open and super easy.

Openness is the key.

The complete smart home diary

TAGGED    smart home

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