• Wireless Communications
  • The Smart Home
  • Smart Home Technology
  • Connected Devices

Reliability Is Crucial in the Smart Home

Jun 28, 2019

Smart Home

In early June, Google reported issues with its Google Cloud Platform that rendered several Google sites useless, including Gmail, G Suite, and YouTube. However, this was not limited just to Google’s services. Third-party apps and services that use the Google Cloud for hosting were also affected, including Discord, Snapchat, and even Apple’s iCloud services. While the outage across these services is annoying, it’s not nearly as significant as the effect it had on Nest-branded devices, many of which failed to work. Users took to Twitter to complain about being unable to access Nest thermostats, smart locks, and cameras during the downtime. Essentially, the Google Cloud outage prevented people from being able to remotely access their homes and AC units, and even monitor their babies.

The Downside of Wi-Fi Dependence

This outage highlights an important issue around smart home reliability. Smart home devices have become increasingly reliant on Wi-Fi. The UK’s Office of National Statistics states that 90% of households have access to the internet. Consequently, many smart home manufacturers have designed their products to rely on Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi allows users to remotely access connected devices via smartphone and allows devices to communicate with each other via the cloud (unlike technologies like Bluetooth, which must be within certain range to control, and therefore don’t provide remote access). However, outages like this demonstrate the problems associated with reliance on Wi-Fi for smart home functionality. Users trust that a leading company like Google has products that can be relied upon. However, even Google can’t help when a problem arises with its servers that take down its connectivity. Google had another outage on June 18, though it did not affect Google Nest devices specifically.

Dumb Devices Fail Less

Users technically could still operate their smart home devices during Google’s initial outage. When a smart lock loses connectivity, it just becomes a dumb lock that can’t be accessed remotely via smartphone. However, in terms of smart home adoption, this issue is unacceptable. Vendors need to consider this, especially as these devices get into the hands of more mainstream consumers who are less forgiving of technology glitches than early adopters. As one user wrote on Twitter, “Sometimes I wish I just got simple baby monitors instead of paying a premium price and monthly fee for an inconsistent service.”

Add Backup

Some companies recognize the importance of being able to control smart home devices despite whether the Wi-Fi is working. Companies like Loxone have processing capabilities within their smart home hubs that allow the system to function locally, regardless of Wi-Fi connectivity. Comcast and Vivint Smart Home have added cellular backup to their systems to ensure there is always connectivity. This is especially pertinent for smart home security systems that are more critical and require higher levels of reliability. Others, like Amazon, have begun using a combination of Wi-Fi with other technologies, like Zigbee and Z-Wave, which allow for direct, local communication between devices.