The smart home is becoming increasingly common. Whether in the form of a deliberate decision to upgrade as much as possible around your home or through a piecemeal effort, installing one device every couple of months until you suddenly realize you have a fully functioning smart home.
Yet in addition to all the gadgets and new tech you can easily spend thousands of dollars on, there's another key and much simpler component to a good smart home: a reliable and stable internet connection. Yet what qualifies as stable? And how fast does a connection need to be? Is there anything else you need to know before diving headfirst into a smart home renovation?
Well, those questions and more will be answered in as much detail as we can provide below:
What Do Common Devices Need in Terms of Internet Speed?
The good news is that most devices you might find in the typical smart home don't generally take up much bandwidth. If you think about it for a bit, this makes perfect sense, given that a few simple commands aren't as complex as a video file. Just because an instruction creates a fantastic result doesn't mean the instruction itself was anything special from a bandwidth or data standpoint, so you can take solace in this.
Here's a brief listing of common devices or device types and what you can expect to need:
- Devices that require a continuous connection should be your first concern. Perhaps anything that is recording sound or streaming media (these can be smart home devices as well) should be given a larger bandwidth allotment. Some smart digital assistants such as Alexa might be mostly dormant, but you should plan for the maximum usage when determining your internet setup.
- Devices that are only active when you give a command (perhaps a voice-activated light-dimmer or something similar) won't be using much bandwidth and will only be relevant when they are active. While you should plan for them, they will not be a significant strain on your network unless you have one of the poorest internet connections still available.
- Other devices that could fall into this category include smart light bulbs, thermostats, or home climate control systems, which only need the occasional set of new instructions and door locks.
- Smart home devices with cameras (video baby monitors and smart doorbells) are a major exception to the rule that devices don't require much bandwidth, given that they will be sending video files (all of which are very large) to either your device or a server. And even if the cameras aren't running at all times (perhaps they're motion activated), that bandwidth will need to be available.
- If things fall through the cracks here, one common rule of thumb is that for every ten or dozen smart devices you have in your home, you need an additional 5 Mbps on top of what you would typically use at home.
- However, that means every device, not every type of device. If you have five smart speakers in your home or a dozen smart bulbs, you should plan on an extra 5 Mbps for every dozen of those devices and not count them as a system.
When using the above to help you calculate what you need, try to consider a "worst-case scenario" with every possible device running at maximum capacity at the same time. It is far better to overestimate than underestimate, as you will want to be completely sure your smart smoke detector can notify you without delay if something goes wrong. And as you might have thought already, you should not neglect that you will need bandwidth for general use and your day-to-day functions, as we detail below.
The Upload Speed Your Smart Home Needs
There are two facets to the question. While we primarily talked about download speed in the prior section, you also need to consider upload speed, which from most providers is a much lower number and a more common roadblock.
Fortunately, it also is not as common of a need, as it will mostly come into use in two circumstances:
- Providing you with information via connected apps. Just sending information like this likely will not be a strain on your network's uploading capabilities.
- Much like the last section, video feeds (and to some extent audio feeds) would be the biggest culprit of taking your uploading bandwidth. If you're going to be getting a video feed from home on a smartphone, you will need 5 Mbps for each video feed, with some variances for the video quality.
- However, if you have many smart devices in your home (and you might have more than you think), then the required upload speed for everything to work properly can add up and cause issues if your network isn't up to the task. Once again, it's better to overestimate this an be pleasantly surprised than underestimate it and have to deal with a crisis.
Checking your upload speed is easy, even if it is not always heavily advertised. You can use a simple speed test and compare it to the upload speed you were promised in your internet service package (it should be listed). If you don't think it's enough, you should speak to your ISP to consider a different package or consider switching providers. If you aren't getting what you've been promised, that's another reason to bring the matter up with your ISP.
How Much Internet Speed Does a Regular Home Need?
While we won't go into extreme detail on this matter as you can find a more detailed explanation elsewhere, to operate a smart home, you first need to be confident that your connection can keep a normal home (with its normal internet needs) working properly.
Every app, program, game, downloading file, and website (among other things) have their own requirements in this regard, and we can not create a list of everything. However, there are common rules of thumb to follow, and you can check how much bandwidth your device is using with a specialized app, tools installed into your device already, or a task manager. It can be fun and interesting to examine your usage habits, so ensuring you have enough bandwidth for a smart home setup on top of everything else is a great excuse 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:
- To use the internet on any basic level, such as merely checking websites or your email (one person at a time), you will need 5-10Mbps. Try not to settle for any speed less than this, even if it is incredibly cheap or feels like the only option. It won't be enough for either your usage or your smart home, and your time and frustration aren't worth the savings
- We find that about 25 Mbps is a reasonable lower limit for many modern uses, such as streaming high definition content.
- If you have a speed of 100Mbps or more, then you should be able to handle multiple users doing effectively whatever they want on the network without issue.
- The fastest internet available (if available) with few exceptions is gigabit internet, which is about 940 Mbps. If you have this, you will be covered unless you live in a smart mansion filled to the brim with TVs streaming 4K content every hour of the day.
Naturally, these requirements will vary for specific instances, but we find that most apps and programs will not try to go overboard and waste bandwidth for no reason. If they do that, they will only turn off or leave out parts of their user base, which is the last thing they want.
Consistency Is Vital
If your internet service is cutting in and out several times a day, it may not be wise to start with a smart home setup until that issue has been addressed. Your smart home, at least parts of it, will operate under the assumption that they can continuously connect to the internet to receive commands and regulate themselves. And while there are likely fail-safes in place, you will still experience decreased functionality from having an inconsistent connection.
Like many important devices and services in your life or even the not so important ones, convenience and reliability are key. The anxiety and frustration of something working only some of the time, even if it is most of the time, is for many people not worth the effort of using whatever device is being used.
The good news is that you probably already know whether your internet connection is consistent enough to handle the needs of a smart home.
Proper Coverage Is Just as Important
No matter how fast your internet is, you are not going to get much use out of it if the connection or signal doesn't reach every smart device in your household. Inadequate coverage can result in errors, inconsistent results from your smart devices, frustration on your end, and poor response times (think about your printer, which might get the message to print 30 minutes late, startling you). In short, you need a strong WiFi signal that reaches every part of your home (and perhaps beyond that).
Here are a few tips to better ensure you have full coverage throughout your home:
- Do a speed test in different areas of your house, preferably a few times in a row and at different times of the day. You will need to have as much data as possible to make the right choices should you need to install additional equipment or upgrade your plan.
- Do not be afraid to invest in something like a range extender or an additional router so that the signal reaches the whole house.
- While, in some cases, it is just impossible or uneconomical, try to remove things that could be blocking signals and place modems and routers in places where they can properly provide a signal.
The Difference Between Bandwidth and Latency
Your download and upload speeds are important for sure, but when it comes to a good smart home operation, that is only part of the equation.
Bandwidth is the total potential speed you can get from your ISP and handled by your modem or router. It is usually the number you see first in advertisements or requirements, perhaps as 100Mbps or 1Gbps. While this is important for things such as downloading files or streaming content, your smart home will not necessarily use a lot of that if you have an average or good connection, as mentioned above. This also measures your uploading capabilities.
Latency, however, can be a much more important consideration, and you want responsiveness from your smart devices.
It is the measure of how long it takes devices and computers to communicate over the internet or a network. If you play multiplayer games online, you know how important it can be given that microseconds matter. For certain smart home functions, you may also want this type of response. However, latency can also become a matter of reliability, and exceptionally slow latency can make you lose faith in your home's functionality, which you want to avoid (why invest in a smart home you won't use?).
There are a few potential issues with latency:
- A slow connection within your home between devices connecting to each other. If you have problems here, you may wish to try and make sure your home's coverage is proper and that nothing is interfering with signals.
- The ping rate between your devices and the rest of the internet should files, or information need to be downloaded or uploaded. This will be less of an issue, but one which may have problems if you need speedy responses from smart home devices while on the go.
- This might be the least of your concerns, but an extremely poor connection could cause errors. If you have an issue with latency so bad that smart devices might not be able to function, you likely already know this and should investigate other internet service options or troubleshoot your hardware first.
Solutions and Improvements You May Wish to Try
While these aren't necessarily solutions to the problem of having internet that is too slow to handle all of your devices, these are things that you can do to improve your coverage. The efficiency or ease of use of your smart home, or otherwise improve functionality.
One option for gaining as much coverage as possible is to utilize a mesh network, a series of devices that can effectively act as one WiFi range extender. They keep more bandwidth available than range extenders, and due to their multiple nodes, allow for better coverage than nearly any other option.
As for how they work, each node essentially takes up the task of being part of the network, as opposed to the modem being the main central point. The nodes work interconnectedly with each other and are programmed to work together as a cohesive unit and send information along the fastest path from node to node.
They often are used in larger homes and are a more recent development in home internet technology, with companies such as Google and Amazon attempting to create consumer options that hope to be put into widespread use.
Mesh networks can be expensive, depending on the model and the number of nodes you wish to set up throughout the home. Still, they are a fantastic way to ensure that your household is getting equal coverage throughout.
Integrating Multiple Devices
While shopping for devices and setting up your smart home, you may have the opportunity to control multiple devices and settings from the same account or app, making things much easier for yourself. This could be from the same manufacturer, or you might be trying to combine everything on a singular apparatus, whether through voice control or app. The options are many and constantly growing in number, so we cannot go into everything. Your research will undoubtedly be able to find optimal combinations and ways to increase the efficiency of use.
You will also want to make sure not to confuse devices or remotes, and while this should not be an issue for the most part, you may wish to double-check if there are conflicts or reports of malfunctions in the case of many smart devices in the home (if this is the case, you can almost certainly find out online).
Finally, before you rely on everything, it is wise to test out every device you plan on using. Even if it is just making a cup of coffee at a specific time, you want to be able to make sure things happen according to your command, and you will also want to perfect your daily smart home usage and routine.
General Setup Improvements
While we do not want to be so unspecific as to say "get better stuff", sometimes what is required is a simple router or modem upgrade. No matter how great the receivers in your smart home devices are or how fast your internet connection is, outdated equipment that can't handle your download speed will create a bottleneck.
While there is a much longer troubleshooting process you should look at if you are having difficulties with your internet, you should seriously consider new equipment if it's older than five years old (even three in some cases), was a budget purchase at the time, or explicitly isn't rated to provide the speeds your connection could otherwise provide.
The Numbers Will Change Over Time
Technology, even technology you have already bought and installed, doesn't exist in a bubble, and in some ways, neither does your internet connection. Smart home devices' requirements might change in the future, either creating greater bandwidth demand as devices use more complex processes and demands, or perhaps less through more efficient operations.
Anything related to media, video, or audio processing or downloading might require more bandwidth to operate as cameras and microphones improve, and faster internet connections become more common. Think about the leap from standard definition video streaming to high definition video streaming that took place years ago.
Furthermore, companies and developers are still finding new ways to utilize Internet of Things (IoT) developments, and some new options and technologies may be more bandwidth-intensive than existing processes. Once we have systems that can regularly incorporate real-time data to help adapt the environment to your needs on a wide scale, the entire landscape will change.
To this effect, we recommend that you take some measurements at least each year or when you notice a slowdown or disconnections. You may need to adjust your internet service plan, your equipment, or something else about your home to keep things running smoothly.
We also recommend that you do not try just to meet the minimum requirement with your internet service plan. As mentioned before, not only will you be running a smartphone, but we can only assume that you will want to be doing typical home internet tasks as well. Requirements will increase for one of the two categories sooner or later, and we do not want you needing to find another internet package so soon.
Everyone's home is a bit different, and there are more factors than just speed to consider (as we've mentioned). Using the above information and some measurements of your own, you should be able to determine how fast your internet will need to be to get your smart home up and running properly. Only then can you be confident in ordering all the tech you need and making any changes you need to your home and routines. We hope that this information served you well and wish you nothing but the best for your home.