This story has been updated. It was originally published on July 27, 2019.
However, there are some common threads in the gameso if you’re having trouble with your supposedly futuristic smart home, here are some things we recommend you try before you give up and get everything back in a fit of rage.
Move the device (or your router)
Let’s start with the most common (and obvious) technical problem: WiFi signal. If WiFi in your home is already stained, you are not set up exactly for success by adding a bunch of smart devices. Try moving the device in question – whether it’s a Sonos speaker, smart plug or other accessory – closer to your WiFi router. If you think it’s more reliable the closer you get, you’ll realize that the signal strength may be to blame, and you’ll need to expand your WiFi with better equipment. If you use a WiFi extender or network system, you will get better results if you connect them together with Ethernet instead of repeating the WiFi signal
If you’re lucky, you may even be able to get a better signal throughout your home just by moving the router. For example, if it is far from one side of the house, moving it to a more central location will provide a more consistent signal. I even heard that if a device is too close to your WiFi router, you move it away from the router I can help. I haven’t seen this myself, but if nothing else works, there’s nothing wrong with trying.
[Related: How to fix 5 common WiFi problems]
Of course, not all smart devices use WiFi. Some use open protocols such as Zigbee or Z-wavewhile others (such as Insteon) use their own communication technologies. Philips Hue, for example, contains a hub that connects directly to your router and communicates wirelessly with its bulbs using a Zigbee network. If one bulb is too far from the hub – or from another Hue bulb – it may be picky or may not turn on at all. In this case, you will either want to move the hub or add more bulbs near the problem area.
Similarly, when my Insteon ceiling fans were unreliable, it was because they were too far away from the next link in the chain, making it difficult to communicate with the control center on the other side of the house. I added an intelligent Insteon plug between them as a kind of “expander”, so the signal can make shorter and more reliable “hops” back to its base.
Connect devices to your router when possible
Cable connections will always be stronger and more reliable than wireless ones. Even if you have a seemingly good WiFi signal somewhere, you can get better results if your device is connected to Ethernet.
Sonos, for example, uses WiFi to connect any speaker to your home network. If you connect only one speaker to your router with an Ethernet cablehowever, this speaker will create its own separate wireless network and will instead boot your speakers from it so that they do not compete for bandwidth. If you can’t plug one of your speakers into the router, the standalone Sonos Boost performs the same function.
In addition, I’ve found that some smart home hubs – like the Philips Hue Bridge – perform better when plugged directly into the router than plugged into an Ethernet switch. If you have a complex setup of network equipment – say, a router from your ISP, a switch, and several network expanders or power adapters – you can get better results from certain network devices than others.
Isolate the 2.4GHz WiFi band
Many modern routers are “dual-band”, using the frequencies of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz to improve speed and reduce interference. To this day, some routers require you to have two separate networks as a result (eg Smith_House_2GHz and Smith_House_5GHz), which is cumbersome and inefficient. But now there are alternatives that allow you to use the same network name for both frequencies, and your laptop, phone and other devices will intelligently choose the best frequency they can.
[Related: How to boost your WiFi speed]
But believe it or not, many smart home devices are not so smart. Some may have trouble choosing the right bandwidth, or – shockingly – some may only be compatible with the old 2.4 GHz frequency. This can cause any connection problems during the initial setup – the device is looking for a 2.4GHz network, but the application wants to transmit the 5GHz version to which your phone is connected, which leads to the failure of the whole thing. Yes, this is a ridiculously stupid problem, but I’ve seen it happen.
There are several potential solutions here. If you can access your router’s settings and temporarily disable the 5GHz band, you may be able to get the app to connect your new device to the correct network. If this is not an option – as is the case with many modern routers and network systems – you can try using an old phone or tablet with only 2.4 GHz to perform the initial setup. (The iPhone 4S was the last single-band iPhone, while many older Android tablets were also single-band.) If all else fails, you can add a second 2.4 GHz router for these devices. But if you ask me, at this point I will just return my product for a smart home and buy something that works properly.
I have used the above solutions successfully many times, although they are not the only ways to solve your wireless problems. In my research, I came across many other “quick fixes” that may or may not work for you, but are worth a try. They include:
- Restart your router, hub or device. Yes, the old “turn it off and on again” trick works just as well for smart home gadgets as it does for WiFi routers. Turn it off, wait 10 seconds, and turn it back on to see if your problems go away.
- Put your router in “bridge mode”. If you use an ISP-provided modem / router connection in conjunction with a network system, you can use two wireless networks that interfere with each other. Enter the administrative settings for your ISP-provided router and activate the bridge mode setting – if you can find one – then let the network system create the network to avoid duplication. If your ISP-provided router does not offer this feature, you may need to put the network system in bridge mode from its application.
- Repair the network. If the devices in question use the Z-Wave protocol (look for the name and model of your device to find out if this is the case), you may be able to solve your problems by Z-Wave network repair in the application of your center. (Or, in the case of the current Samsung SmartThings app, contact customer support.)
- Use modern WiFi encryption schemes. If you are still using a WiFi network with an outdated WEP or WPA password, you will want to upgrade to WPA2 encryption to ensure the best security and compatibility with the latest devices.
- Make a factory reset. It’s not fun, but if your device worked reliably, you may just need to go back to a blank sheet. Open the smart home application in question, reset the device to its factory settings and try to set it from scratch.
With a little luck, one of these tweaks will solve your problem and you will get the 21st century home you have always wanted. If not, it may be time to replace the router, network system or smart home device with something completely different – or go back to switching lights the old-fashioned way until someone else understands all these things.