Recently we've gotten a flood of customer requests, asking for help on their pre-existing smart home. Most of these clients did up their homes on their own, purchased the devices and attempted to do up their own smart homes. However, they still came to us, citing a few problems and if we could help them out.
We will cite a few customers who've came to us and let's analyse the situation together. I have split this blog into several parts as it has become really lengthy.
Customer 1: DIY smart home 2 months ago. House is a 4 Bedroom Condo, with 2 Balconies.
Setup consists of 15x self-installed switches without neutral wire, 40 over Wi-Fi smart lights and 1x RF Blaster.
Concerns from customer:
- Smart Switches do not respond to apps once in a while. Need to constantly restart Zigbee Gateway for it to function with mobile app again.
- Smart Lights get disconnected once in a while.
- Unable to get RF blaster to learn signal from Ceiling fans and Ziptracks
- Need to get lights to turn on when door opens
Request from Customer: Would like to have everything on a single app as he has too many apps on hand now.
Red Flags and why this system will not work:
1. Weak Zigbee Signal: Looking at the layout of the house, a 4 bedroom condo would be quite big with relatively many walls. Note a few things here. (a) Zigbee Signals weakens after every wall and (b) Non-Neutral switches do not help out with the Zigbee Mesh.
Tip: How do you know if your house is plagued with weak Zigbee signal? If your Zigbee device disconnects from the ecosystem once in a while and connects to the Zigbee gateway after it is rebooted, this is a sign that your Zigbee signal is weak. The device(s) that drop out are located in weak signal zones.
2. Overworking the router: The smart home has 40+ Wi-Fi lights, causing the router to be continuously connected to a device which is not necessarily pinging the router for data. What does this mean? This only means that the router will deprioritize the lights for something that needs the bandwidth more. i.e. your laptop, your Netflix streaming etc. Routers load balance to ensure every device gets the bandwidth they need. In this scenario, devices on standby such as Wi-Fi lights, are the first to dropout of the network.
3. IoT App Fatigue: When the solution was built, the user probably only looked at how easy it was to implement it individually. Which is something most e-commerce platforms sellers will promise. However, one thing not mentioned - how will the devices be integrated into a single application. The promise of being on cloud platform Google Home does not help as the router is already taxed with standby IP connections.
4. Lack of helpline/support from e-commerce platforms: For a device that is less than SGD50, you might want to pin hopes that there is a supportive community to assist. Getting the RF blaster to learn the signals is possible, however there are several steps required.
Solution for Customer 1:
For starters, we will not encourage anyone to purchase 40+ Wi-Fi enabled smart lights. For clients with Home-A-Genius, you will know that we disallow anything more than 5 Wi-Fi enabled lights wihtin a single network. Take a look at our smarter light solution, it runs by Zigbee protocol. This not only helps strengthen the Zigbee mesh, it also reduces workload on the router. Next, for anyone who steps into our showroom, we will always say "Neutral solution is surely better than Non-Neutral if you are doing renovations". If still unsure, scroll to point 1 under potential red flags.
Lastly, IoT is a complex ecosystem. We see a lot of IoT suppliers saying that it is easy, but from our many years of experience in the industry, IoT is not as simple as it seems. The influx of smart home devices complicate matters even more. Unless you are ready to pour in hours of research and even more hours to work on integrating the device into the system, creating the rules & logic, and even more hours administrating your household members on how to use the system, be prepared that this amount spent and time spent will be a sunk cost if you've picked the wrong devices.
So what happened to this client in the end?
We provided a baseline quote for the client, I have to admit the amount is hefty. Reason for it, we have to unlink the smart devices from his existing hub/gateway to link it to ours. In short, whatever he spent working on is nullified and we have to double work it to unlink it. It is only after that we need to have his switches on our ecosystem and create rules and logic on it. Eventually, the deal did not go through as both sides felt it was:
- Too costly to proceed. Owner did not want to change out the smart switches as it was purchased not too long ago.
- On our side, we felt that with the various constraints, even with our intervention, the chance of failure is still too high as the house was not planned for a smart home during renovation.
Note that the solution requires changing out of smart lights or to disable the Wi-Fi option (sunk cost), addition of a neutral wire (too late, renovation over), or add-on a new gateway (Too much re-work), addition of a smart home hub that allows for a single app application (cost on top of the already sunk costs).
While the cost of renovation is high, incorporating a system within a home is crucial especially is the system is not implemented right from the start. Sounds familar? Long, long time ago, there was an influx of IT systems in the corporate world, companies went ahead to implement systems built to work independently, resulting in a whole build of independent IT systems which didnt speak with each other. The same may happen to your smart home if the smart home devices are not built to work for each other.