How Do Internet Outages Affect Your Smart Home?


How Do Internet Outages Affect Your Smart Home

Home automation is cool your lights automatically flipping on when you walk in the door, locking and unlocking your home doors while at the office and being able to turn on/off your thermostat from anywhere in the world are all convenient features. The smart home industry is quickly becoming a multibillion-dollar industry.

What Happens When An Internet Outage Occurs? After an internet outage depending on the device. Some will go off and become completely useless, and others will still work but with limited features. In some cases, the impact can be corrected with simple actions such as switching your smart bulbs with the good old screw-cap bulbs or replacing your smart plugs with regular plugs. 

However, when something as sensitive and complicated as a smart door lock or smart thermostat gets caught up in the mix, the repercussions can be monumental. We now have smart home technology problems.

Does your home security cameras still work when power and internet are down?

Other than just being a cool idea, a smart home offers numerous benefits such as saving your time and money, securing your home and providing unparalleled convenience. They can actually make you feel like you are living in the future –until an internet outage happens.

You see, most smart home systems are centered on internet connectivity, and they require Wi-Fi to connect and “talk” to each other. A typical smart home automation system comes with a dedicated hub and a series of smart home devices connected to it. Popular smart home hubs include Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Samsung SmartThings.

A smart home system may have numerous connected smart devices such as smart thermostats, door locks, security cameras, lights, garage door openers, speakers, plugs, and so on. While some of these devices can work independently, having them connected and managed from a central hub makes it easier to monitor, control, and program them.

How Do Internet Outages Affect Your Smart Home?

Many different smart home devices might use different communication technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Wi-Fi, IFTTT, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave, and so on. This makes some of them incompatible with other devices that do not use the same protocol (Language). A dedicated hub connects all the compatible devices in your home and converts the incoming commands into a common “language” that allows them to talk to each other –and this is Wi-Fi.

The wireless connectivity is what allows you to remotely monitor and control any of the connected devices from a cloud-based app. For instance, using the Ring Smart Doorbell, you can see exactly who is at your doorstep via your app even if you’re miles away. If you have a delivery coming in or kids coming from school, you can remotely open the front door from the comfort of your office –thanks to smart door locks.

In essence, an internet connection separates smart home devices from dumb home devices. But if there is an internet outage in your place, what exactly happens to your smart devices. Do they become all dumb?

IFTTT – lights out

For instance, one beautiful Tuesday morning, back in Feb 2017, Amazon’s AWS servers went down for several hours. The outage shut down much of the internet, disrupting many services that rely on AWS services. The AWS outage also took down critical smart home key services such as IFTTT which were hosted at the Amazon servers. The fact the many smart lights, doorbells, door locks, and even thermostats rely on the IFTTT meant that core functions of most home automation systems were unavailable.

With IFTTT down, some users were left unable to operate their smart lights and other gadgets. The IFTTT technology (which stands for “if this, then that”) is utilized by many smart home technologies such as smart lights. It connects Wi-Fi-enabled lights to other apps and services and enables you to schedule lights to turn on/off automatically based several different triggers (such as the sun going down)Other players in the smart home niche that were also affected by the AWS outage include security camera makers Ring and Canary, whose app-enabled doorbells and security cameras also went down as a result of the interruption.

Both companies reported that their customers were unable to access camera recordings and other services. While your “smart” lights “refusing” to take your commands sounds like a first world problem, having so many interconnected smart home devices relying on third-party providers for critical functions can put all the devices (and homeowners) at risk if one of the links in the chain breaks.

Fortunately, though, some smart lights such as the Philips Hue can still work without the internet connection –as long as you don’t try to control them from an app remotely. Hue’s hub works as an intermediary, so if there is an internet outage, you might still be able to control them if you’re within range. So in other words, as long as your local Wi-Fi network stills works and your phone is connected to your Wi-Fi network via the router, you can still control your smart lights even if the internet is down on your end.

Freezing disconnect

First-forward to 23rd Nov 2018, yet another classic example of how internet outage can disrupt your day as a smart homeowner occurred. This time it was Netatmo smart thermostats, their servers went down, and the thermostats were unable to change temperatures in the users’ houses.

Can you imagine freezing out in winter because some internet server, miles away has messed up your thermostat, and there is nothing you can do about it?

Netatmo thermostats have a manual override mode for such situations, which is supposed to allow you to change the temperature without using the app. However, some users even never knew it existed, while for others, it simply didn’t work, so they were both left freezing in their houses.

Smart Locks -The Lock Down

Have you ever wondered what would happen if there was a connectivity problem with your smart locks? There have been reports of serious incidents that have occurred as far as smart locks are concerned. For instance, in October 2018, the app that controls the Yale Smart Alarm System crashed and created all sorts of dilemma to the users. Homeowners were forced to stay at home because they could not turn off their alarms.

The issue lasted for more than a day before Yale engineers were able to resolve it. A similar incident had happened earlier in 2017 with smart locks manufactured by Lockstate. A botched firmware update made the locks unresponsive, and customers were left frustrated and lamenting. It took over two weeks for the issue to be fully resolved.

no-wifi

Internet Outage On the User-end

The incidences discussed above related to internet and connectivity failure on the manufacturer’s side and other third-party players. But the internet outage can also happen within your home. We’ve all had those incidences. What happens in this case? Well, as earlier mentioned, most smart home devices heavily rely on the internet to function fully.

Devices like Google Home and Amazon Echo might serve as great hubs to control your connected smart home devices, but they are pretty much useless without internet, you will not be able to control any devices from your voice assistant.

Some things might still work like the timers and alarms, and your voice assistant will always wake you up in the morning even without the internet. But asking even for simple things like the weather or traffic updates won’t work without the internet.

What can possibly go wrong?

Cloud-based wireless security cameras will also become completely useless in the event of an internet outage. This affects some of the popular Wi-Fi cams such as Nest and its related camera-enabled devices. Without the internet, Nest cams freeze essentially, and you won’t even be able to view recordings.

Other Wi-Fi cams such as the Arlo Pro camera system have found a way around this, during an outage the camera will start storing the video recordings on a USB flash drive.

Some years back, a smart light unable to connect to the internet was a real-world problem. With all your devices plugged into smart outlets and controlled with a switch and not some digital assistant, what can possibly go wrong? With all the examples above, one can only start to imagine how much worse things can get if you have more internet-depending devices controlling the core functions of your home.

Can you imagine your internet depending smart door lock and thermostat malfunctioning at the same time due to the internet connection? You are possibly facing the risk of being locked down in your own freezing (or boiling) house.

Bottom Line

In many ways, an internet outage is as bad a power outage, or probably worse. But I am not saying the above cases should stop you from making your home smart. In fact, things are not as bad as they seem. The occurrence of such outages has led many smart home device manufacturers to improve their products designs by accounting for things like internet and power outages.

Many smart home devices and systems now have manual overrides that allow you to resort back to the traditional mode of operation without “smart” in the equation. So as you go out shopping for these devices, take some time to figure out a contingency fallback plan in place in case an internet or power outage happens.

As you can see, many devices will still function without the internet, but some smart functions such as remote monitoring and control won’t be available.

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