There have never been so many easy and useful ways to upgrade your home’s tech. We haven’t quite arrived at the utopia we were promised by decades of sci-fi movies and TV shows. But a growing number of smart home innovations have made it to the marketplace over the last decade that have the potential to automate many of our daily tasks and offer other conveniences.
As you research your options and update your home, you’ll find that smart cameras, security systems, speakers, and sensors have attributes of two kinds: wired and wireless. Both product categories have distinct pros and cons, making product selection tricky for consumers who are new to smart home tech. Here are some guidelines to consider as you evaluate which products are the best fit for your family and lifestyle.
Wired for Stability
Wireless may be all the rage these days, but there’s a reason that wired smart home technology still makes up a significant portion of the products sold every year: it’s hard to beat the stability and functionality of products that have a constant power source and a rock-solid connection to your home’s network.
First and foremost, there’s nothing worse than relying on a device that could have a dead battery when you need it the most. Products that plug into an electrical source (or, even better, have a battery backup) are ready to work as long as you have power. In addition, a hard-wired ethernet cable is the ideal connection for high-bandwidth devices. Although high-end WiFi systems offer increasingly impressive bandwidth, their high-speed range may be less than optimal, and they may be prone to radio interference from microwaves, cordless phones, and other household appliances and electronics.
Wired products are traditionally more reliable as well, using secure closed networks that require hard-wired access. You also don’t have to worry about compatibility with different networking technologies because any device with an ethernet port is compatible with your home or router’s ethernet jacks.
Although wired-only products are dependable and fast, you might struggle to find a lot of options when you’re shopping for smart home devices. Many new products hit the market first with WiFi-only variants due to WiFi’s overwhelming popularity as the preferred networking technology. As wired-only products typically consume more power, you’ll also find that the available products are generally larger and more difficult to hide than their wireless cousins. Still, if reliable networking and power-hungry usage are important to you, hard-wired smart home products are the way to go.
Wireless for Flexibility
On the flip side, WiFi and battery-powered smart home products are growing more popular by the month largely because of the extreme flexibility these technologies can provide.
Connecting devices to the internet via WiFi can be significantly more convenient than having to hunt for a free ethernet port, and this “connect anywhere” freedom makes products like smart thermostats and small motion and temperature sensors possible in scenarios where hard-wiring just wouldn’t make sense. As WiFi and Bluetooth products get faster every year, they’re also making tremendous headway in longevity, thanks to better battery technology and more efficient wireless radios. You can pull off some truly innovative home automation with just a handful of wireless sensors, light bulbs, and a good wireless router. The experience is further improved if you add a hub that enables you to manage and control your many smart home devices from anywhere—which your local internet service provider may offer.
As popular as WiFi products have become, they’re still not without their quirks and drawbacks. WiFi-enabled smart cameras, for instance, can be problematic if they’re positioned too far from your wireless router or in an area that’s prone to network interference. Nothing’s more frustrating than a security camera losing its feed right when it’s recording some important activity. That’s why it’s vital to make sure you have a strong network connection for wireless security devices—and it’s best to have professionals come in and help install them.
Battery-powered gadgets can also be challenging if you don’t have a plan to charge them on a regular basis. Their batteries can last as long as a year, but if you use a sensor or a camera in a high-traffic area, you may find that the batteries drain faster.
Whichever technology you choose, do some research online and buy from a trusted brand when you’re ready to jump in with both feet. Whether you go wired, wireless, or a mix of both worlds, you’ll find that your “smarter” home will be a more welcoming, convenient and comfortable place to live.
Eric Murrell is a software developer and technology contributor to Xfinity Home. He enjoys sharing tips on how people can benefit from incorporating smart home automation and security in their homes on his blog At Home in the Future.