Can Man Survive on Free WiFi Alone?

In the spirit of celebrating our nation’s independence this weekend, let’s consider the possibility of breaking free from our ISP and smartphone plans.  Is it possible to get by on free WiFi alone these days?  With the plethora of restaurants, coffee shops, retail establishments, libraries and more offering free WiFi it’s definitely worth considering.

Free WiFi everywhere

While the final answer ultimately depends on your level of Internet usage, many casual users who rarely go beyond simple email and social network activity may be able to forego paying for Internet service at home or a smartphone’s usual data plan requirement.

Here is some analysis to see if free WiFi is the only Internet access you’ll ever need.

Public WiFi Security Risks

First off, forget about eCommerce and online banking with a free WiFi service.  If you enjoy online shopping and banking, you are probably aware it is never a good idea to engage in these activities on any public WiFi network. The risk for hacking and other nefarious activity is simply too great. The WiFi services typically offered in public areas tend to attract cyber criminals looking for an easy mark.

You should only access your private financial and health data using your own Internet service at home or from your wireless data account when on the go. This is arguably the main reason most Internet users would be unable to survive using only public free WiFi services.

Video and Music Streaming Using Publicly Available WiFi

If you only use the Internet for email and the occasional streaming of music or video, a public WiFi service can do the trick, provided there is enough bandwidth to handle your content without hiccups. Perform a quick speed test to see if the service provides the right amount of horsepower for your viewing needs. Around 5 Mbps is good for HD video, but you can get by with a slower service if you aren’t picky about your video quality.  Additionally, you won’t have to worry about exceeding the data allowance of your wireless carrier.

Arguably, however, music and video streaming is simply a better experience from the comfort of your home and a well-appointed stereo system. And visiting an establishment offering Internet access during inclement weather can be a hassle.  The choice on this matter comes down to a matter of preference and convenience.

Ultimately, only the most casual Internet users would be able to reasonably survive on free WiFi. Most of what makes the Internet great — eCommerce and streaming rich media being two items — either lack security or enough bandwidth to make it worth your while. If your Internet usage only consists of email and an occasional Facebook session, by all means, break free and celebrate your personal independence day!

Can Apple HomeKit Make Your Residence a Smart Home?

With the Internet of Things making home automation a reality for many gadget gurus, there’s little surprise that Apple is getting in the game with their own HA platform. HomeKit promises to easily turn your house into a 21st Century smart home with Siri giving you a hand controlling your abode’s lighting, thermostats and more.  But questions remain.

Apple HomeKit Smart Home

If you are interested in home automation at your house or apartment, does Apple HomeKit make sense? And does it try to hog all your valuable Internet bandwidth? Let’s take a closer look at the answers to these and other questions.

Apple HomeKit Up and Close

HomeKit was first announced as part of iOS 8 way back in 2014 at the Worldwide Developers Conference. Apple introduced a HomeKit certification program for hardware manufacturers last November, and now we are seeing the first lights and other devices from companies like Lutron, Philips, and Honeywell become available. Expect more to join the fray if HomeKit becomes a success.

Not surprisingly, HomeKit requires an iOS device to operate. If you want to control your system from outside your WiFi network, you also need an Apple TV unit, but that requirement goes away with new Cloud-based functionality included in iOS 9. You are also able to control your HomeKit system with an Apple Watch. It is reasonable to expect that Android users will be out of luck concerning HomeKit, unlike Apple Music which will eventually support Google’s mobile operating system.

HomeKit also offers the concept of “scenes,” which lets you perform multiple actions with one command. If you want to turn off your home’s lights, lock your doors, and lower your thermostat when going to bed, a scene lets you easily do it all at once.  But how well does HomeKit actually function?

Early Reviews Reveal HomeKit Needs More Work

An early HomeKit review in the Wall Street Journal expressed frustration with Siri’s apparent inability to properly understand HomeKit commands. The reviewer also felt that Apple’s lack of an app to control a HomeKit system hampered the platform’s overall utility. Users have to rely on apps from the third-party manufacturers to make HomeKit run.

It is surprising Apple doesn’t yet provide its own HomeKit app to manage an entire system. This essentially requires outside device makers to provide control over their competitors’ products. Looking forward, however, it appears Apple will fix most of these issues once iOS 9 becomes available later this summer.

HomeKit Impact on Bandwidth

Fortunately, bandwidth considerations for HomeKit or any other home automation system are minimal.  Video cameras would use the most bandwidth, so perform an Internet speed test to verify your HA system seamlessly handles video without any hiccups.

Apple’s entry into the home automation industry does offer some hope the technology will enter the mainstream, but Cupertino still has a bit of work to do to make HomeKit a compelling choice for the 21st Century homeowner.

Streaming Movies with MGO

Streaming movies over the Internet continues to be a growing technology trend in the world of digital entertainment. MGO, or M-GO, is another Internet video on demand service offering a full range of recent movies and TV shows for your streaming pleasure. The service’s major industry competition includes the standard list of names: Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc.

Formed in 2013, M-GO offers customers a free subscription, but renting individual shows and movies costs a nominal fee. The service is available on many smart TVs and streaming devices like the Roku and Chromecast.

Streaming movies with M-GO

M-GO Focuses on First Run Movies Before the Competition

One of M-GO’s biggest advantages over the competition involves its deals with a variety of Hollywood studios allowing you to stream movies as soon as they are released on DVD or Blu-Ray. Streaming current TV shows soon after their network air date is another possibility.

As a subscriber you are allowed to rent movies for a 24-hour period; expect to pay a fee between $4 and $6 per movie. TV shows, on the other hand, can only be purchased. The typical price for a whole season ranges from $10 to $40, while individual episodes can be bought for $2 to $3. SD-quality content is slightly less expensive than the HD equivalent.

M-GO’s content prices are comparable to other streaming video services with free subscriptions. Netflix allows free streaming for one nominal fee per month, but that service’s library of content changes on an almost weekly basis. Amazon Prime also offers a host of other benefits, including free two-day shipping, with its service.

MGO Keeps your Bandwidth Burning

Since the M-GO subscription costs nothing, consider it another worthy option for streaming movies or TV shows if you can’t find a certain program or Hollywood blockbuster on one of the other VOD services. As mentioned earlier, the company’s connections in the movie industry sometimes gives it access to the latest films before the other services.

Of course with any video streaming service, make sure your home Internet service is up to snuff. Always perform regular speed tests to ensure your ISP provides sufficient bandwidth to seamlessly stream movies in HD. With all this in mind, M-GO might become your best bet for the latest in digital entertainment.

Apple Music — Bandwidth Considerations for Streaming Music

Apple’s recent Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) garnered a lot of press for its announcement of Apple Music, Cupertino’s attempt to gain a share of the Internet music streaming market currently dominated by companies like Spotify and Pandora. Apple brings some heavy hitters from the music industry to the fray, including Dr. Dre and Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor.

Still, most Internet users don’t care so much about music playlists curated by celebrities; they want to know whether or not their Internet service offers the bandwidth to stream high quality music with no buffering or stuttering. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at Apple Music to see if it makes sense for your Internet music experience.

Streaming Apple Music

Details on Apple Music Streaming Service

Using an app only compatible with the iOS platform — for now — Apple Music offers a music streaming service with a variety of features Cupertino hopes distinguish its product from Spotify and Pandora. These include the previously mentioned curated playlists, Siri voice control, and the Beats Connect platform which lets musical artists share blog posts and other content with their fans.

The Apple music streaming service costs users $9.99 per month, after an initial three-month free trial period. Families are able to get everyone in on the streaming action for one monthly fee of $14.99. Apple Music’s Beats 1 radio station is always free.

Apple Music is expected to be available to all current iTunes users by the end of June. Apple TV owners won’t see the service on those devices until sometime this summer. Android fans need to wait until later this year before the app arrives at the Google Play store.

Will You Need More Bandwidth for Apple Music?

Fortunately, music streaming services don’t require the massive amounts of bandwidth as with video streaming. Most Internet accounts, even as low as 1 Mbps,  are able to stream music with little problem. Since Apple Music also offers other content on Beats Connect, you’ll need to pay attention when streaming videos or other rich media formats.

As always, make sure to perform regular speed tests to see if you are getting all the bandwidth promised by your ISP. Remember that an HTML 5 speed test works best on the mobile devices — smartphones and tablets — on which most folks do the bulk of their music streaming.

Whether Apple Music is able to make a dent in Pandora’s market share remains to be seen, but there is no denying that Cupertino is taking music streaming very seriously.

UTM for Home Users:  Protect your Network from Hackers

With the Internet of Things and home automation entering the consumer electronics mainstream, hackers now see the home network as a new target for their nefarious activity. Recently, the news reported a story of someone’s smart refrigerator getting hacked and sending spam emails all over the world. While probably an isolated incident, it still emphasizes the need for everyone to take the steps to protect their network, especially after installing a home automation system.

UTM for home users

Because of this growing need, a company from the enterprise networking equipment market recently released a version of their Universal Threat Management (UTM) product aimed squarely at today’s smart home. If you are interested in protecting your wireless network — and appliances — from cyber criminals read on.

A Closer Look at the ZyXEL USG40HE

ZyXEL is a well known company in the enterprise network security space. Their USG40HE is a UTM device suitable for any robust home network and comes optimized for a Home Automation setup. Consider the USG40HE to be a firewall on steroids, with a host of other functionality typical of something normally seen in a business’s server room.

This UTM for home users offers high-end intrusion detection and prevention functionality able to secure your network and devices against malware and other web-delivered malicious content. Embedded application intelligence prioritizes content you deem important while blocking or restricting those hogging your valuable bandwidth. Additionally, you are also able to filter any web content you don’t want your kids seeing.

Extra anti-spam and anti-virus functionality is available for an additional cost, and here’s hoping these features become standard after the home UTM market matures. Since this is a device with more complexity compared to a typical firewall included with a router, buyers receive a free 30 minute concierge phone call to make sure everything is configured properly.

A High-end Firewall to Secure a High-end Home Network

If you enjoy tinkering with computers and your network, managing the USG40HE definitely won’t be too difficult, but novice users should study all included documentation. ZyXEL also offers support and an online knowledge base if necessary. Remember, this UTM for home users is essentially an enterprise-level firewall, so some additional study is required to get the most out of the unit.

As the Internet of Things becomes more popular, expect additional high-end network security devices like the USG40HE to be commonplace. If your home network warrants the best possible security, this is a product worthy of your further exploration.

Have You Tried a Google Hangout?

If you are looking for a modern communication platform suitable for video, text messaging, and more, you might want to check out Google Hangouts. While it can be considered a competitor to Microsoft’s Skype video chat service, Hangouts features many extras including natural integration with the popular Android mobile operating system.  In fact, you probably already have the Hangouts app lurking amongst your Android smartphone’s app library and it could be worthy of further exploration.

Google Hangout app

Google Hangouts Basic Features

Hangouts offers many different ways for you to communicate over the Internet — Voice calls, VOIP, text messaging, SMS — all possible using your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Group video calls are another option, which can be useful in a business meeting scenario, or to let your family get together online for a quick chat.

Google makes it easy for you to share photos and videos as part of the conversation. Even adding emoji to the discussion is possible, (but might not be appropriate for every online business meeting.) The cool thing about each individual Google Hangout is that they never have to end; you can start one on your smartphone and continue the discussion on another device.

In addition to the Android app on the Google Play store, iPhone and iPad users can also join in the fun with the iOS app available at the iTunes app store. One caveat for desktop users is Hangouts requires an extension only available for Google’s Chrome web browser. Once the extension is installed, you can access the service using either Gmail or Google+.

Another feature of Hangouts is its ability to let you “call” another person’s smartphone or even their landline. Calls to the U.S. and Canada are free, and international calls require Google credits unless the called party is another Hangouts user. These landline calls require a separate Hangouts Dialer app.

Make Sure you have Enough Bandwidth for Online Video Chat

Of course, video chatting using a Google Hangout takes a notable amount of Internet bandwidth, so make sure you perform a regular HTML5 speed test on your smartphone to be sure your Internet service can handle it. If your ISP isn’t keeping up their end of the bargain, by all means let them know.

Google Hangouts is definitely a 21st Century way to communicate with friends, family, and business associates. The massive popularity of Android gives Hangouts a better shot at sustained success compared to Google+ so if you wanted to try it out it appears Google Hangouts will be hanging out for quite a while.

Three Tips on How to Boost WiFi Signal Strength at Your Home

With more and more consumers streaming movies, playing online games, and taking part in other bandwidth intensive activities at home, additional demands are being placed on the venerable wireless router. Often there are multiple persons and devices simultaneously consuming data from your Internet service at your residence.  Whatever the reason, learning how to boost wifi signal strength at your home is a must to ensure everyone gets the most out of their online experience.

With that in mind, here are a few tips for optimizing your home’s WiFi signal.

Home WiFi Boost

Invest in a Better Router

Ultimately, making an investment in a high-end wireless router offers you the most bang for the buck when it comes to improving your WiFi signal. We’ve talked about dual band routers in the past here at Bandwidth Place if you are interested in learning more about the subject, but the bottom line remains: dual band routers work better in scenarios where multiple people are using your Internet service at the same time.

Additionally, routers that support advanced features like beamforming are able to boost the WiFi signal for certain devices on your home network. It is a good idea to use beamforming on any device consuming a copious amount of bandwidth, like Blu-Ray players, HD TVs, and advanced video game systems.

Centralize the Placement of your Router

Be sure to place your wireless router somewhere in the middle of the devices typically accessing it. If your router resides in one side of your house, the signal will obviously be weaker for those devices farthest from its location. If necessary, talk to your ISP to see if placing your modem — whether coax, fiber, or DSL — in a central location to facilitate an optimal router placement is possible.

Watch Out for Any Signal Interference

Certain appliances, most notably microwaves, interfere with your router’s signal. So make sure you place the router where a microwave won’t hamper your WiFi. Additionally, try to keep any walls between your router and your streaming devices to a minimum.

Finally, making the effort to optimize your WiFi signal goes for naught if your Internet service suffers from inadequate bandwidth. Be sure to perform speed tests on a regular basis to ensure you are getting bandwidth you paid for and deserve.

What is the Internet of Things Market?

Yet another technology buzzword phrase, the “Internet of Things” or IoT is getting a lot of publicity. In short, the IoT describes a cornucopia of devices — including doors, lighting, locks, appliances, cameras and more — that can be accessed and controlled wirelessly using a smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer. Homeowners are now leveraging the Internet of Things to add home automation or home security systems to their house or apartment.

Does this latest tech innovation interest you? Will you have to worry about the IoT hogging your home Internet bandwidth? Let’s take a closer look.

What is the Internet of Things

Home Automation Using the Internet of Things

A home automation system is one obvious way you can leverage the Internet of Things at your residence. SmartThings continues to garner popularity for their DIY home automation product line; in fact, the company was recently acquired by Samsung. SmartThings features an open architecture compatible with devices from third-party manufacturers as well as their own.

The typical SmartThings setup includes an array of devices running the gamut from lights to water detection monitors to video cameras. Everything connects wirelessly to a hub which attaches to your home router using an Ethernet cable. You are able to control your system using a mobile app available for the iOS and Android platforms or with your web browser.

Home automation systems generally allow you to turn devices on and off, monitor video cameras, control locks, or even receive alerts on your smartphone when a certain event happens like a door or window break-in, or if the system detects water in your basement. Many traditional security companies like Honeywell or even AT&T’s Digital Life provide 24/7 monitoring on their home automation systems for an extra monthly fee.

What about Cyber Security and Bandwidth Considerations?

So you might wonder if adding a home automation system to your residence just gives hackers another way to disrupt your life? You need to make sure you use a strong password on your router and change it regularly — whether or not a home automation setup is part of your network. Companies in this sector are definitely focused on making their systems and individual devices more secure.

Bandwidth remains relatively unaffected when using the Internet of Things at your home. Constantly monitoring any video cameras on your system uses the most bandwidth. So consider that if you plan on setting up a kitten cam at your home.

The Internet of Things is yet another technology innovation making your life a little bit easier. If you enjoy tinkering around with the latest tech toys, consider setting up a home automation system at your home. The Clapper is officially obsolete.

3 Travel Tips for Getting Internet Access

Even when you are on the go — either traveling for work or on vacation — staying connected to the Internet is vital. It can be hard to stay on top of your personal and professional life without good Internet access when away from home. Smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers make it easy to enjoy a digital life in a remote location, provided you can get online!

With that in mind, here are a few tips for getting Internet access when traveling — either domestically or internationally.

Travel tips for Internet access

Keep on the Lookout for WiFi Hotspots

WiFi hotspots are always a good bet for Internet access while traveling. Bookstores, fast food restaurants, and coffee shops are known for providing free Internet for their customers. Return the courtesy by purchasing something from the place providing you online access.

Additionally, it is never a good idea to access certain private information like your bank or credit card’s website when accessing the Internet using a WiFi hotspot in a public location. Stay smart!

Consider a Prepaid Internet Access Card

Prepaid Internet access cards are another good option for getting Internet access when traveling internationally. Foreigners visiting the United States also are able to leverage this option. Most major American wireless carriers offer them, including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.

These cards work in similar fashion as prepaid phone cards. You pay a nominal fee for a certain number of hours of Internet access. Adding additional Internet time is also an easy process. Remember that no contract is necessary when using prepaid cards.

Watch your Bandwidth Considerations

Don’t expect to stream 4K HD video to your tablet computer when accessing the Internet on the road. WiFi hotspots, hotel Internet service, and even using a prepaid card from a major wireless carrier probably won’t provide the same level of bandwidth as your home Internet service. Make sure to perform regular HTML5 bandwidth tests to verify your current Internet speed before attempting to stream any media content, especially video.

Traveling doesn’t mean you have to forego Internet access. A variety of options exist to keep you connected when on the go. Just be careful when accessing any public WiFi hotspot and check out whether or not a prepaid Internet access card is your best choice depending on your ultimate destination.

Five Tips to Improve Mobile Internet Speed

Chances are good that a decent percentage of your Internet activity happens on your smartphone or tablet, either at your house, at the office, or while on vacation. Even when away from your home network, it remains vital to keep an eye on your Internet speed. The major wireless carriers constantly trumpet the quality of their networks, and it is important to hold them to their promises.

Performing a regular mobile Internet speed test needs to be part of your schedule along with testing the bandwidth at home. With that in mind, here are five quick tips to improve your mobile Internet speed.

mobile Internet speed test

Leverage an HTML5 Mobile Internet Speed Test on your Device

When testing your Internet speed on a mobile device, Flash-based speed tests aren’t the way to go. They won’t run at all on an iOS device, so your iPhone and iPad are out, and Flash still runs sluggishly on Android, possibly skewing your results. When using a browser-based speed test on a smartphone, HTML5 remains your best option.

Off Peak Hours are better for Heavy Internet Activity

If you are planning on downloading any large files or app updates, perform them during off peak hours, as wireless carriers’ networks are typically less crowded at this time. Avoid doing this activity during the day.

Use a Mobile Ad Blocker

Advertising on websites takes up a significant amount of bandwidth. A variety of ad blocker apps exist for the iOS and Android platforms. Installing one on your smartphone can greatly reduce the amount of data downloaded on a daily basis, which speeds up accessing the content you actually want to see.

Don’t leave too Many Apps Running in Memory

While it doesn’t necessarily relate to raw Internet speed, having too many apps running uses up your mobile device’s internal memory causing overall performance to suffer. So it seems like your Internet service is slow when your smartphone is the actual problem. Be sure to regularly “force quit” apps (or periodically restart your device) to keep everything running smoothly.

Your Case Could Hamper your Mobile Signal?

In some cases, your smartphone case may actually interfere with your device’s antenna. Run two speed tests with the case on and off and see if the test results vary. If you don’t want to give up your stylish case, consider one of the many apps on iOS and Android that help find the best mobile and WiFi signals in your location.

Ultimately, your smartest strategy to improve your mobile Internet speed is to regularly test your bandwidth while keeping track of the test results. Pay attention to any environmental factors at home or on the road that could hamper signal quality. Make sure you get the bandwidth you deserve!