Home Automation Internet Gateway Bandwidth Requirements

When turning your residence into an automated 21st Century digital smart home, do you need to worry about using too much Internet bandwidth? If every light, door lock, refrigerator, and window shade in your house is part of a home automation setup, will your data allowance get used up in a matter of days? Thankfully, the truth isn’t dire; in fact, you’ll probably need to worry more about securing your home network instead of your bandwidth usage.

Still, it is a good idea to understand how a home automation system uses the Internet.

Home Automation Internet Gateway

Most Internet of Things Appliances Use Minimal Bandwidth

In a typical home automation setup, a hub, or home automation Internet gateway, connects to your wireless router — Apple’s HomeKit being one notable exception. Any automated devices communicate directly with this hub. You typically use an app — either on your smartphone, tablet, or in a web browser — to control any device connected to the hub. A minimal amount of data gets sent back and forth usually involving commands sent to the device and status information coming back to the controller app.

One aspect of many home automation systems that consumes a relatively large portion of bandwidth is video. If you use video cameras to provide a measure of security in your HA setup, expect each camera to use a decent chunk of data. You are able to mitigate this somewhat by limiting the video quality; in most cases you won’t need HD-level video for a camera to play its role keeping an eye on your home and surroundings.

Make sure to read your video camera manual closely. If black and white video is an option, this also provides significant savings in data usage and retention.

A High-End Router Can Optimizes Your Home Automation Internet Gateway

Consider spending extra on a high-end router to complement your home automation setup. Even if you aren’t using many video cameras in your system, the best routers give you an extra level of control by allowing you to optimize the signal sent to the hub used in your HA installation, leading to better overall performance. You’ll also gain an extra measure of security to ensure hackers don’t use your web-enabled refrigerator as an email server!

As with any piece of emerging technology, it helps to research the variety of vendors and systems in the nascent home automation sector. Additionally, run an Internet speed test if you plan on making an array of video cameras part of your setup. As noted earlier, while most Internet of Things appliances use minimal bandwidth, cameras are the exception.

HBO Now Broadband Considerations

These days more and more consumers are willing to forego their satellite and cable TV subscriptions in favor on building their own a la carte service using on demand video streaming devices like the Roku, Chromecast, or Apple TV. HBO is helping matters by creating their own standalone service under the moniker of HBO Now. If you are considering a similar cord-cutting move, you’ll need to make sure your resident Internet service is able to properly handle video streaming.

With high quality video streaming in mind, let’s take a closer look at HBO Now and its potential effect on your Internet bandwidth.

HBO Now Broadband

HBO Now Exclusive to Apple – For Now

When HBO Now first launched in April, the company gave Apple an exclusive on the service for three months. The app has been wildly successful at the iTunes App Store, topping the revenue charts for the month of May. Consumers are able to download the app for free, but a subscription comes with a monthly fee of $14.99, which provides access to HBO’s library of movies and original content — everything from the Sopranos to Game of Thrones.

With Apple’s HBO Now exclusive about the end, the service will become available on the Google Play Store, Chromecast, and other devices. If you are interested in finding out when you can get HBO Now for your device, submit your email address to HBO at their Now page. HBO also offers an introductory free trial so you can see if the on demand video service warrants spending a monthly fee.

What About HBO Now Broadband Capabilities?

When streaming HQ video over the Internet, a speed of 5 Mbps is a good benchmark to ensure a quality experience without extra buffering or stuttering video. Always perform regular speed tests to make sure your ISP offers enough bandwidth for your streaming needs.

While 5 Mbps works well as a baseline Internet service, if multiple people share the Internet service at your residence, more bandwidth is necessary to ensure everyone enjoys rich media streaming with minimal issues. Video streaming and online gaming tend to use the most bandwidth. Check out these four tips to improve the Internet performance at your house.

Once you get HBO Now, and sufficient bandwidth to handle it, you’ll easily be able to check in on the latest doings in Westeros either at home or on the road.

Run an Android Speed Test on your Tablet and Phone

When you’re on the go and unable to connect to your home’s wireless network, your Internet speed is important. Sometimes trying to find network access when traveling can be a hassle, especially when service providers suffering from limited bandwidth are your only option. Owners of Android devices need to know how to run an Android speed test on their mobile devices to ensure all web-based activity performs properly when away from home.

With that in mind, here are some tips on how to run a top notch, state of the art HTML5 speed test on your Android mobile devices.

Android Speed Test for tablets and smartpones

Avoid Mobile Speed Tests Using Flash

While the Android platform does provide minimal support for Flash, it tends to be slow and buggy — not surprising for an essentially obsolete technology. The difficulty in getting the Flash plug-in to even run properly in a bandwidth-challenged environment makes the whole process not worth the effort for most scenarios. Trying to find and download an app for testing Internet speeds also takes too much work.

The sheer computing power of high-end Android smartphones and tablets, like the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Google’s own Nexus 9, means these devices are able to consume copious amounts of bandwidth. This enables users to cleanly stream videos and music as well as online gaming action away from home. In a nutshell your Internet speed needs to be up to snuff and ancient Flash-based speed tests aren’t the best choice for a piece of leading-edge technology.

Try HTML5 Speed Tests for Mobile Devices

When performing an Internet speed test on your Android device — tablet or smartphone — a test using HTML5 remains the best option. As mentioned earlier, using a web-based Flash option may or may not work on your Android smartphone, and definitely won’t work on an iPhone. The newer HTML5 technology doesn’t require a separate plug-in to work, plus you won’t need to find a speed test app in the Google Play store.

After running a HTML5 speed test, be sure to do a quick screen capture which saves your test result. This makes it easy to reference when searching for the fastest ISP during future travels. At home, these saved results can help in terms of refunds from your Internet provider if they aren’t delivering the promised bandwidth.

The bottom line is simple. When performing an Android speed test — either traveling or at home — a HTML5 test remains your best option.

Net Neutrality Pros and Cons Based on the Latest FCC Ruling

The recent FCC ruling in favor of the concept of Net Neutrality remains controversial. Some feel it insures a level playing field for those new companies looking to innovate in Internet-related industries, while others disagree, saying it will stifle the larger companies’ investment in improving their network infrastructure. But how does the ruling affect the individual consumer of Internet services?

If you are interested in learning more about the basics of Net Neutrality, check out this quick primer. And then read on to examine Net Neutrality pros and cons and how the FCC’s ruling might impact your daily Internet life.

FCC ruling on Net Neutrality

Better Internet Access in Rural Areas

According to the FCC’s Net Neutrality ruling the Internet is now classified as a public utility so it is reasonable to expect improved Internet access in rural regions. This one of the reasons the FCC raised the minimum data download rate to 25 Mbps in order to be considered a “high speed” connections. This new FCC standard was actually issued just before the Commission’s Net Neutrality ruling, but the two are definitely related.

If you are stuck in an area where satellite Internet service — along with its throttled data — is your only option, expect wireless and fiber optic providers to soon serve your location. In fact, Frontier Communications recently accepted $283 million from the FCC to expand their service in rural regions, despite complaining about the ruling when it was first issued.

Data Throttling Not Allowed

Internet service providers are no longer allowed to throttle or slow your data if you regularly enjoy streaming video or other rich media content on demand. The FCC ruling explicitly forbids slowing data access from specific websites.  ISPs are also unable to create a tiered system where they charge content providers like Netflix or HBO a higher price for access to an “Internet fast lane.” Of course, the expectation is those higher prices would have been passed on to the individual consumer.

Will a Better Regulated and Transparent Fee Structure Lead to Lower Prices?

One of the reasons the FCC preempted their Net Neutrality decision with a new definition of high speed Internet service was because of the ruling’s new requirements for the regulation of Internet fees. No longer can an ISP sell you a 5 Mbps service and call it broadband. The FCC hopes the added transparency leads to lower prices or at least a more informed consumer.

As with any technical issue, once the politicians become involved, the truth sometimes gets lost. Continue to pay attention to Net Neutrality in the news to see if these promised benefits become reality.

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.