Smart home getting dumber

So, a few years ago I was smartening up my house, and one of the things I bought was a hub to connect the different devices. I bought a Wink hub. So like all Wink owners, I got an email this week that says their going to a subscription based service, and I have one week to subscribe at $4.99/month or it goes dark and loses all functionality. First, fuck those assholes. Secondly, looks like I’ll have to go back to turning my lights off and on the old fashioned way, at the switch. At least for a while. Finally, fuck those asshole.

I know there are other alternatives…anyone have any experience?

I’m partial to flipping the switches. I’m pretty sure nobody has figured out how to hack those yet.

We use lifx bulbs (mostly just in lamps), echo dots, and harmony remote. Also sonos (first generation).

Works for us.

I am also getting burned by this. Fortunately, only my smart locks relied on Wink for Internet connectivity.

To be fair, charging a $5/month fee is not unreasonable. They do incur costs for their server infrastructure, R&D, etc., and offering indefinite free cloud connectivity isn’t really sustainable if you want to keep the lights on indefinitely (unless you’re one of the big dogs - Google/Nest, Amazon, Apple, Samsung/SmartThings, etc.). But essentially bricking users’ hubs if they don’t pay is bullshit, and giving people like 2-3 weeks notice is complete and utter bullshit. If any of my other smart devices’ manufacturers shut down tomorrow, those devices would at least continue to function offline (e.g. my Nest thermostats would still control my HVAC). There were a number of things Wink could have done - release their server code and allow users to self-host; allow offline/local network functionality to keep working; allow cloud status monitoring but make users pay for ability to control - to make this a lot more palatable, albeit still annoying.

I thought about paying the ransom for at least a little while, but I bought a SmartThings hub instead.

This is where I’m at too. It’s not that it’s a $5/month subscription, it’s that it was advertised as “NO MONTHLY SUBSCRIPTION”, then literally sent an email on May 13th that said they were cutting you off on May 20th. They’ve postposed it a week, so that’s two whole weeks. Yay.

This is like buying a car and being told once you leave the lot, it’s yours…just put gas in it, and it’ll go. Then 6 months later, Ford or Chevy coming back and saying “if you don’t pay us $100/month, we’re going to lock up your engine so it won’t run any more.” This the dictionary definition of “extortion”. So I’m not paying it.

All my lights have switches, and my smart thermostat and such will still work. I just won’t be able to control them all remotely or using Alexa, which was the entire point of getting smart stuff and the hub. I get that it was either charge people or go out of business, and the latter may ultimately be the fate anyway. But they could have at least maintained the local functionality, even if they dropped the cloud connectivity. And they could have done what others did and given me more than a fucking week’s notice.

If your smart home stuff uses Z-Wave or Zigbee, you should be able to use a SmartThings hub to control them. You’ll have to re-pair everything to the new hub, which will obviously be a pain in the ass, but you should have roughly the same functionality as you did before. The v3 SmartThings hub is going for about $60 on Amazon. I’ve got mine set up but haven’t moved the locks over yet.

There are other Z-Wave/Zigbee hubs out there, but they may cost more or require more work to set up.

This is a cautionary tale of putting too many eggs in one smart home basket. I’ve intentionally kept most of my smart home ecosystems isolated from each other when it comes to basic functionality. Many of them natively integrate with the voice assistants (Alexa, Siri) anyway, and on the rare occasion that I need two disparate ecosystems to talk to each other I can usually accomplish it via IFTTT. This is also why I’ve been extremely careful to not buy anything that relies solely on the cloud by design, like Nest cameras.

When I was a kid I had to walk five miles a day to school in the snow…

…just to unlock the door.

I had a very wealthy uncle, who made his fortune in the live event filming business, beginning back in the 50s. He had contracts with the NFL, college football teams, and other sporting events, and a big one was horse racing. He was even official film photographer for Churchill Downs at one point. At any rate, he and my aunt used to host a big family Christmas party every year, and one year he had to leave abruptly to get on a plane to fly to a racetrack somewhere. When asked, he “said well, my guys were in charge of shutting down the racetrack, and somehow things got screwed up and everyone left for the holiday.” When asked for clarification, he said “some dumb ass left the lights on, and I have to go turn them off.”

The only smart device that I really wanted to be functional is my garage door control. There are times I actually need to access it remotely. Either someone forgot to take their key, or I am out of town and need to let someone in for an emergency.

I am not paying $5 / month.

You forgot your key? I will be home in a couple of days. You won’t ever forget again.

Anyone have suggestions on ways to boost wifi performance in your home? Have heard read pretty meh reviews of extenders. Is a new router the key?

I have an extender that works great. Let’s me get warp speed outside in the back patio. I do not recommend a mesh system. They pretty much suck donkey.

BTW, Wink has apparently reversed course. Too late. Got my locks set up on SmartThings yesterday.

Yeah, I got that email yesterday. I assume they’re just extending the time. I’ll ride it till it end, and in the mean time, consider another solution.

A new router may not help. The right answer for you is going to depend a lot on the layout and construction of your home, how much work you want to put in, and your budget. It’s also important to understand how wifi works. Wifi is half-duplex, meaning that it can only send or receive (not both) to one device at a time; wired Ethernet, however, is full-duplex. The importance of that will become evident later. The short answer is that there are a lot of ways to improve wifi coverage/speed/reliability, but each has its pros and cons.

Installing additional access points with wired backhauls - and powered via Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) instead of 120VAC - to your main router is ALWAYS going to be the best solution in terms of reliability and performance. If you have a single story home and/or sufficient attic access, you can get this done in half a Saturday, and Cat6 is cheap. However, this obviously requires the most work, and since the APs will likely be on different channels you will not have completely seamless handoffs from one AP to the next as you walk through your house.

Repeaters or range extenders are like access points, just with wireless backhauls. These can work in the right situations, e.g. you have a dead spot in one part of the house, or like HH’s porch. You wouldn’t want to push a ton of traffic through it, though - the half-duplex connection back to the router can become overburdened. And you certainly wouldn’t want to connect an extender to another extender.

Mesh systems are like range extenders on steroids, and are priced accordingly. The nodes are designed to be small and relatively discreet so they can be placed almost anywhere, and these can work well in the right situations and if the base station and nodes are placed correctly. For instance, my parents’ two-story house is an odd configuration and the Internet connection is on the far end of the house. A mesh system - with one node downstairs and one up, each connected to the base - worked great for them. I’ve seen some mesh systems are now including a third wifi radio dedicated to backhaul communication, which is a neat way to mitigate (but not solve) the half-duplex problem. Mesh systems also typically operate on a single wifi channel, so your phone/tablet/computer will maintain its connection better as you move about the house.

Another easy solution is to use a powerline Ethernet adapter to get Ethernet where you need it, then connect an AP. Powerline adapters transmit Ethernet over your home’s electrical wiring. If you want the benefits of a wired AP without sweating your ass off in the attic, it’s not a terrible solution. You’ll take a big hit on throughput - powerline Ethernet can only do 50-100mbps, vs. 100-250mbps for a mesh/extender and 1000mbps for wired Ethernet) - but it would be fast enough for Netflix and such.

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When I started working from home a couple of months ago, this is pretty much what my office’s IT guy recommended. On his recommendation, I bought a TP-Link AV600 Powerline WiFi Extender (TL-WPA4220 KIT) and it’s been working well enough so far for basic internet and VOIP use. And it was the easiest time I’ve ever had with installing network equipment. Once I got everything plugged in, it was literally as simple as pressing a button on the box on one side of the house and then a couple of buttons on the box on the other side of the house and then waiting two minutes. That was it. Never saw any kind of configuration screen.

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Powerline adapters are great for minimum effort or when you can’t or don’t want to do anything semi-permanent. Just gotta understand what you’re getting and manage expectations.

If you have an older house with cable taps, MoCA (ethernet over coax cables) is nice too (and it’s built into TiVO, if you have one of those).

It’s expensive for what it is, but it’s full-duplex. Version 1.0 tops out at 222 Mbps (For reference, streaming 1080p takes 5-12Mbps). My wife was having issues with web conferences on the wifi. We added MoCA to her home office and the problems went away instantly.

I just upgraded to version 2.0 (1 Gbps), so if anyone wants my to buy my 1.0 adapters, PM me. I’ve got 3.

Ha! That’s entirely accurate and met my requirements exactly!

Good point. Forgot about MoCA.