Do you manage your smart home technology or does it manage you?

How do you know if you have the bandwidth in your home to handle more smart home tech gadgets?

Schless: Many ISPs have apps that help you understand how much data and bandwidth your connected devices are using. Providers will also note the number of devices each of their plans can support.

McKinley: Depending on how many smart home technology devices you have in your home and what kind of techie you are, you may have different needs. A rule of thumb is that if you’re a casual user (you use a streaming service to watch TV, have a smart device or two, etc.), you should aim for around 20-50 Mbps. [megabits per second] speeds. If you have multiple TVs streaming 4k at the same time, various smart home devices, and a gamer or two around the house, you should aim for speeds of 100Mbps or more. Remember that just because you have speed doesn’t mean you have cover. You should make sure to perform a speed test from different points in your home to determine your coverage.

If coverage is poor in areas where you want to install a device, you may consider:

· Centralization of your router. You can pay for great speeds entering your home, but if your router is in a decentralized corner of your home, you’re severely limiting its coverage. Wi-Fi signals don’t pass through dense objects like concrete, metal, and wood well. The more walls your signal has to pass through, the more strength it loses. Simply moving the router to another location can solve many signal strength and coverage issues.

· Upgrade your router to a mesh system. Mesh routers offer a great option for extending your coverage for those with large gaps where their Wi-Fi signal simply won’t reach. They deliver consistent speed as they work together to extend your coverage.

· Upgrade to a Wi-Fi 6 router. Wi-Fi 6 is a relatively new technology that is faster and can handle more devices (or streams) simultaneously. That gives it an advantage, but it’s a single router, so it needs to be centralized in your home to be effective. If you have a central location in your home where you can move your router, a Wi-Fi 6 upgrade may be the best choice for you due to its ability to process multiple instructions simultaneously.

When you add devices, are you more vulnerable to someone getting your personal information?

Schless: More devices inevitably means more places where some of your personal data is stored. Because attacks on consumer hardware, like connected home technology, typically take place at the network level, the number of devices may not affect your actual vulnerability level.

However, you should consider the risk of attack from the device manufacturer. These days, you almost always have to enter personal information to activate a new device, which means the manufacturer owns that data. If their corporate infrastructure is breached, there is a risk that your data will be exposed.

How do you protect privacy when using smart home technology?

Schless: It is important to think about your privacy with smart home technology. The general best practice is to enable the minimum data access and permissions. With smart home technology, there’s usually a minimal requirement for things like location data, microphone access, and logged in accounts for the technology to work. Depending on your personal risk tolerance and how you want to balance increased functionality with less privacy, you may choose to enable additional home tech features at the expense of a bit more personal data.

What do you do if there’s a problem with a smart home gadget?

Schless: If something seems to be malfunctioning, the best thing to do is call the manufacturer and see if they can help you fix it. However, if you suspect the device has been hacked or someone else is controlling it, you should first turn it off and unplug it from its power source.

McKinley: Restart! Sometimes the fastest resolution is to unplug the device, then unplug your Wi-Fi router, then turn them back on after about 30 seconds and see if the problem resolves on its own. Nine times out of 10, a simple restart fixes the problem. If that doesn’t solve your problem, the next step really depends on your situation and device. If you’re a Pocket Geek Home customer, use the mobile app to access connected home device experts and self-help content for the most common connected home devices if you prefer to DIY. You can also Google the problem and see what others have done to fix it. If that doesn’t help, your next option is to contact the manufacturer and hope they can help. However, today’s smart home devices interact with other devices. Many manufacturers have excellent support for their devices, but if the problem extends beyond their device, they may provide limited or no support.

What’s the best way to track software updates on your devices?

Schless: It is extremely important to ensure that all of your internet-connected devices are running the latest software updates. Most devices will notify you when it’s time to update, but you should check every two weeks. Most updates these days are for security, so if you’re not on the latest version, you might be vulnerable to cyberattacks. The most obvious example of this is our smartphones and tablets, which always seem to be asking us to update. There’s a reason for this, and you should always run a security app like Lookout Mobile Security on your mobile devices. This will ensure that you are protected against malicious network connections, phishing attacks, and advanced device compromise attacks.

McKinley: Most smart home devices on the market today are powered by an associated mobile app. You should make sure these apps are always up to date by installing the latest app updates (or setting your phone to automatically update your apps). Once the app is updated, you should have access to the latest features. Some devices like Sonos, for example, rely on the app to push updates to physical devices. In these cases, when you launch the latest app, it reminds you that a device update is available. When you see these messages, you should always take the time to authorize these updates to ensure that you have no problems using them.

Lance B. Holton