With fast-n-furious data speeds on offer, affordable devices, from light bulbs to streaming TV sticks, finally exploit the untapped potential of home wireless networks.
By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, December 30 2019:
Push came to shove when megabits became gigabits at the home end of an Internet cable. Every data service provider, offers speeds of 1 GBPS ( that is 1000 MBPS) for around Rs 1500 - Rs 2000 a month. This turns any home into a smart home. Now, we can 'smarten' our homes for amoderate outlay . Here is a rundown on what is achievable today.
Forget the basic free router that cable data providers give away. It is better to invest in a faster router, if you have multiple users and appliances. Go for a Gigabit router. Make sure it works in dual band -- that is 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. Buy one that has 4 antennae. I have been trying out a router that meets all the three criteria -- at a reasonable price.
Tenda is a Chinese brand, sold and supported in India and their AC 1200 dual band gigabit wireless router model AC8 is easy to set up. Models like this put brains into the router so that it dynamically switches from the 2.4 GHz band the 5 GHz band depending on the traffic congestion. The router also offers the MU-MIMO ( Multiple User: Multiple In Multiple Out) technology that by clever beam forming ensures that, all users are equally served even if one sucks in more bandwidth. The makers say the AC8 can cover some 90 square meters of space and can penetrate 2 walls. My tryout bears this out.
You can install the Smart Tenda WiFi app on your phone to better manage usage. Reasonably priced at Rs 4900.
Smart Voice Control
Amazon's Echo smart speakers fuelled by the Alexa voice, have evolved into a wide portfolio of devices, some with display screens, others with high quality audio. Google has its own range, featuring Voice Assistant. In recent days Amazon has further shrunk the Echo. The Echo Flex, is its smallest yet, just 150 grams and so compact, it can be plugged into a power socket. Yet it does all the usual Echo things: controls lights, cameras and other smart devices , allows hands-free calling, answers your spoken questions and executes your commands -- in Hindi and English.
Sensitive to privacy concerns, the makers have provided a prominent button to turn off the microphone. And small bonus: a built-in USB port to charge your phone. At Rs 2999, you get a small 0.6 inch speaker, but that's enough to get all the Alexa action within the room. Small Wonder? Yes!
We are perfectly happy operating refrigerator, microwave or air conditioner without any extra smartness. But lighting is another thing.
A smart bulb offers a huge jump in utility. Go for one, especially if you already have a smart speaker. Popular makes in India that work with Alexa or Google Voice Assistant are Wipro, Syska and Philips. I have tried out a new entrant: the Mi LED Smart Bulb from Xiaomi. It comes in 10 watts compared to 9 watts of the others. You can install a phone app and change the "colour temperature" from a dim candle light of 1700K to a regular incandescent bulb of 2800K to a fluorescent flood lamp at 6500K -- all with a flick on the phone screen. You can change white light into a warm yellow one --or any other colour. It costs Rs 1299 and is a lot of fun plus some real productivity
Smart media stick
In 2020, there is more TV content on the Internet, than in any Cable TV connection. Which is why a streaming media stick is a smart investment -- particularly if your TV is of the non-smart kind. The Amazon Fire TV stick was the first to market and the basic Rs 3999 device is now joined by a 4K version for Rs 5999. Worth it, provided your TV is 4K.
In 2019, ACT launched its own Stream TV 4K, with 4K, Dolby audio, Google Assistant and Chromecast to send video from mobile phone to TV. Easy links to Netflix, Hooq, Hotstar, Sony LIV are provided. The basic kit costs Rs 4499, but you need an ACT data connection which costs around Rs 1000 a month.
Airtel, has launched the XStream Box at Rs 3999: a 4K device with Chromecast and Google Voice Assistant. Their data subscriptions are similar.
All these streaming options need a home Internet connection -- so it is sensible to invest in decent data speed. Did we say sensible? Make that smart!
Images for the devices described can be found here