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An average router ruined my smart home, especially my Nest speakers
In retrospect, I should have learned my lesson the first time. For the past year, I have been adding some smart home devices to my apartment and seeing their performance drop with each passing minute. I blamed the devices — especially my Google Nest speakers — instead of the router because I was on a fiber connection and getting 500-600Mbps speeds on my computers and phones, so how could it possibly be the router’s fault? Well, it was the router’s fault. But let’s back up.
Did you ever have connectivity problems in your smart home?
Lesson one: A great router can save the worst connection
A couple of years ago, I lived in a big apartment in Lebanon with an abysmal ADSL connection, which reached 16Mbps at its peak, but often hovered around the 4-6Mbps range. (That was par for the country, I couldn’t do anything about it.) Needless to say, browsing was painful, but I’d gotten used to endless website loading times and buffering 360p videos.
I was, however, a smart home enthusiast with smart blinds, a smart lock, a few smart light bulbs, two connected remotes for my A/C units, and more. Knowing the slowness of my home network, I’d privileged devices with automations and fallback manual control, so I could set schedules and forget them, use physical buttons in a hurry, and only rarely do spur-of-the-moment changes via the app or my voice. Most of that worked, but the system began to falter in two distinct ways.
Hearing a cacophony of answers coming from my all Nest speakers got old really fast.
One, as the number of devices grew, the connection dramatically dropped in the bedroom, which was the furthest piece from the router; my phone would just switch to 4G when I was there. And two, my smart speakers were failing, miserably. If my husband or I issued a command, all of them would get triggered, listen, and try to answer at the same time. Hearing a cacophony of answers coming from my Nest and third-party Google Assistant speakers got old really fast.
Eventually, our supposedly decent router (a TP-Link Archer VR2600) began to falter and we decided to try a mesh setup. We landed on the Netgear Orbi RBK50, a heavily praised mesh at the time, and lo and behold, all of our problems instantly disappeared.
I switched to a solid mesh router and finally had a reliable smart home, despite the 4-6Mbps connection.
Of course, the Orbi didn’t speed up our snail-pace connection, but it stabilized it to a point where we barely noticed it anymore. My phone was getting a solid signal in the bedroom, all my smart devices were quickly executing their commands, and finally, my Google speakers were working in harmony. Even if all of them heard “OK Google,” they’d quickly figure out which speaker was closest to my voice, and only answer from that one. We noticed fewer errors and misunderstood questions too. The difference was staggering; I finally had a reliable smart home, despite the 4-6Mbps connection.
Lesson two: An average router can ruin the best connection
I didn’t forget this valuable lesson, but I did ignore it when I moved to France. In my mind, the stable 500-600Mbps fiber connection in my little apartment could not possibly suffer, no matter how many devices or speakers I had. At 100 times the speed of my crappy Lebanese network, there’s no way any decent router would cause it to degrade so much as to cause similar issues. I was proven wrong.
We have two Nest speakers, a Nest Hub (2nd gen), and an old Lenovo smart display. Before adding other smart devices, these speakers were exhibiting the same issues I saw in Lebanon. They’d all hear the keyword (fine), keep listening (not fine), answer at the same time in a jarring racket (worse), and sometimes one or two of them would fail and throw a “Sorry, I don’t know how to help with that,” (annoying). I tried everything, from lowering the “OK Google” command sensitivity on each speaker to dropping my voice, even whispering at times, but none of these were reliable solutions.
On top of that, answer latency was terrible. I’d wait several seconds before hearing anything back. It was remarkably faster to find my phone and type a Google search or start music playback than to talk to the speaker. When setting a timer in 2023 is a multi-step, minute-long process, you know there’s nothing “smart” about your smart speaker.
I thought a 600Mbps connection wouldn't suffer from the same problems, but my Nest speakers were always answering at the same time or too late.
Things got worse when we added some smart home devices. A robot vacuum, a smart TV, plus a few Philips Hue lights and Tado thermostats, and the issues multiplied. My Roborock S7 MaxV Ultra vacuum appeared offline once every couple of weeks, my smart TV took longer and longer to connect to Wi-Fi each time I turned it on, and my Nest speakers and displays were borderline useless for anything but music streaming.
While all of this was happening, my husband’s and my phones, computers, and tablets were still getting top-tier speeds anywhere in the apartment. The lowest I’d seen was still more than 230Mbps at the furthest point away from the router. This is why I blamed my smart home itself and never suspected the router.
I was still getting a stable signal on my phones and computers, so I didn't suspect the router. I thought my Nest speakers were at fault.
But I finally came to the (very, very obvious) conclusion that no matter your connection speed and no matter the high specs on the box, you can’t rely on your internet service provider’s default router. You need a proper, more powerful router to stabilize everything. Crucially, a good router should drop latency enough so that any Google speakers that get triggered simultaneously can immediately talk to each other, decide which one is closest to my voice, and let it handle the rest of the listening and answering, while the others go back to standby.
For me, the solution came when I installed the mid-range Synology WRX560 router. Again, like with the Orbi mesh, the difference was night and day. Now, the Roborock never appears offline, my smart TV connects instantaneously, and peace and harmony have been established between all Nest speakers and displays. Only one of them answers. The latency is low and setting a timer only takes a second. Sure, Google Assistant still talks too much, misunderstands me sometimes, forgets how to control my lights once a day, and still suffers from all the random, annoying issues it’s always suffered from. But at least it’s not doing that on four speakers simultaneously.
So what’s the best router for the smart home?
We’ve said this time and again, but I had to learn my lesson twice. If you have the luxury of building a smart home, you shouldn’t skimp on the most important part that keeps everything ticking together: a good router. A bad router can make your entire smart home frustrating in daily use, enough to get you to blame your devices, regret investing in them, and wish for simple dumb devices instead. No one wants that.
Building a smart home? Don't skimp on the router.
So what’s the best router for the smart home? Well, it all depends on your home setup. These are the main points to keep in mind:
- Wi-Fi 6 is a must nowadays because it’s better adapted for multiple devices like in any smart home setup. The improved Wi-Fi 6E should keep your setup even more future-proof.
- A single-bedroom apartment like mine will be fine with one router like the Synology WRX560 I talked about above, but mesh networks are essential in larger homes to guarantee a stable connection in every corner. In case you opt for these, it’s better to go for a tri-band router instead of dual-band ones. This ensures secondary mesh nodes get a connection as fast as the main unit.
- You should also look for a router with some, if not all, of these smart functions:
- Network segmentation to isolate your smart home devices from your phones and computers.
- VPN support to secure your connection.
- Strong monitoring to keep an eye on each server a smart home device connects to and make sure it’s all legit use.
- Parental controls to treat your smart home like a kid’s device and restrict its access, bandwidth, or online hours.
- Smart prioritization to provide every device with the bandwidth it needs when it needs it.
With those factors in mind, there are a couple of options we can recommend based on our tests. For user-friendly options, the Google Nest Wifi Pro is a more affordable Wi-Fi 6E mesh setup while the Amazon eero Pro 6E is better integrated in the Alexa ecosystem. The Synology RT6600AX only offers Wi-Fi 6 but goes a step above in features, providing a lot more control while keeping things relatively user-friendly. And finally, you could go the semi-professional route and get a Ubiquiti router.
Solid Synology software