April 17, 2021

On the Route to Rout the Router

5 min read
“Two of us share broadband in our 750-square-foot Manhattan co-op.” It’s 2020. Life has slowed...

“Two of us share broadband in our 750-square-foot Manhattan co-op.”

It’s 2020. Life has slowed down during the pandemic. So has our router.

Two of us share broadband in our 750-square-foot Manhattan co-op. That’s never been an issue. We have Fios gigabit internet with theoretical data download speeds upward of 900 Gbps. In the decade or so since we’ve had the once-speedy fiber optic service, we’ve rarely had a problem with internet access. I would say never, but that’s baiting the broadband gods. Our connection has been speedy and reliable … until about a month ago.

I connect directly to the router via Ethernet from my office nook. My partner, Liz, has been connecting via Wi-Fi from about 30 feet away but with a plaster wall in between. At least she was until a few weeks ago. She began losing the connection indicated by the dreaded “this page cannot be found because you’re not on the internet” message. As she was trying to impress a new client with her PR acumen, she was bumped from a Zoom call … then a WebEx meeting. Yes, professionalism is down all over as everyone tries to navigate the office-away-from office thing, but you just can’t function without internet.

It’s not like we’re bandwidth hogs. We have two communications professionals accessing the internet all day long, sometimes hopping on Zoom calls. There are no teenagers playing in video game tournaments or streaming 4K movies. We have a lot of devices that use internet in our household — two smartphones, four PCs, three Alexa speakers, a Google Home, two Roku players, smart light bulbs (whose smarts we never use), three tablets and an e-reader. I’m sure I’m leaving out a device or two, but the important thing is, they’re not all trying to hop on the internet at the same time.

We haven’t been able to connect with Verizon on the problem — the irony of not being able to connect with your internet provider because you have spotty internet service. We know we have what should be lightning-fast service; we’re just not seeing it when we need to. The Federal Communications Commission website praised Verizon (and other internet service providers) for taking part in the “ Keep Americans Connected” pledge that was to run through June, in response to the pandemic. Verizon Fios added 15GB of high speed data for wireless consumers and small businesses, and no data caps for DSL and Fios broadband internet plans, the FCC said. It’s not clear what happened after June 30.

Liz took matters into her own hands, researching routers and coming up with the eero Pro 6, which hit stores a couple of weeks ago. On Sunday, the day of rest, our download speed hit an impressive 941 Mbps, according to my phone’s speed test. Monday evening at 5:13 we logged  281 Mbps. Apparently, my New York City neighbors don’t shut down at the 5 o’clock whistle. Speeds may vary, but at least we haven’t lost a connection since the eero came to stay. Progress, I think.

The eero Pro 6 has a built-in Zigbee hub, which intrigued me. I don’t have a smart home setup for a few reasons, including 1) I don’t want to deal with a separate smart home hub and 2) I don’t want to commit to a protocol. Having a Zigbee hub built into the router took away those caveats.

I have a nightstand light I would like to control so that when it’s time for bed, I don’t have to go into the dark bedroom, stub my toe, then manually turn on the light. I’d like to automate that scene while the credits roll on The Queen’s Gambit.

I’ve had enough smart home run-ins not to get my hopes up that I’d have a seamless experience finding a smart bulb I could control via the Eero router. My low expectations weren’t dashed.

I have several spare smart bulbs lying around — a Savant bulb that’s compatible with Apple HomeKit, a Lifx bulb that operates over Wi-Fi and a Sylvania Smart+ bulb, whose packaging labels it Zigbee-compatible. That’s the one I screwed into a bedside lamp. I went to the Eero app, found the Amazon Connected Home tab and selected “Frustration-Free Setup.” Yeah, right. I enabled both Alexa Smart Home and Frustration-Free Setup in the Eero app, then tapped the “Connect Devices” button.

A Sylvania Bulb +

Eero passed me off to the Alexa app, which instructed me to tap a “+” icon to add a device, then the type of device. I chose light bulb out of a list that also had Echo, plug, switch, camera, lock and more. There were about 30 bulb brands, including ones I had never heard of (VeSync and Mangotek) but no Sylvania. Even my grandmother would have known Sylvania. I looked at the “instructions” that came with the bulb: 1) “Identify the Zigbee hub you want to work with.” Got it. 2) “Power up SMART+ devices.” The bulb was plugged in and on. But between steps 2 and  3 (“Enjoy your new smarter home”), Sylvania sneaked in the command to “Follow your Hub’s App instructions to pair SMART+ devices.” Huh? The eero app offered no such option.

The eero app told me to go to the Amazon Alexa app for setup, but that wasn’t possible because Alexa had never heard of Sylvania. I asked Alexa to discover devices to see if maybe she’d sniff out the Sylvania bulb by accident, but after about 20 seconds she came up empty. On the Frustration-Free setup page, Amazon claims I could “instantly connect supported devices to your network when you have your eero credentials with Amazon Frustration-Free Setup.”

I clicked through to an Amazon.com page that introduced “Certified for Humans,” apparently related to Frustration-Free Setup. “What is that?” Amazon asked, then answered its own question: “It’s smart home, made easy. We hear you—adding voice-activated smart devices to you home can seem daunting. Certified for Humans devices meet our criteria for being surprisingly simple to use.”

Of course, none of the smart bulbs I own was on the list, which was amazingly short. The only “Certified for Humans Eligible Products” that came up were an Eaton wall switch, Amazon Fire TV voice remotes, a Hamilton Beach coffee maker, Amazon smart plug, Amazon Echo Glow smart lamp, Philips Hue smart bulb, Amazon smart oven, Kasa smart plug, Toshiba smart air purifier, Mr. Christmas smart Christmas tree, Asus router and Echo speakers.

Looks like this human will be turning on lamps the old-fashioned way for a while.

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