Why aren’t there any battery-powered Wi-Fi smart home switches? – Stacey on IoT

On our most recent IoT Podcast, Keith called in with a unique question. He’s using Wi-Fi devices exclusively in his smart home. That might sound like a good idea at first, but his specific question raises a potential problem.

There really aren’t any options for this solution because the potential problem of relying on Wi-Fi for your smart home. You’ll essentially need all of your devices to either be hardwired or plugged in. That’s because out of all of the radio protocols used in the smart home, Wi-Fi is the least power efficient.

Image courtesy Wemo

Sure, you might gain more network coverage and faster throughput speeds on Wi-Fi as compared to Bluetooth, Zigbee, or Z-Wave, for example. But the price you pay is in power consumption. If you could find a battery-powered smart switch that uses Wi-Fi, you’d be changing the batteries on a frequent basis.

You could effectively simulate this with a smartphone: Turn off the cellular and Bluetooth radios, then use the phone only to control your smart home devices.

How long will that battery last? I realize the display will use battery power, so it’s not a perfectly controlled test. Regardless, I suspect that you might get a week at most in this case. Do you really want to be changing batteries in wireless wall switches every week or two? Trust me: You don’t.

We did dig around for any potential Wi-Fi switches that run on batteries, checking with all of the major bulb and switch vendors. But we came up empty, save for one product that’s no longer available. iDevices used to sell a Wi-Fi (and Bluetooth) enabled light socket but we checked with the company and it no longer does. Even then you’d still need to use a voice assistant or the iDevices mobile app to control your lights.

Even though there’s no device available for Keith’s specific question, we don’t want to live him high and dry. So we do have some options although most would require swapping out his current smart bulbs.

Depending on the brand of his current brand of smart bulb, he can check if the same vendor offers a wired Wi-Fi switch. Cync (formerly known as C by GE) has a range of these. for example, but they will only control Cync bulbs. It’s worth noting that the company also does sell a wireless, battery-powered switch that works with its bulbs. The batteries are expected to last up to two years, likely because these use Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi.

Lutron Caseta dimmer switch, bridge and battery-powered pico remote

If Keith is going to replace wired switches anyway, then we suggest looking at Lutron switches. They’re a bit more expensive than competing smart switches, require a hub, and work with standard bulbs, but they’re an excellent choice. And, although these don’t use Wi-Fi, Lutron offers wall-mountable pico remotes that are battery-powered for light control. So then Keith would have the option of using his wired switches or the remotes as needed.

To hear Keith’s question, as well as our discussion in full, tune in to the IoT Podcast below:

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