What You Should Be Putting On Your Wireless Wishlist

With Christmas coming, what could be a better time to start thinking about your IoT and wireless enabled home? With so many Internet of Things devices available, and your Christmas list still looking scant, maybe ‘new tech’ should be your standard answer whenever anyone asks what you want. Better to ask for a smart home hub and get a smart switch than saying ‘Oh, I don’t know, anything you get me would be lovely’ and ending up with another ugly Christmas jumper.

With Smart home technology you can take complete control of a vast range of different gadgets and consumer durables from anywhere on earth with an internet connection. Or you can sit in the comfort of your own front room and control everything from blinds, lights, air conditioning and heating, CCTV and an intercom, all by simply calling out and telling the house what you want it to do. (If you’re struggling to justify the cost of replacing perfectly good tech that you bought five minutes ago which isn’t Smart, offset the cost by selling your superannuated goods on Gumtree or eBay. You make a bit of the money back, save landfill and someone gets some lovely gadgets for a great price.)

Which Are The Best Smart Devices For You?

Philips Hue

But with so many things being Smart, wifi, Bluetooth or otherwise connected, what should be on your starter pack wishlist? Well, first of all you need to start off with the key components. But what should those key items be if you’ve never lived in an automated home before? There’s a trick to that, so before you really get started, invest in a set of smart switches and If This Then That devices. Smart switches monitor power use, can be controlled by a central hub, and can be timed or geofenced, meaning they detect proximity and come on and off accordingly. If This Then That (IfTTT) devices are Smart Tech’s not so smart sidekicks which do things in response to other events.

For example, If you’ve set your lights to come on when you, and only you approach the house an IfTTT coffee machine can start at the same time, meaning that by the time you’ve got your coat and shoes off there’s a jug of steaming fresh coffee brewed ready and waiting for you. So you can’t control an IfTTT device directly by voice, but you can set off a sequence of events which make it come on as a consequence, or you can just go over and turn it on normally.

Lights, Cameras, Heating

Philips Hue gives you voice control of lights, their brightness, even their colour, with millions of different options available. They can be activated and controlled by Google Assistant, Siri, Alexa and IfTTT. They also come in a simple brilliant white and weatherproof outdoor varieties giving you convenience, and security.

Some people assume that this is just laziness, but that’s to miss the point. After all, isn’t all effort to be efficient or labour saving inherently ‘lazy’? Smart switches monitor power consumption, Smart washing machines regulate and heat the optimum amount of water, saving power and water at times when electricity is cheaper. Forget to turn things off, or habitually leave them on when you know it’s a bad idea? Smart tech will shut it off automatically or allow you to control it remotely, on your commute, from your desk or from your lounger if you suddenly remember you left the heating on while you’re on holiday.

Smart tech also allows people with mobility problems to get more out of their home, enjoying their independence for longer and doing things that might otherwise have been difficult tasks. From simply getting up to answer the door to callers or operating switches, thermostats, and other fiddly tasks, if these can be done by simply saying what you want, that’s an incredible example of household technology making life easier.

Making Life That Little Bit Easier

Doorbird

Not having to jump up every time the doorbell rings brings us on to security. With a smart entry system you are able to see who’s coming to your door on your phone or tablet, you can get alerts to anybody coming to your door wherever you are, even if they don’t ring the bell. Smart CCTV cameras often come with motion sensors and two way   communication, meaning that wherever someone is outside your house, if you can see them, you can talk to them.

Cameras don’t only cover the exterior of the property, there are stylish, well designed cameras which sit on shelves letting you monitor what’s happening in the home too. You might want to chat to the dog, yell at the kids when they misbehave, or keep an eye on the babysitter when you’re not home, or capture footage of any intruders who enter your home uninvited.

I Camera Keep Pro is a fully featured home security camera which seamlessly incorporates into your home security system. Along with the usual motion detection, it has sound detection too. There could be all kinds of other noises happening, but if it detects breaking class or a loud bang which might indicate a door being forced. Once these sounds are detected, video capture begins, the unit has motion tracking, and the footage can be stored on the cloud or on an internal SD card.

Combining Prevention With Wireless Detection

Simplisafe Home Security is a home security system which detects fire, carbon monoxide, flooding and sub zero temperatures, however, depending on your point of view, the absence of any built in cameras could be a positive or negative. (Cameras are available from Simplisafe, but they don’t come as standard with the Home Security Package.) If you already have cameras, you won’t miss this them, and, if your privacy and data security are as much a concern as securing your property, not having a visual feed will be a bonus. Simplisafe doesn’t incorporate any 3rd party devices, so if you do have additional cameras they will need to be configured separately. It has a very basic mobile app control which is easy to understand, but not very adaptable via your phone. One stand-out advantage is that it is scalable and price competitive. The full package has a base station, wireless keypad, keyring remote, door and window sensors, a panic button, and signage to alert potential intruders to the fact that you’re covered.

Home Hubs Connect All Of Your Smart Devices For Universal Control

Because there are so many different manufacturers making different IoT devices there are a number of different signalling platforms in use. These include WiFi, LiFi, BlueTooth, and IR. In order to get all the different devices to run smoothly as your home network develops, it’s going to be necessary to invest in a home hub, which, as the name suggests, is a device which operates as a crux for all of your IoT things. Alexa works with a number of devices directly, and, as we’ve seen above, these can set off a chain of other events via IfTTT ‘recipes’ which can be downloaded or created yourself as you get used to having things happen in automatic response to other things happening.

Echo Dot

Alexa isn’t your only option. Echo Dot is a device which can operate on its own or be plugged into headphones or a speaker via a 3.5mm jack or Bluetooth , making it a Smart speaker. Echo Spot is a handy alternative. It’s a connected alarm clock which also acts as a base station and has a camera if you want video calls and, if you want a swipe screen interface as well as voice control there is the Echo Show.

Wink Hub 2 works on Z Wave, Zigbee, Lutron, Kidde, Bluetooth and WiFi, making it the most widely supported and versatile hub. As different manufacturers begin using the same connectivity solutions the Wink’s capacity will become overkill. One day this may change, until then, if you want to install any IoT device to your home network without having to compromise based on which wireless network it uses, this is the hub for you.

One Remote For All

Another universal solution for those who like the feel of a remote control is the Logitech Harmony Elite. It’s got fewer buttons than most TV remotes, but allows you to control all your home entertainment systems, networked devices, IoT and Smart goods. There’s a small touch sensitive LCD where you can find the menu of all the active devices, scroll through, select, and operate just like you would with any normal remote. If you’ve already got remotes piling up and spilling over the edges of your coffee table, this is the solution for you!

The joy of an integrated home is that you can add environmental controls to the system as well as entertainment and security. The Tado Thermostat is battery powered, making it possible to take around the house, or place near where you are, meaning that you feel the benefits of the heating. It is compatible with Google Home or Echo and you can buy it outright or rent it by the month, depending on your needs. The Nest Learning Thermostat is wifi connected to your tablet, PC or phone so you have a versatile, clear display. It has a wide sensor array and also supports geofenceing and boiler control, so you don’t just turn the radiators off but the entire central heating system can be turned off and on via your mobile device given your location.

Making Light Work

The Echobee is a smart light switch which does what Amazon Echo does. It doesn’t have a swipescreen interface, but it will control not only lights, but all other smart devices connected to it by voice. Additional room sensors are available which you can put in other rooms from the main Smart switch, that work with other Smart thermostats. These then prioritise the room or rooms which you’re or your family are in. They claim to save between 20 and 25% of your energy consumption, so, depending on your usage, they will pay for themselves.

Naturally, as an installer of over 30 years standing, Briant Communications offer a wide range of expertise when it comes to smart home installations. We offer a comprehensive CCTV home security planning and installation service, access control, wireless home and business solutions and environmental controls.

Installing Your Own CCTV Security Camera System

One of the greatest barriers to entry for home security cameras used to be the cabling. The fact that a security camera needed a cable to pass through a wall meant that location was limited, and not everyone was happy about drilling a hole thought the brickwork or rendering, especially in historic or listed buildings.

Now that wireless CCTV cameras are now available, that problem is eliminated. Because they’re wireless, they can be installed virtually anywhere, meaning that they can not only cover doors, windows and the access to your property, they can be put in and around garages, outbuildings and sheds. It’s common for burglars to break into sheds not only to steal tools, bikes and lawnmowers and the like, but to take your own ladders, using them to get further access to your home and its contents.

When planning where to put your new security camera, there are one or two issues to consider.

Coverage

Will it capture images of people as they approach the property? If you put the camera too high the angle will be too steep to get a good look at people’s faces. Is there anything obscuring the lens creating a blind spot which could be used to evade detection by a CCTV security camera’s motion detectors?

Access

You’ll probably want to tweak the angle that the camera is aimed once it’s installed and set up, and at some point you’ll need to either change the batteries or clean the solar panel, depending on how the unit works. You’ll undoubtedly need a ladder to reach the camera, so consider whether you can do that safely regularly before you set the CCTV camera up.

Network Security

Because the camera is wireless it needs to connect with your wireless home network. If the camera hasn’t been correctly secured it could get hacked, meaning that other people can turn the camera on and off or even use it to get access to other smart devices you have around the home. Change the product name and password from the default and use something innocuous as a name and a long, complex password. Calling it ‘security camera front door’ and using the default password, or the same password you use for all your devices makes it incredibly easy to hack if you have half a mind.

Extras

You can opt to have a mic and speaker on your security camera so you can talk to people who are wandering around your property, the motion detector can be tied to security lights so they flood the drive or garden when people are coming to your door, some come with infra red night vision, human detection (so they won’t activate every time a cat or fox walks up the garden path) and motion zones so you can identify areas in frame where people shouldn’t be going.

Now that we know what you need to be looking out for, which are the best products on the market?

Depending on where you plan to use them, the features and benefits will dictate which you will choose, but we’ve looked at the best devices on the high street and run them down below.

Nest Cam IQ Outdoor & Indoor

Nest Cam IQ Outdoor & Indoor

While it is technically ‘wireless’ insomuch as the data is sent over your wifi network, the device still needs to be powered by a cable, which they helpfully suggest you pass through a window or drill a hole in the wall. So it’s wireless, however, it’s cable dependent. And running a cable through a window compromises not only the window, but can damage the cable too, and if the cable is cut…

The Nest Cam IQ sends 24 hour data so you don’t have to worry about motion detection, but that means it’s data heavy since they operate in full HD. They have facial recognition and night vision with close-up tracking, so if there is a break-in you can be sure to have incredibly good footage of your intruder. It has two way audio so you can talk to people on your property, not only unwelcome visitors, but deliveries, salespeople, and unexpected guests. To get all the features and the most out of the device you need a strong broadband router, and monthly subscription to Nest security services.

Arlo Pro 2

Arlo Pro 2

The Arlo is indeed a wireless, motion controlled device which saves battery by only coming on when the motion detector is triggered. While the picture quality is an average 720p it has a 130 degree camera which gives a great field of vision. It’s a very small device which is easy to install and is robust, high and low temperatures and rain don’t bother it a bit. The data can be stored locally on a USB or onto the cloud so there is no immediate need to buy a monthly subscription. It also has night vision and adjustable sensitivity, so you can eliminate hedgehogs rootling around and only start filming when people are present.

Logitech Circle 2

Logitech Circle 2

The Logitech Circle comes with a built in battery, but that battery life is limited to 12 hours standby, and less if the camera is activated, so you have to switch over the batteries quite regularly, and if you’re leaving the house from more than a day, you’ll need to find an alternative. You get a choice of video quality capture, 720p or 1080p HD and nigh vision. It has facial and motion detection. Facial recognition means that the camera won’t activate when it recognises you, your partner and kids, but will activate when anyone it doesn’t recognise appears before it. It has 24 hour free cloud space, and a subscription service is available to unlock other features and benefits. The Circle is really a more robust version of the same device designed for indoor use, to record activity and monitor what happens within the home, rather than being designed specifically to use outside. Essentially it works better if located indoors looking out of the window than it does outdoors as thick walls can interrupt the signal when operating wirelessly.

Briant Communications can help you with all your CCTV security camera requirements. From a free quote for installation to a full coverage review, location plan, supply and installation we offer a full service package. Get in touch today for a visit from one of our experienced engineers.

Don’t Give Thieves An Early Christmas Gift

Christmas can be a high old time for burglars and thieves. The nights are dark and cold, you’re buying lots of treats ready for wrapping and giving to your friends and family, and you’re preparing to be out of the house for much of the time. It’s perfect for people planning no good. Not giving them the upper hand is simple though. A few common-sense precautions, one or two deterrents, and your home is safe and secure.

Don’t make your home a target. Many thieves operate at this time of year because the dark afternoons mean that they get to enjoy the best of both worlds: people are out at work, out shopping or walking the dog, but the houses in the neighbourhood are shrouded in darkness. There’s every chance they will have been in your area earlier that day to see if you’re home, checked your security measures and possibly taken a look through the window to see what they’re going to steal when they come back once night has fallen.

Most burglars are opportunist, and by no means professional. They cause thousands of pounds worth of damage stealing goods worth a few hundred that they will only get a few pounds for when they sell them on. They don’t plan beyond looking at the security precautions you’ve on display, they don’t have housebreaking skills or specialist tools, generally they will only spend about a minute trying to force their way in. If they’re successful they will spend 10-12 minutes inside and then leave. They don’t spend time looking carefully at the kinds of door locks you have, whether they can bypass the circuit, or any of that, if they can force their way in without making too much noise, grab what they want and get away again before the police are likely to arrive then your house is good enough for them. Read more

DIY HiFi, How And Why?

DIY is one of the UK’s favourite pass-times. Last year the DIY industry was worth £36,000,000,0000 and caused 25,763 injuries requiring medical attention between 2014 and 2017.

I’m sure if you really looked into it you could find out how much of that £36bn was spent on repairing their own mistakes, and replacing stuff that they had broken. Look deeper still and you can probably find how much was spent getting a professional in after a disastrous weekend of failed home improvement.

DIY ranges from building a lean-to, putting together flat-pack furniture, decorating or installing home entertainment systems and the like. For the most part these kinds of jobs are easy enough, don’t require any specialist tools besides pliers, screwdrivers and a drill. I could write for ages about the guy who removed all the floors and load bearing walls out for reasons known only to himself, or the one who began burrowing under his home, then his neighbours’ eventually undermining several properties down his street over a period of years.

DIY Is Often More Expensive Than Hiring Professionals

Instead we’ll stick to covering the mistakes and mishaps that can happen when you’re installing your own home entertainment systems. These mistakes can prove costly, and incredibly inconvenient if you have to replace expensive TV or hi-fi equipment when you break it. Others, while not needing a pricey fix, can be really irritating if you get them wrong.

Cabling. Even speakers, routers, and other devices named ‘wireless’ still need power cables, so the cliché runs as true for them as it does for traditional cabled equipment, you can always cut it shorter, never longer. Always buy and fit more cable than you think you’re going to need because you’ll always want to move things around, change your mind about positioning, find the wire has to go around something, and no matter how good your wire is, it never ever stretches. Once your speaker is in position there’s nothing as irritating as pulling it out to adjust it and the cable comes out, and then slips back down behind the bookcase you’ve put it on!

On the subject of cabling; ID your ends! Once you start to get into a multichannel system with amps, DVD players, CD players, decoders, computers, HDTVs etc you’re going to find that you have A LOT of cable and they’re all going to start looking very similar. If you haven’t identified the ends of each cable you’re going to have to spend a lot of time and trouble tracing each line from one end to the other, scrabbling around behind furniture, untying and untwisting knotted wires… All you needed to do was stick a label made of masking tape to the end and all your woes would have been solved. Read more

Black Friday Begins A Week Early This Year, So Prepare For Fantastic Offers

It’s almost time to get Black Friday deals in the UK

Up until recently Black Friday wasn’t a thing in the UK. It’s commonly known that most retailers don’t make a profit until November or December, but until a few years ago shops didn’t make a big deal of it or run sales events to get rid of old stock to make room for new. And once it caught on thanks to Britons becoming more and more aware of it thanks to social media, then retailers with an eye for a promotion started promoting Black Friday events here too.

However, they quickly stopped doing it again when shoppers, eager for a deal and egged on by the hype, stormed the shops, tore them to pieces and several shoppers got quite badly hurt. Consequently they quietly scaled back the hype and Black Friday became a mere mid-season sale. Read more

A Beginner’s Guide To DIY CCTV

Crime levels are creeping up and the budgets which police have are on the decline. If you want to protect your home and property from burglary or criminal damage it’s becoming ever more necessary to deter burglars and vandals yourself rather than expecting the threat of detection and conviction to put off opportunists and career criminals. Wireless CCTV cameras are just the ticket.

Burglar alarms used to do the trick, but people got used to seeing those yellow boxes attached to the wall, rusted and broken down, and now they offer no deterrent at all. If you want to put off burglars today it’s worth investing in CCTV cameras and security lighting to cover the outside of your home.

Security cameras are becoming ever cheaper and easier to find on the high-street. Being wireless they can be positioned anywhere you think they will be the most useful, covering windows and doors, gates, outbuildings, garages and sheds. But how do you keep your security devices secure?

Before You Do Anything, Ensure Your Security Is Secured

First of all you need to adequately secure your CCTV cameras on your home WiFi network. It’s no good spending time and effort putting up multiple cameras if they can be disabled, or even used to spy on you by anyone with a laptop within range of your house. Start by password protecting all of the cameras. Use long and complex passwords and change the usernames of the devices too. If you make it hard to even find the cameras you make it that much harder for them to be hacked.

It’s important that the data which is being sent from the camera to your home network, and thence onward to a secure website, your computer, tablet or phone is thoroughly encrypted. It needs to be SSL, WPA2 or TLS secured and the devices it’s being sent to also need to be adequately secured. Imagine if your phone or laptop that wasn’t password protected was part of their haul. Not only annoying to replace, but it could also be used it to access the footage and delete the evidence you had gone to such ends to capture.

You need to be aware of where you are watching from too. If you watch from a shared network in a public place, such as a café, bar or library for example, your data could be ‘sniffed,’ identifying your log in details. If you need to watch somewhere unsecured, use a VPN or Virtual Private Network as this will effectively conceal your online activity, making it almost impossible to find your digital identity.

Think about where you’re going to locate the CCTV devices before putting them up. They not only need to cover the access points, but to be really effective they need to cover each other too. If someone can walk up behind a camera and knock it down without being seen, it was useless in the first place. Consider blind spots. Hedges, bushes, narrow alleys or spaced between outbuildings or projections all produce areas which can’t easily be covered by your cameras if they’re aimed exclusively at your doors and windows. So instead of thinking about where they’re going to get in, think as well about how burglars are going to get close to your hose in the first place. Having their face on camera even as they walk up to your property is going to be enough to put off any opportunists and most professionals as soon as they start to think about targeting your home. Read more

Crime Prevention; What Can You Do To Protect Your Home And Property

Every year, around Halloween, there is an upswing in reported crime.

It’s not people reporting naughty Trick or Treaters. It’s not householders reporting kids letting off fireworks dangerously.

As clocks go back the nights get darker earlier and this gives criminals more cover under which to commit burglaries, vandalism and break-ins. And from now until spring it gets worse, excepting one day only, because even housebreakers like to spend Christmas with the family, even if they’ve destroyed yours.

With the curtains shut and people spending more time indoors concentrating on their own families, there are less people on the streets. Any empty homes stand out as they are clothed in darkness where the neighbours have the lights blazing. Opportunists can’t help keeping an eye out for the clues that tell you’re not home. Are the lights off? Is there a car parked outside?

Then, if your house is the one that attracts their attention, they look closer. Are there shady corners where they can hide and keep an eye on your home? What do your locks and window latches look like, good quality, or flimsy hasps they can easily force?

Do you have a shed or garage that isn’t properly secured? Bikes, tools, lawnmowers and the like can all fetch a few quid if they’re in good condition and, galling as it might be, burglars often use the homeowner’s own ladders and play equipment to gain access to less well secured first floor windows.

Along with household clutter, a lot of families keep a chest freezer in the garage. They’re big and bulky and there’s never room to keep them indoors, so it’s natural to put them out there. With the holidays coming it would be a shame if your Christmas dinner ended up on someone else’s table.

When you’re burglarproofing your home you need to think like a burglar before you get started. Look at your house with the frame of mind “How would I get in and what would I take?” It’s a trade off. If they can peer in though the window and see something they really think is worth having they’ll up their game when it comes to planning how to get in. If your home is a soft touch but you haven’t got anything clearly visible, they might just break in to check out what you’ve got anyway. Read more

Safe, Simple Wireless Technology Security, A ‘How To’ Guide

We’re not suggesting that the typical burglar has added a laptop to his traditional striped top, mask and duffle bag with ‘Swag’ or ‘Loot’ printed on it, but as crime rates climb, it increases in the cyber realm as much as it does on the streets. Criminals aren’t the kind of people to let opportunities slip them by, and once the thief or burglar catches on to the fact that they can use wireless technology to make their lives of crime easier, they certainly will.

The ways that criminals can take advantage of your incorrectly secured wireless home network can manifest themselves in several ways, many of which we’ve probably never thought of yet, but they currently include identity theft, credit and debit card data scraping and cloning, disabling security cameras and controlling webcams. It’s a truism to say that you wouldn’t go out and leave the house unlocked, but if you don’t lock down your home wifi network, that’s exactly what you’re doing with your data, and, as Wi-Fi enabled access control becomes more prevalent, your front door too. Read more

Is Sky Q The Service For You?

Sky Q is the latest offering from Sky intended to change the way we watch TV.

Sky Q brings all of your entertainment into one place and makes it easier to use wherever you are. Stream movies, sports, TV, music and boxsets while you record other channels and watch a different channel altogether. The beauty of Sky Q is that it can handle a huge amount of data and deliver it to multiple locations throughout the home all at once.

Depending on whether you choose 1 terabyte or 2 terabyte options you will have several different options available to you.

1 terabyte:
• 150 hours of HD recording space
• 8 TV tuners
• 1 minibox
• 1 tablet
• Full HD 1080p but no Ultra HD playback

2 terabyte:
• 350 hours HD recording
• 12 TV tuners
• 2 miniboxes
• 2 tablets
• Full HD and 4K HDR playback Read more

How To Proof Your Home Against Hackers

Child watching television in a lounge filled with furniture.In many senses the latest advances in wireless technology can go a long way to making your home safer. From CCTV to baby monitors, from smart doorbells to fire, smoke and O2 detectors, there are a plethora of different devices which make home security far easier and more practical than ever before.

Who Watches The Watchman?

The upside of accessibility is that you can attach any number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices to your home hub and control them all from the comfort of your sofa, or from anywhere else in the world for that matter, so long as you have an internet connection. The downside is that, unless you follow a few basic security protocols, so can anybody else with a will, a little know how, and a laptop.

As the number of devices which are online via the IoT, so does the number of potential breeches in security which could be abused by a hacker.

As your home network grows you may find that your wifi router can’t keep up with the volume of data which is being processed, and you want to buy a new one. That’s good in at least two ways. Old WiFi routers weren’t built to ward off determined hackers. All the old security was concerned with was keeping people out and preventing them from piggybacking your bandwidth. New routers are far more secure, and designed to keep out hackers who would want to get into your network for several reasons. As with so many things, the more you spend, the better the features and benefits. A top end router doesn’t only deliver a better signal and speed, it also offers better security protocols.

The first thing you should do when you’re installing any new equipment or IoT device, you need to create a long, complex password for each item. And don’t write them down, especially don’t create a document on your computer with them in. If anybody gets their hands on your computer, they get access to all the devices you can’t remember the passwords for. As well as being long and complex, you should also update your passwords regularly, especially after you’ve shared your WiFi network with guests and visitors. More than half a million phones are stolen every year, and if one has access to your router, they essentially have the keys not only to your door, but your bank account, emails, and every other part of your life which lives online. Read more