What You Need to Know About Wi-Fi Doorbells
How it works – The Wi-Fi doorbell system connects a chime box receiver to a transmitter in the doorbell. When the button is pushed, a radio signal is sent to the chime box receiver, and the chime box rings out to let you know someone is at the door.
Battery-powered operation – While typical doorbells are connected to a power source, wireless doorbells (including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi doorbells) require batteries in order to function. As the battery life runs low, the reliability of the signal and connection will suffer. The chime box inside your home, however, will most likely be connected to a power source.
Multiple transmitters and receivers – The fact that the system is totally wireless means you can connect multiple doorbells to the same receiver, or multiple receivers to the same transmitter. This is useful for those who live in large houses, as you can have doorbells on the front and back doors and receivers in various places around the house.
Average range – The average range of connection for a Wi-Fi doorbell is 200 to 400 feet, which is significantly longer than the 30 to 90 feet for a Bluetooth connection. However, if there are thick concrete walls, metal doors, or floors, the signal could be weakened and the range shortened to 50 to 120 feet. Before you buy and install any Wi-Fi doorbell, it's important to consider where you'll set it up, and if there are any obstacles that could interfere with the connection/signal.
Price – Expect to spend an average of $100 to $200 for a good quality Wi-Fi doorbell. This will include not only the doorbell hardware, but also access to the app software, which allows for intercom, two-way talk, and other useful features.
Water-resistance – Not all doorbells are intended for exterior use. Some are designed for use in condos and apartment buildings, so they won't come with waterproofing or water-resistance. If you are planning on installing a doorbell in a place where it is exposed to the elements, you must find one that is water-resistant at the very least.
Wi-Fi vs. other doorbell types – The low-end wireless doorbells are connected using a radio frequency signal, which is transmitted to the receiver and sounds the chimes when the doorbell is rung. For a Wi-Fi doorbell, however, the transmitter must be connected to the local wireless network in order to send the signal to the receiver. As long as both your doorbell and the chime box are in range of and connected to your home Wi-Fi network, it will sound.
Bluetooth doorbells have a much shorter range of connection, but the connection will be more reliable. What's more, Bluetooth doesn't rely on your home Wi-Fi network to connect the doorbell to the chime box or your smartphone. Even if the power is out, the battery-powered doorbell will still be able to send alerts and notifications to your phone.
Tips for Buying a Smart Doorbell
Planning on buying a smart doorbell for your home? Here are a few factors to take into account:
- Easy installation – A good Wi-Fi doorbell should be fairly easy to install. You will remove the old doorbell system and install the Wi-Fi doorbell in its place, connecting it to the home wiring or battery power.
- Range – How far is your front door from your router? Is the signal reliable, or is it spotty due to interference (from walls or doors) or too long a range? The good news about Wi-Fi doorbells is that they tend to have longer range than Bluetooth, so you should have no problem as long as your front door is within range of your home Wi-Fi network.
- Speakers – The chime box comes with one or two speakers that you will be able to install around your house. The good thing about a Wi-Fi connection is that it allows you to connect from anywhere in your home where you have wireless signal. With portable speakers, you can choose where in the house to set up, depending on where you spend most of your time.
- Video – This isn't a "must have", but it's definitely a nifty feature. Many Wi-Fi doorbells come with a camera integrated, which allows you to see who is standing at your front door without having to get up and look through the peephole. The video will either be displayed on your smartphone or the receiver box, depending on the doorbell system. Some video systems will display the video live, while others will have the option for you to store the video to a hard drive or cloud-based storage system. Be warned: these storage options will usually come with a monthly fee.
- Two-Way Talk – An intercom system is a nifty feature to look for in your Wi-Fi doorbell. Two-way talk allows you to communicate with the people outside the door without having to get up or move around, as you're usually able to connect via your smartphone. The speaker should be loud enough for the person outside to hear what you're saying, and the microphone sensitive enough that their voice is picked up clearly without all the background noise.
- Battery Life – As mentioned above, most Wi-Fi doorbells are battery-powered. When shopping for a doorbell, make sure to find one that has a good battery life—at least 6 months per pair of AA batteries. In some cases, you may be able to hardwire the doorbell to a power source AND use a pair of batteries in case of power outages.
- Wide-Angle HD Camera – A viewing range of 150 to 180 degrees is recommended, as that will allow you to see everything that's going on outside your front door. Some Wi-Fi doorbells even have motion sensors that will record when it detects movement outside your door. An alert will be sent to your phone, often even before the doorbell button is pressed. This is a great feature to help you keep track of visitors, passersby, or delivery personnel. A HD camera will give you good picture quality (and possibly even night vision for after dark use), making it easier to see who is outside your home.
- Compatibility –Not only do the Wi-Fi doorbells need to be compatible with your smartphone, they should also be compatible with other home automation systems. Many models can be integrated into your Z-Wave system, while others can be connected to Amazon Alexa, Wink, or Samsung SmartThings. Wi-Fi doorbells like August and Ring can be connected with other devices (security cameras or locks, for example) to enhance home security with one convenient setup.
Common Wi-Fi Doorbell Problems
Like any Wi-Fi enabled devices, you can expect the occasional issue with your Wi-Fi doorbell. Thankfully, there are A LOT of resources and how-to guides to help you solve the problems.
Here are a few of the most common issues you'll experience with a Wi-Fi doorbell:
Connectivity Issues – Your doorbell requires a connection to your home Wi-Fi network in order to transmit a signal. There are many things that could cause connectivity issues, including interference from walls and doors, the doorbell is out of range of the Wi-Fi network, or it hasn't been paired properly. Most Wi-Fi doorbells come with a simple instructional manual on how to test for and solve connectivity issues. Nine times out of ten, it's caused by one of the three above-mentioned problems.
No Video – Most Wi-Fi doorbells come with an integrated video camera, which means you should have video streamed directly to your phone or receiver. So what do you do if there is no video? The problem may lie in your internet connection. Slow internet speeds may cause problems with the video streaming. You need a speed of at least 2 Mbps in order to have reliable video feeds. If the internet is too slow or overtaxed by users, the video feed may be spotty.
Performance Issues –If the video doorbell has problems with the night vision, the video quality is choppy, or the ringing is unreliable, these problems could all be caused by low battery life. Or, conversely, the wiring may be faulty, so the lack of connection to the power source may be causing your performance problems.
Failure to Log Activity – Most smart doorbells are designed to log activity, such as the motion sensor turning on, the arrival of a visitor, etc. If the activity isn't logged, it could indicate that the doorbell is disconnected from the Wi-Fi network.
Damaged Buttons – The button of the doorbell isn't built to be highly durable, and it's the part most prone to damage, especially if you have a lot of children mashing the button (think Halloween trick-or-treaters!). It's possible to fix the button on some doorbells, but it may be better to call in a technician than to try this delicate repair yourself.
What do you do if all your efforts to locate and solve the problems fail? It could be an indicator that the doorbell itself is faulty, damaged, or broken. You may need to call in a technician or send the doorbell back to be replaced.
The Dangers of Smart Doorbells
Smart doorbells are intended to be an enhancement to home security measures. After all, they provide a reliable way to monitor what's going on outside your home via your smartphone. You never have to get up and go to the door to answer it or check who's outside, decreasing the risk to yourself and your loved ones.
Unfortunately, there is one major flaw with Wi-Fi doorbells: they're connected to the internet via your home Wi-Fi system. This means they are at risk of being hacked!
CNET posted an article that looked at how the Ring Wi-Fi doorbell was vulnerable to hacking. The orange button used to pair the Ring doorbell with your home network was the weak spot. Hackers could remove the doorbell (it's only anchored by a few screws) and press the orange button, and that would set the doorbell into "Access Point" mode. This access point allows hackers to find the MAC address of the doorbell, which ultimately could lead them to the HTTP server of Gainspan, the company that produces the wireless modules. Though no doorbells were hacked, the flaw did exist. One website even posted a how-to on stealing Wi-Fi passwords using Wi-Fi doorbells.
In early 2017, a Redditer found that their Ring doorbell was not only sending packets of video and audio data to their Amazon Web Services cloud storage accounts, but audio data was also being sent to a Baidu-hosted server in China. Ring responded by issuing an upgrade that severed the connection between the firmware and the Chinese servers.
Are these indicators that smart Wi-Fi doorbells are putting your home at risk? Truth be told, they are two minor problems that were quickly resolved by the manufacturer, and the Wi-Fi doorbells are as secure as any other wireless device. However, the fact that these flaws existed means that there is potential for more, bigger flaws in the future. If hackers could exploit something as simple as the button that connected the doorbell to the Wi-Fi network, it indicates that there could be other flaws to exploit.
For those considering buying a Wi-Fi doorbell, this is something to take very seriously. The fact that something OUTSIDE your home is connected to your network means there is a risk that someone could find a way to access your network without ever having to step foot inside your house. It shouldn't stop you from buying a smart Wi-Fi doorbell, but it's a factor to keep in mind.