Review: de.Light combines light bulb with Wi-Fi; mixed results ensue

System aimed at filling holes in your home Wi-Fi coverage via powerline, lighting systems

De.Light Wi-Fi light bulb and adapter package
Keith Shaw / Network World

The de.Light system (about $150) by XY-Connect (based in Singapore) is one of the more unique networking products I’ve tried in some time. The set includes an LED light bulb with Wi-Fi capabilities, gaining network access through a powerline adapter that users can plug into their home router. The system is designed to help fill any Wi-Fi blind spots within your home, giving client devices network access without needing to upgrade to a new router or switch.

Here’s how it works: you plug the de.Light Adapter into a wall outlet near your existing router, then plug in the included Ethernet cable into one of your router’s LAN ports. The Adapter includes a passthrough power outlet, so you can then plug other things (like a power strip or other power cord) into it without losing the outlet. The adapter supports HomeplugAV, creating a powerline network throughout the power lines within your home. The light bulb (an LED device) screws into any light socket. The company says the bulb works better with overhead lighting sockets rather than mobile lamps, to give Wi-Fi coverage from the top downward into an area.

A mobile app helps configure the Wi-Fi settings on the light bulb (you can also access the bulb itself once you discover its IP address), letting you change the SSID and password from the default one in the box.

Once the network is enabled, data will flow via wireless from your client device (phone, PC, gaming console, etc.) to the light bulb, then will travel over the power lines in the house to the adapter, then via Ethernet to the router (if it’s Internet traffic, it then travels around the world or wherever the data is going). It’s at least three different transmission methods for data, more complicated than just wireless or just Ethernet, but it’s a very unique proposition. The system presented here also provides for additional light bulbs – the adapter can support up to 16 – which can create wireless coverage for a very large house if you need it. This wouldn’t be a mesh scenario, but rather a hub-and-spoke system where each light bulb is an end point that then provides Wi-Fi beyond that end, with a power line backhaul. It’s a genius idea.

Now, for the bad news

That said, the implementation of the de.Light system is still undercooked. Given that the company is from Singapore, there are some cultural or language translation issues with the mobile app, the browser UI and instructions that might discourage non-techies. I found several spelling errors in the app and UI.

De.Light app spelling errors Keith Shaw / Network World

Spelling errors (tunning and brightnese, for example) throughout the UI need to be cleaned up if regular users are going to take it seriously.

At times during testing, the Wi-Fi connectivity would disappear, causing my client device to connect to another network. Even with the app running, which includes the ability to dim the light bulb and power the bulb on/off, there would be latency between pressing the button and watching the light change. Furthermore, the light didn’t stay on all the time – there is a timeout function where the bulb turns itself off after one minute. I couldn’t find anywhere on the app or browser UI a setting that could change this, or have the light stay on indefinitely. Furthermore, you have to keep the light switch powered on if you want to keep the Wi-Fi network active. That means the only way to turn on or off the light (well, turning it on after the 1-minute timeout) is through the app, which is unacceptable for most people who like turning their lights on and off the old-fashioned way. I’d suggest that the makers look into updating the settings so the light can stay on indefinitely, or somehow add motion-sensing technology that could keep the light on when it detects motion in the room.

A setting on the app does appear to let you set timers for the light, letting you decide when the light can turn on and off, and whether this is done on a specific day, weekday, weekend or every day. There’s also something called “Day Mode” and “Night Mode” settings, but these options weren’t described in terms of their functions.

Not a speed demon

As mentioned earlier, the goal of the product is to help fill coverage holes in Wi-Fi coverage in the home – aka blind spots. While it succeeds in this, users might not realize that they won’t likely get speedy Internet access as well.

In my review of the product, on average I achieved an average of 21-22 Mbps of data transfer speed on the LAN (from the client device, through the light bulb, over the power line, through the adapter to a NAS device attached to the same router). The Wi-Fi on the bulb operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which means it will support clients that have 802.11b/g/n support – not the more modern 802.11ac clients that newer routers and clients use. Newer clients can still use the older frequency, but as seen those data rates are slower than systems that utilize the faster 5 GHz frequency.

Furthermore, this will slightly affect rates on your broadband connection. In testing the entire Internet connection via the light bulb network (running an Internet broadband test via Speedtest.net), I found that my 50/50 broadband network (50Mbps download, 50Mbps upload) slowed down to the 32-35 Mbps range (whereas my other Wi-Fi connections safely remained in that 50/50 range). That isn’t really a big deal unless you’re relying on that bandwidth to do many, many things within the house. The slight slowdown didn’t affect me from streaming video, for example, but I would be worried if multiple clients started to try and utilize the lower bandwidth at the same time. I would hope the makers figure out a way to have a dual-band chip in the 5 GHz frequency to help boost the Wi-Fi speeds in product updates. Additionally, the idea of making the light bulbs as mesh nodes (in addition to the powerline connection) would be an intriguing development.

Bottom line: If you are fine with the slower network speeds and ragged edges of the mobile app and UI – because you really, really need to solve a Wi-Fi blind spot issue – then this is worth a look. Otherwise, I’d adopt a wait-and-see strategy to see if the system can be updated/improved.

Grade: 2.5 stars (out of five).

Related Video:

As a guest on Computerworld's Mingis On Tech, I talked about the de.light light bulb:

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