Smart plugs are a great way to start adding home automation to your house. They let you turn on and off lights and control other electronics via an app or, in some cases, with just your voice. As with all smart home devices, smart plugs do have to communicate with at least one other device.
Do smart plugs use Wi-Fi data? Wi-Fi smart plugs do use a minimal amount of data. Smart plugs that communicate using another protocol, such as ZigBee or Z-Wave, do not directly use Wi-Fi. The smart hub that the smart plug communicates with will use data.
There are a variety of ways that a smart plug communicates with the outside world. Let’s take a few minutes to explore how the method they use to communicate determines if the smart plug uses data, and also how much data they may use.
Smart Plug Wi-Fi Data Path (How a Smart Plug could use Wi-Fi)
Here is what it looks like when your smart plug is using data, if it uses Wi-Fi to communicate.
- You, the user, send a command through an app, or another device like Alexa or Google Home.
- The command is relayed to the manufacturer’s device server in the cloud, via your internet connection.
- The manufacturer’s server responds by sending the command to your smart plug.
- The smart plug receives the message, and responds back acknowledging that it was received.
Smart Plug Communication Options
There are more options than just Wi-Fi when it comes to using data and how a smart plug communicates with other devices.
When building a smart home, one of the factors you should consider is how much you want the
“cloud” involved. Things like geo-fencing, or controlling devices when your away from home.
If these are options you need or want, then you will in some way use Wi-Fi.
Wi-Fi provides network connectivity to Wi-Fi enabled deivces within its range. In other words, Wi-Fi which creates a local network for your Wi-Fi smart home devices to communicate with the outside world.
Any time a device needs to communicate, either by sending information or receiving information, it will use Wi-Fi data to achieve its task.
ZigBee & Z-Wave
ZigBee and Z-Wave are Wi-Fi alternatives. They create a network similar to Wi-Fi, but using a different radio frequency.
Devices that use ZigBee or Z-Wave create what is known as a mesh network. That means that each device can talk to each other.
In order to communicate with these devices, a smart home hub is required.
Smart home hubs can connect to the cloud (aka, the internet or outside world), or they can be setup to operate only locally.
Smart hubs sometimes have the option to connect directly to a router via a Ethernet cable, or by using a Wi-Fi connection.
Depending on the setup, your smart plug may indirectly use Wi-Fi data.
This would require your smart hub to be connected wirelessly to your router.
Using your ZigBee or Z-wave devices through a smart hub not connected to a router, or a smart hub connected using a cable, would not use Wi-Fi data.
How much data does a Smart Plugs Use?
Smart plugs typically do not use a lot of data. In fact, smart devices in general do not use a lot of data.
Manufactures don’t publish how much data their devices use, but this information can be gathered from user reports.
Also, it depends on the brand, because different brands use different ways to talk with their servers, just like every individual has their own way they like to talk and use phrases, although they are communicating the same information.
The high range for smart plug data usage is about 150 MB downloaded (received) and 100 MB uploaded (sent).
The low range is about 1 MB downloaded and 2 MB uploaded.
Of course, the amount of data being exchanged will depend on how much you are using the particular device. IF you use the device a lot, it is going to resort in higher data usage.
How to monitor data usage
There is a multitude of reasons that someone may want to monitor data usage of a device.
Perhaps they have limited data on their internet plan, or they want to check to make sure a device isn’t hacked, or maybe they noticed their internet slowed down. The list goes on and on.
Here are a few ways you can monitor data usage of a specific device. It doesn’t have to be just a smart plug you’re monitoring.
Wireshark is a very popular tool used to monitor network traffic. It is what I use when I’m investigating certain activities on my network.
Here a video that will walk you through how to use it.
There are other software and hardware methods available.
One popular option, that I haven’t personally used, is Unifi Controller. Unifi products are usually aimed at professional use, but can be used a hobbyist as well.
What to do if my Smart Plug is Using a Lot of Data
If you find your smart plug is using over a couple hundred megabytes per month, I would disconnect it from your network immediately.
This would be a good indication of unwanted behavior occurring on your smart plug.
Likely reasons for unexpectedly high data usage include the device being hacked and used for a “botnet” or the device was designed to spy on you and is relaying data to a designated server. (China has done this before.)
A botnet is group of compromised devices that can be used to do things for a hacker. Your device could be a part of that group of compromised devices.
This type of behavior is more common among off-brands. If this sort of problem occurs with a known name brand with a good reputation, contact them and let them know.
A name brand manufacturer is likely to help you out and also help you prevent the problem from happening again.
Data Usage Solutions – Ways to Limit Data Usage
Limit Data with your Router
There are tons of different routers out there, but most of the well-known brand will have some method for limiting from a given IP address.
The steps will look something like this:
- Determine the IP address of the smart plug.
- You can see a list of connected devices by logging into your router.
- It will usually show the brand name when logged into your router.
- You can test out if you have the right device by turning it off and refreshing the list.
- Go to the Advanced Menu
- Either Block the MAC Address, or limit data usage to the desired level.
Pi-hole is a program designed to block ads on your network. It was made to run on a Raspberry Pi. It is a free, open-source program.
Pi-hole automatically blocks known ads, but you can also use it to block traffic from certain addresses, similar to the router option previously described.
Pi-hole also offers some network monitoring if needed.
You can find out more by visiting their website at pi-hole.net
Do smart plugs work without WiFi?
Smart plugs will continue to operate without a Wi-Fi connection, but smart features will not function. The physical button on the smart plug will continue to function as a normal switch does.
Can smart plugs work without internet?
Smart plugs can continue to operate without an internet connection, but some smart features may not be available. IF the device is still connected to the home network with no internet, features outside of the home network will not function.
Do smart plugs use a lot of electricity?
Smart plugs themselves do not use a lot of electricity. Smart plugs use approximately 1 Watt of power when in stand-by mode. That results in an energy usage of 8.76 kWh over the course of a year.