Newbie wanting to set up Philips Hue lights without wired internet connection

Context

  • I want to purchase some Philips Hue lights and use them as a light-up alarm at 5:00 am each morning, in a simple and cost-effective way.
  • I have never used Philips Hue lights - or indeed, any smart home products - previously.
  • If I could operate the lights remotely, that would be a nice bonus, but not a must-have.

Equipment

  • I use a 4G modem that I connect to wirelessly as my sole source of internet.
  • I have a non-smart Netgear router that I don’t use at the moment.
  • I could use my WiFi-only iPad Air 2 as my home hub.
    • It will be at home when I want the lights to go on at 5:00 am, but I do take it out with me from time to time.

Problem

  • The 4G modem does not have an ethernet port:
    • I cannot connect it to the Philips Hue bridge.
    • I cannot connect it to a router in bridge mode to provide me with internet-connected ethernet ports.

Thought bubbles and questions

  • A Medium writer found that there could be a way to hack the Philips Hue bridge to enable it to connect to a network wirelessly (https://medium.com/@rxseger/enabling-the-hidden-wi-fi-radio-on-the-philips-hue-bridge-2-0-42949f0154e1). However, I’m not interested in exploring this.
  • I could purchase a 4G modem with ethernet ports and connect the router in bridge mode, or a 4G modem-router. However, these cost over AU$200, and I’m keen to explore options that don’t involve this extra cost.
  • Philips recently released bluetooth-enabled lights that don’t require a Bridge. However, light schedules require the Bridge (https://www2.meethue.com/en-us/how-it-works)
  • I could use the Netgear router to set up a local network - not connected to the Internet - and connect the Bridge to it, as the Bridge doesn’t require an internet connection to operate (https://www2.meethue.com/en-us/app/bridge).
    • The complication here is that I’ll have two WiFi networks at home: my internet connection, and my local network with the router and Bridge. Any device connected to the local network will not be connected to the Internet.
    • In general, I like keeping things simple, and I’m unsure regarding the consequences of this dual-network setup.
    • For example, does scheduling require an internet-connected Bridge and/or a home hub? (Apple suggests that home hubs aren’t necessary if you’re not remotely using the lights.)

Thank you!

Is it possible to use the Netgesr to connect to the WiFi network and output that network via Ethernet? Then you’d still only have one network, but you’d have an Ethernet port for the Hue bridge.

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Interesting idea - looks like it might be, but I can’t recall the model of my Netgear router, silly me! I’ll ask my parents to bring it down to my place ASAP.

For reference: https://kb.netgear.com/24105/What-is-bridge-mode-and-how-do-I-set-it-up-on-my-Nighthawk-router

Edit: the help page says that

You can use your router in bridge mode to connect multiple devices at the faster 802.11ac speed. To do this, you need two WiFi routers: one set up as a router and the other set up in bridge mode.

However, I’m not sure if the 4G modem counts as a WiFi router for this purpose - it outputs an SSID and password that I can use to connect to the internet, but it doesn’t have ethernet output.

Also, set up step 8c says:

In the Security Option section, select the WiFi security mode of the other router.

I’m not sure what this will be for the 4G modem.

I suppose the best way to test it is to set up the router and try to access the internet using ethernet!

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The Peplink SoHo router can use a cellphone modem with USB as a WAN connection.

It also can connect to a WiFI network as WAN as long as connecting to that WiFI network doesn’t involve a splash page.

Peplink also makes cellular routers where you can insert one or multiple SIM cards.

I’m still learning about all of this home automation, so take this with a grain of salt.

One of the confusing things is that you can create automations within the device’s app (or, at least most devices’s apps support automation) or within Apple’s Home app (assuming your devices support HomeKit). What I’ve read and experienced is that the device’s apps usually are terrible and the automation is unreliable. Thus, I only use the Home app for automation.

If you’re going that route, then you must have a home hub for automation. (You also need a home hub for remote access.) What’s not clear is if that home hub device must be on the internet, but given the problems I’ve seen, I wouldn’t be surprised if an internet connection was required. I know you must be signed into the same AppleID on the home hub as the device where you create the automations.

So, if all you ever want to do is create a Hue automation with a few lights, you might be better off using the Hue app for the automation. In that case, Hue says you don’t need an internet connection to control your lights — but it’s not clear if you can run automations without internet.

One final thing: IoT devices often need firmware updates. So at some point you’ll have to give them access to the internet.

Are you willing to invest in a Echo Plus? That’s what I did. I own an Echo Plus (which has built in smart light hub) and it connects wirelessly to my wireless router. Then, all I need is buy Philips Hue lights, just lights without the hub, and Alexa will be able to search and connect the lights effortlessly. That way, you have a voice assistant to help with the lights.

Update

So Amazon has a remarkable sale on a Philips Hue White Ambience starter kit with the bridge, three bulbs and a dimmer switch. The recommended retail price is close to AU$200, but they’re currently going for AU$114. According to CamelCamelCamel, this is the lowest price recorded.

Consequently, on Thursday, I asked Bunnings Warehouse whether they’d be willing to beat this price by 10%, as per their Price Policy. Even though the policy states that the competitor’s product must be available for same-day delivery, they were still willing to apply it for me - so I scored the lights for AU$102.60!

Experiments with the Modem Router

On Boxing Day, anticipating my purchase, I experimented with the Netgear D7000 modem router that I purchased a few years ago. I stopped using the router when I moved completely to 4G mobile data: Optus has mobile phone plans provide me with more than enough for my needs, and I use the Huawei E5573 mobile broadband device that Optus provide to access this data wirelessly at home.

Since the Philips Hue bridge can only connect to a network by wired Ethernet - apart from the possibility of a warranty-voiding trick - I wanted to see whether I could access the internet provided by the Huawei mobile broadband device through the Netgear modem router. However, I quickly ran into roadblocks:

  • Netgear provide instructions about how to set up their routers as wireless repeaters. However, I couldn’t see any option for wireless repeating when I reached step 5 of the instructions.
  • A Netgear community post almost directly answers my question (the R7000 is identical to the D7000 except without a built-in modem). It links to an SNBForums thread that suggests that wireless repeating should be the way to go.

Hardware set-up

I have two wireless networks in my home that I’m using simultaneously: the internet-connected wireless network provided by the Huawei mobile broadband device (the internet network), and the local-only wireless network provided by the Netgear modem router (the Netgear network). The Philips Hue bridge is connected to the router by Ethernet.

I discovered a number of curiosities from these network experiments:

  • Since connecting the Philips Hue bridge to the Netgear modem router, I cannot access the settings of the Netgear modem router on any device through 192.168.0.1 or http://www.routerlogin.net or any other IP address, even though I’m connected to its wireless network.
    • I was previously able to connect to the Netgear modem router on my Mac, before connecting the Philips Hue bridge.
  • I can connect my iPhone to the Netgear network and simultaneously access the internet through cellular data.
  • I can connect my iPad to the Netgear network and simultaneously access the internet through bluetooth tethering to the iPhone.

Experiments with the Philips Hue lights

What works

  • Remarkably, I was able to use Apple’s Home app to control the Philips Hue lights from my iPhone and Apple Watch straight away.
  • Curiously, I needed to download the Philips Hue app to access the colour temperature settings for the white ambience bulbs, but once I did, I was able to change the colour temperature from Apple’s Home app as well.
  • I can use the Philips Hue app on my iPhone to set schedules for my bedroom light, so that it automatically comes on at 0500 each morning. No more snoozing the alarm and falling back to sleep!
  • I can set up my iPad as a home hub. However, for this to be useful, my iPad needs to be connected to the Netgear network and the internet. For me, adhering to this requirement requires the aforementioned tenuous setup.

What doesn’t work

  • Using Apple’s home automations didn’t work, probably due to my tenuous iPad home hub set-up. I tried using this feature to schedule my bedroom light to switch on at 0500 each morning, however, I think the iPad may have disconnected from bluetooth tethering.
  • Curiously, even though the Philips Hue hub did some sort of iOS-initiated update when I first switched it on, I have the following error message in the Software update section of the Philips Hue app: Hue Bridge has no internet connection Please try again later. Unfortunately, it looks like the Philips Hue hub cannot access the cellular connection of my iPhone, even though both devices are connected to the Netgear network. I’m tempted to take an attitude of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, I’d love to update everything to enable the power on behaviour feature, so that I’m not woken up if the power fails and restores overnight.

Future plans

I’ve been wanting to try out Philips Hue lights for ages, mostly to use them as a wake-up light, but also to see if home automation represents good value for money for me. However, I do wonder if a Wake Up Light Alarm Clock might have been better value, at least to achieve my goal of having a wake-up light. Of course, the Philips Hue lights are sunk costs now, so my thought bubble is merely academic at this point.

I feel like I’m on the precipice of a money-spending cliff at the moment. For example, I could spend:

  • AU$20+ per bulb/lamp: I have some unused lamps at the moment, but all of them are Edison screw lamps! I picked up the Philips Hue starter kit with Bayonet bulbs because it was the cheapest on Amazon; the starter kit with Edison screw bulbs is AU$139 for a bridge and two bulbs.
  • AU$200-300 to upgrade my networking gear, so that I have one internet-connected network.
  • AU$200+ on a device to use as a home hub; I often take my iPad with me, so it’s a poor choice for a home hub.

However, my set-up works fine as it is, so I don’t want to spend any more money on it.

For example, in order to remotely access my lights, I think I’d need to move to a wired internet solution. This hypothesis is based on my failure to set up remote access to my sleeping Mac from my iPad using Screens and Screens Connect while connected to 4G wireless internet. And even though the cost would be similar, I’ve always had a more reliable internet experience using 4G wireless internet.

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Thanks for giving us an update! This is the kind of real-world info that is desperately lacking in this area. Even manufacturers don’t provide enough detail to know how their products will work in specific circumstances (Apple, I’m looking at you!).