Home smart speaker sales exploded over Christmas, reportedly because so many people gave them as gifts. Concerns over the ethics of giving someone a home spying device aside, it appears the hardware is causing real problems for Wi-Fi routers.
Originally, it was thought that the problem was confined to one Google device, the Google Home Max, and one company’s routers (TP-Link). Additional analysis has shown this is not the case, on either end. The Google Home Mini, Google Home, and Chromecast are all reportedly affected, as are routers from other companies. TP-Link has posted an update with their troubleshooting results. It reads, in part:
Following initial research and investigation, our engineering team is confident that they’ve determined one of the key origins of the issue. From what we have gathered so far, the issue appears to be related to some of the recent versions of Android OS and Google Apps.
This issue stems from these devices’ “Cast” feature, which sends MDNS multicast discovery packets in order to discover and keep a live connection with Google products such as Google Home. These packets normally sent in a 20-second interval. However, we have discovered that the devices will sometimes broadcast a large amount of these packets at a very high speed in a short amount of time. This occurs when the device is awakened from its “sleep” state, and could exceed more than 100,000 packets. The longer your device is in “sleep”, the larger this packet burst will be. This issue may eventually cause some of router’s primary features to shut down – including wireless connectivity.
Generally, you will need to perform a reboot to release the memory to solve this issue. You may also try disabling the “Cast” feature on your Android device to help mitigate the issue until an update is released to permanently fix this issue on the device itself.
TP-Link has created beta patches to try to resolve the issue on their own hardware, but notes that a true fix will depend on Google releasing one themselves. While it’s clear this is an unintended bug, it does indirectly highlight a different issue: As the Internet of Things becomes more popular, it’s going to be more and more critical for companies to deal with issues like this. Back when a quick router reset solved most problems, it was one thing, but running around resetting more and more wireless products to address these kinds of issues will be a nonstarter once your average household has to reboot an actual handful of hardware to clear the problem.
Or, you know, give somebody a book in lieu of a Google Home. If they need a hands-free light solution, I’m pretty sure there’s a clapping-based method in the “As Seen on TV” aisle at your local Walmart.