In homes across the country, many smart homeowners have chosen to use an Amazon Echo, in conjunction with the Alexa app, as their smart home hub. Their popularity, wide variety of options, and ease of use have drawn many people to the smart home hub of one of the largest manufacturers.
Alexa and the Echo are also compatible with many other smart home devices, including those from other manufacturers such as LIFX, Nitebird, and Philips Hue. As long as they can connect to these devices via a Wi-Fi connection (and Zigbee in the case of the Philips Hue) they can communicate and control your other smart home devices.
But what happens if something happens and the internet goes out? Or what if the internet connection in your area is particularly spotty? Will your Amazon Echo or the Alexa app still be operational? The short answer is…
No, the vast majority of Amazon Echo functions (including routines) will not work when the internet is down. The Alexa platform is designed to be “cloud based”, not “local based”. You may need to hunt for alternatives if no-internet support is required.
What is Amazon Alexa and the Echo?
These words, followed by a specific command, are a familiar phrase in many smart homes today. They are the start to unlocking the world of control over the various facets of the modern smart home. But just what does Amazon’s Alexa and the Echo do?
Alexa is Amazon’s AI (artificial intelligent) assistant – just like Siri is Apple’s. As an AI assistant, Alexa, usually via the Echo, helps automate the operation of your smart home, as well as performs other helpful functions.
For example, in addition to turning on, dimming, and turning off your smart lights, Alexa can also tell you what time it is, what the weather will be like over the weekend, as well as where you can find a good recipe for Beef Stew. You can even ‘Drop In’ or speak through other Echo devices in your home – particularly helpful when you’re trying to reach someone in another room.
Devices like the Echo Show take things up a notch by giving you a screen. If you happen to operate smart home cameras as part of your setup, this interactive touch screen enables you to see your camera views right from your Echo Show.
With the Alexa app, you can even set routines, such as a nighttime routine that turns off all of the main lights, turns on night lights, and plays a soothing music station – particularly useful if you have children.
However, these functions are typically accessible only with an internet connection. Without it, there’s no way for your Echo or Alexa to communicate with most of your other smart home devices – or each other. They also won’t be able to gather information about the weather or traffic conditions – functions that require an internet connection.
So then, what happens to your Echo if the internet goes out?
Do Amazon Alexa and Echo devices work without the Internet?
Because Echo devices rely heavily on an internet connection to communicate with the Alexa app, other smart home devices, as well as to gather information such as real-time weather and traffic, without this connection, they simply cannot function. At best, you’ll get a rather snazzy-looking clock in your living room – or wherever you happen to place your Echo.
Echo devices need this constant connection to the Amazon network in order to provide you with all of the services that Amazon Echo and Alexa have to offer. Contrary to popular belief, there is very little stored locally in your Alexa app except for a brief record of your requests – but that’s essentially it. Everything else is only accessible with an internet connection.
Even less is stored in your Echo device, as it relies on the connection with the Alexa app in order to perform its various functions.
The only exception to this is more recent Echo devices contain a ZigBee chip, allowing some control of your ZigBee based lights (such as from Philips Hue). In other words, you may be able to control your non-WiFi smart lights without the internet. However the list of supported devices for this is quite limited:
- Amazon Echo Plus
- Amazon Echo Show full size (2nd gen)
To check this support, you can say “Alexa, what can you do offline?” and it’ll tell you. But be warned – support will be fairly limited!
Do Alexa routines work without the Internet?
When you create Routines in the Alexa app, you can initiate them by using key phrases you’ve specified in the app, and speak them to your Echo. For example, if you’ve created a routine for relaxation, you would say your phrase such as “Alexa, relax”. This would initiate the different aspects of your routine, such as dimming or changing the color of lights, and/or putting on music from one of your favorite stations.
You can also set routines using other prompts such as the time or a trigger from another smart home device, like a security camera.
In order for these routines to be carried out, an internet connection is needed so that Alexa can communicate with your Echo, as well as all of your smart home devices. Without this internet connection, routines cannot be carried out.
The only aspect of a routine that may be unaffected by an internet outage, is in the case of Bluetooth-enabled smart home devices. One such example is Philips Hue’s line of Bluetooth lights. These lights connect to each other and the app via Bluetooth, so after initial set up, they don’t require an internet connection.
Even though Zigbee devices such as Philips Hue’s non-Bluetooth lights and Innr smart lights don’t require internet, they still won’t be able to work with Alexa routines if the internet is down. This is also the case if you’re operating an Echo that requires a Bridge in order to connect to the lights.
Zigbee bridges such as the Hue Bridge need an internet connection in order to connect to the Alexa app. Even if you’re operating a version of the Echo that has a Zigbee hub already integrated, without the internet, the Alexa app cannot communicate with the Echo in order to tell it what to do when it comes to routines.
Why the “offline smart home” is important
Especially with so many people now working and doing their schooling from home, the high demand on the internet can make it less than reliable at times. Take into account weak Wi-Fi – and our darling kids – or pets ‘accidentally’ disconnecting things, interruptions to our Wi-Fi are inevitable.
Another reason to have an offline smart home, is security. In addition to Wi-Fi disruptions, many have increased concerns over the security of their information as it gets stored on the Cloud. Security breaches experienced by even large manufacturers with high-level internet security are unfortunately all too common, leaving many people looking for internet independent options that keep their information secure, and stored locally.
Finally, how would you feel if a smart home company randomly announced that they will start charging a mandatory subscription fee otherwise nothing will work? Well, that’s exactly what Wink did in 2020. It’s a scary thought – imagine that after investing thousands of dollars in a smart home, Amazon turn round and tell you to pay $10 per month or nothing will work! A fully local smart home would protect against this – everything happens offline (without the internet), meaning that you wouldn’t need to pay a monthly ‘cloud subscription’ fee.
To that end, creating an ‘offline smart home’ can help keep your information more secure, and still be able to perform some essential smart home functions. Granted, depending on how you achieve an offline smart home, it may not always be as fully functional as the average smart home that is connected to the internet. However, it can be an excellent alternative when needed – whether on a temporary or more permanent basis.
When it comes to achieving the offline smart home, there are a few options that can be employed.
Alternative Ways of Achieving an Offline (or Local) Smart Home
Because they rely on the internet, the Alexa app nor the Amazon Echo can be used to create an offline smart home. Fortunately, there are other options that can be used to achieve this.
Local Voice Control
Some older Echo devices, such as the 1st and 2nd Generation Echo Plus, and 2nd Generation Echo Show, have the option of using Local Voice Control. Any voice commands uttered are stored, and then sent to the Cloud once the internet connection is restored. At that time you can review the request and see if you’d still like your Echo to perform the specified command.
Because there is no internet connection, functionality with local voice control is limited. In addition to getting the time, you’ll be able to stop or cancel any timers, reminders, or alarms as long as they were set before your device went offline. You won’t be able to set any new timers, alarms, or reminders until your Echo device regains internet connection.
Certain smart home devices can be accessed using Bluetooth. For example, Philips Hue has a line of Bluetooth bulbs that can be controlled in this manner:
Since Bluetooth isn’t reliant on internet, you can use devices that are connected and controlled this way to achieve an offline smart home. Because Bluetooth has a limited range, you will need to be home, and often in the same room in order for the smart home devices to be effectively controlled.
Another option when it comes to having a local home network, is HomeAssistant. This home automation hub is designed to work locally, keeping your information secure as it operates without the use of internet and the cloud.
HomeAssistant is free and open-source, and a good choice for tech-savvy individuals as it can require a bit of tinkering in order to get it all set up. But once it’s set up, you can control compatible smart home devices locally without worrying about internet connections going down, or your information being compromised.
The downside is that not all devices work with it – even common products like Amazon’s Smart Plug.
Compatible with Alexa, if you so choose, Hubitat can be used with the internet via a LAN (Local Area Network), as well as offline. During the initial setup, you will need to connect Hubitat directly to your router. Every app downloaded onto Hubitat is stored locally and once set up, can be used without a connection to the internet.
Hubitat stores all device data locally. Because of this, if your internet happens to go down, it can still process the automations that you have set in place. If you want to be able to control Hubitat using your phone or another mobile device, a LAN connection will be required.
While it isn’t completely independent of the internet, it remains a good choice if you experience frequent internet outages, and still need certain smart home functions to be performed.
If you want to be completely independent of the internet, you can also opt for a Zigbee or Z-Wave-based hub. In this case, all of your smart home devices would have to operate on the same protocol as the hub (i.e. Zigbee hub, Zigbee smart devices).
For example, Aqara makes a Zigbee hub which you can use in place of a more traditional Wi-Fi-based hub. They also make a variety of smart home devices that can be used to achieve an offline smart home.
Zigbee and Z-Wave-based hubs can be used in conjunction with any compatible Wi-Fi assistants if you’d like the flexibility of using both Zigbee/Z-Wave and the internet.
Some smart home users utilize these hubs as back-ups in case the internet does down, while they use more common hubs such as Alexa and the Echo as their main hubs. Many Zigbee and Z-Wave devices can be cross-compatible with Wi-Fi-based hubs, as long as there is an integrated or external bridge, so using them interchangeably is definitely possible.
Conclusion: Internet Required For Best (Amazon) Results
Since there are no options available for offline operation, Alexa and Echo devices need the internet in order to operate at their full potential. They require constant access to the Amazon network, and they can only achieve this via an internet connection.
Fortunately, there are other options if you would like to achieve a smart home that’s not dependent on the internet. HomeAssistant and Hubitat are two examples of hubs that can help you achieve an offline smart home. Zigbee and Z-Wave hubs are also great alternatives should you want to be free of the internet altogether
At the end of the day, your choice of smart home or home automation hub depends on your own specific circumstances and preferences.