NEW YORK — C'mon now, do you really think you're in charge of your home network? Really?
Not when you've got disobedient kids visiting websites you'd rather be off limits. Not when they're streaming videos on Netflix or YouTube when they should be doing their homework. And certainly not when they know more about tech than you do.
But it's not just about your brat's insubordination.
Did you ever stop to consider just how many devices in the house are arm-wrestling with one another for bandwidth? Sure there's the obvious ones — computers, tablets, smartphones. But then you also have media boxes and entertainment consoles, some mix of Apple TV, Chromecast, DVR, Roku, PlayStation and Xbox. It doesn't end there. You've got light switches and thermostats that connect to the Internet, and even own a bathroom scale that communicates via Wi-Fi.
All these devices periodically weigh on the Internet connection that you rely on to get work done, or to stream your own online entertainment without the intermittent hiccups that can spoil the fun. The burgeoning Internet of Things trend in which practically every household object or appliance is eventually going to want to exploit an online connection only suggests network congestion will get worse.
When it comes to policing your family's cyberactivities or just taming your home network, the outlook appears bleak.
It need not be.
I've been testing a robust home-networking solution called Skydog from PowerCloud Systems, and while it won't solve all of your Internet or parenting concerns, it can help put the digital winds at your back. Yes, I've got a few reservations — Skydog can be more intuitive to use in places, and it doesn't currently take advantage of the latest flavor of Wi-Fi, what the techies refer to as 802.11ac.
But I can also recommend Skydog to parents concerned about their youngsters' Internet usage, and really to anyone who with or without kids wants to better manage the connected devices in their homes. You pay $149 for the router, which includes three years of service, after which Skydog will charge you what strikes me as a perfectly reasonable $30 a year.
On the surface, Skydog is just another geeky Gigabit Dual-Band Wi-Fi router, a small black box with blinking blue and amber lights and the requisite ports on the rear for hooking up cables. But Skydog combines that router with a customizable cloud-management service and Web-based app that really sets it apart. Colorful charts within the app give you a quick view into your home Internet activity. You can see which devices are hogging bandwidth and, having assigned devices to specific family members (or guests), see who is using those devices.
What's more, you can set maximum limits on the amount of bandwidth assigned devices can use, and set priorities on which users get access to unused bandwidth.
From within the app, you can set the hours and days of the week in which each family member can use the Internet at all. I found the method for establishing time limits a tad confusing at first. You might block access to a teen's iPad during the hours that they should be studying while relaxing the restrictions on the weekend.
You can also apply content filtering to put the kibosh on specific sites or categories of sites, banning, for example, Web destinations that promote aggressive behavior, criminal activities or vices. Skydog has set up five preset content-filtering policies ranging from "basic security" to the stricter "extreme shield." If your kid tries to go to an off-limits site, a page appears on his or her browser telling them they've been locked out. (Skydog obviously can't stop a kid from using his smartphone to visit a blocked spot.)
Parents can create custom rules to choose sites to always block or for that matter sites they deem kosher. Mom or Dad can also temporarily override pre-established time settings.
You can also create "watch lists" of designated sites to help you determine for example how much time your kid is spending on Facebook.
And if you really want to set a Big Brother tone in your household, you can have Skydog log your child's Web history.
Apart from parental controls, Skydog lets you segment your network into three virtual zones, "home," "work and "guest" by default, each with its own wireless name or SSID and Wi-Fi password (which you can change).
Devices connected to one zone are separate from devices assigned to another. In fact, as an added measure of security, devices within the guest zone cannot even interact with other devices in that zone. The idea here behind zones is that you might segregate the computers and devices you use in your home office from the gadgets you use for fun and games. And you can give priority to one zone over another.
Skydog can replace your existing router, of course, or you can use it in conjunction with the one you have now. Installation is fairly simple, helped by the company's liberal use of instructional videos. The first step is to set up a Skydog account, either by using your Google credentials, or by supplying an e-mail address, password and mobile number.
As you use Skydog, you'll receive text notifications to let you know when new devices access your home network or when you might be experiencing connectivity issues.
Along those lines, I still encountered network delays streaming episodes of Breaking Bad via Apple TV, so I'd love to see a longer-range Skydog router (you can employ more than one Skydog to extend your network range). But give Skydog credit for restoring networking power in the home where it should reside — with the grownups who are supposed to know best.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Skydog Dual Band Gigabit Wi-Fi Router from PowerCloud Systems
Pro. Router comes with cloud-management service with parental controls and tools to handle your Internet devices.
Con. Doesn't take advantage of latest Wi-Fi technology. Could be more intuitive in places.