Connecting LIFX lights to your wireless network generally isn't fun and a combination of factors means that with Google Wifi and an Android phone make the process even more frustrating.

The issue has to do with the fact that many smart home wifi devices only have a 2.4 ghz radio. This is common in smart home wifi devices for a few reasons. The amount of network traffic these devices use is substancially lower than a computer. 2.4 ghz radio waves can travel farther and degrade less when passing through objects and requires less power consumption and costs less than including a 5 ghz radio.

The process to join a LIFX light to your network roughly goes something like this:

  • The application connects to a wireless network hosted by the light
  • The application loads any firmware updates on the light and restarts it
  • The application reconnects to the lights wireless network again if needed
  • The application gives the light the connection information for the wireless network to join
  • The application then connects to the target wireless network and and checks to see if the light joined and then continues with the rest of the setup

This process is designed to allow the application and the light to do as much of the work as possible but the the trade off is that if the process breaks down the end user isn't left with a lot of options. It seems more common that there is no longer any middleground between this closed process and Gentoo (in this case something like wiring up a standard light bulb with an esp8266).

The process essentially works well enough if you can specify the name of your 2.4 ghz ssid or disable the 5 ghz network either on your access point or on the device running the LIFX application.  Google Wifi and recent Android devices don't offer this control. Google Wifi uses the same ssid for the 2.4 and 5 ghz networks and doesn't include an option to disable either of the networks. In most cases Google Wifi is able to direct the device to the appropriate network, but in this case the LIFX application passes the ssid of the target network to the light and if the device running the application is connected to the 5 ghz network, it will sends that information and the light often will be unable to connect.

The workaround is less than ideal but these are the steps that allowed me to get all the lights connected to my network.

  • Get a cheap wireless router that gives you control over the 2,4 ghz and 5 ghz networks seperately. I found a TP-Link wireless router for around 20 dollars on Amazon.
  • Turn off all your wireless devices. This will cut down on the amount of signal on the 2.4 ghz wavelength, this might not be enough of an issue if you aren't around any other networks, but if you are in an area saturated with other networks and devices all of this is noise so reducing the amount as much as possible seemed to help. Second a cheap wireless router might not be able to accomodate your normal amount of wireless devices you have on your network, TP-Link documentation had a recommend maximum of 15 devices and finally if your existing devices connect to the new network they can pick up new DHCP leases which might be erronously hung onto until they are reset or the lease expires.
  • Turn off your Google Wifi network and put the new cheap router in place, use the same ssid as your Google Wifi for the new router. You can try renaming the network on your Google Wifi but found that my Android device would not connect to the new routers network until I turned off Google Wifi and forgot and reconfigured the connection.
  • If you have one availble try using a tablet. This may just be a coincidence but in my case even with the above steps joining the lights from my phone still seemed to have issues but using an older tablet was a lot more consistent. The LIFX app layout on the tablet will give you a better insight into the process to as you can see it switch to "Guest" on the left pane when it is connected to the LIFX light's network and then your existing devices again when it switches back to your network.

Obviously this isn't ideal but in the end I was able to get all of my lights connected and working. Google's official recomendation is to stand far enough away that the 5 ghz network isn't availible and some people are saying that is a solution that worked for them or putting a pot over their Google Wifi.

I think a number of options could be implemented to improve this situation. First allowing disabling the 5 ghz network on Android devices and Google Wifi would be a huge help. Another option might be allowing pushing configuration through the LIFX's LAN API so that you have another option if the LIFX application is having an issue.