53 views | March 23, 2020
Smart Hubs: Complete Buyer’s Guide
A Quick Overview
By now you might have heard of the Internet of Things (IoT). You might even have IoT technology installed in your home.
For a quick review, the IoT consists of the smart devices that automate the way your smart home functions. These include lights, locks, security cameras and alarms, thermostats, doorbells, lawn watering systems and other gadgets that you can remotely program and control.
But here’s the problem: your IoT devices might use a variety of smart device “protocols” or communications technologies, and those protocols aren’t always compatible. That’s why your home might need a smart hub.
Various technologies came along at different times, resulting in the thousands of devices that people now use to run their smart homes. Some of the devices are connected by wiring while others are wireless. Furthermore, those wireless devices might operate on different radio frequencies.
The challenge is making these different smart devices and protocols work seamlessly together. You also want them to all be able to link to the internet so you can operate them remotely from a laptop or smartphone.
Let’s start with a better understanding of some of the leading protocols powering your home automation devices today.
- Z-Wave – With a menu of more than 2,400 devices, Z-Wave is probably the most common household smart device protocol. Operating on a low radio frequency (RF), wireless Z-Wave won’t interfere with your home’s Wi-Fi or microwave signals.
- Zigbee –Although this wireless smart device protocol can be vulnerable to interference with Wi-Fi, it’s faster than Z-Wave technology and can support thousands of smart devices on one network. The approximately 2,500 Zigbee-connected smart devices include motion detectors, lights and lawn sprinklers.
- Insteon – This smart device protocol runs about 200 smart home devices on a fast mix of home hard wiring and RF technologies. Principle smart devices using Insteon include lights, dimmers, cameras and thermostats.
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth – These technologies directly handle a limited number of home automation devices. However, Bluetooth has a limited range and the batteries of devices with Wi-Fi radios can drain quickly.
Finding the Right Smart Hub
Your home might have several smart devices running on a mix of protocols. The best smart hubs can communicate with and connect most of these smart devices in home automation that’s easy to use.
Samsung SmartThings Hub and Wink Hub 2 are examples of leading multi-protocol hubs. SmartThings, for instance, will support Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, among other protocols, and will work with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice assistants.
Wink Hub 2 supports Bluetooth, Lutron Clear Connect lighting systems, and Kidde carbon monoxide and smoke alarms, as well as Amazon Alexa and products from numerous manufacturers, including GE and Honeywell.
Google Home Hub and Amazon Echo Plus are examples of voice command technologies that also serve as smart hub devices.
The Final Word
Welcome to the Internet of Things. Before you buy any IoT smart home automation products, your first step should be to mate them with a smart hub that can provide a single-source connection solution. If you do, your smart home should fulfill your commands easily and seamlessly.
Check the specs of the smart home automation products that interest you and be sure to note what protocol or communications technology they use. Make sure they are compatible and can be integrated into a unified system. You’ll often see “works with…” on the packaging, which will help you make this determination.
If you find this content to be useful and would like to learn more, please consult our FirstEnergy Home Learning Library.
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