Tasks like covering your windows when there too much sunlight in your house or setting your sprinklers to water your garden on daily basis at a specific time. Even controlling your garage door using your smartphone are all parts of home automation.
Eco-system of Home Automation:
There are really hundreds of ways you can use home automation to make your daily life easier. It all depends on how much of your life you want to automate and what devices you need to do so. There would be no problems if you just had a single smart lock, smart bulb etc, but what if you need a lot of them? You would need to switch from one app to the next, and have hubs to control all the different devices.
So the most important thing to consider when choosing a smart device is to make sure that it is compatible with the other devices that you have. That explains why there is an increasing number of open-source protocols for devices, which communicate with each other well.
There are plenty of available protocols each with its own pros and cons.
Ok, so what’s the difference between Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-wave and others?
Wi-Fi works well for applications where you’re transmitting a lot of data throughout your house. For example, if you’re streaming a video across your house, then Wi-Fi is a suitable option.
For smart home devices that send data intermittently, WiFi drains too much power. It’d be very inefficient if every networked device in your home used Wi-Fi, and your smart LED bulbs might end up using, even more, power than normal led bulbs. So devices like these turn to other protocols, such as ZigBee or Z-Wave to both preserve their batteries and limit energy consumption.
Zigbee is a wireless protocol which operates with a mesh network. This means that each Zigbee device emits a radio signal that travels a little further than the last, expanding the network. The power usage is minimal and that’s why it has an inbuilt function to work with devices such as Smart locks, temperature sensors, door sensors etc.
Its power usage is minimal and, which is why devices such as Smart locks, temperature sensors, door sensors, etc are compatible to work with Zigbee.
Similar to Zigbee, Z-Wave is an open source mesh network protocol. Technically speaking, the main difference between the two is the data throughput — Z-wave is roughly 6 times slower than Zigbee. It does, however, require less energy to cover the same range as Zigbee.
It’s worth noting that both Zigbee and Z-wave can’t be used standalone without being connected to your local network. They are not directly compatible with your smartphone, tablet or laptop. That’s why the devices for these two protocols require a hub that is connected to your local network via wifi or ethernet that is directly connected to your router. That’s how Fibaro and Hue work- the different devices they support are connected to the bridge via Z-Wave or Zigbee and the bridge itself connects to your local network. That doesn’t mean, however, that Z-wave and Zigbee can communicate with each other.
Smart Hubs to the rescue
So devices from different manufacturers can work together, but what happens when you need to use two different devices that support two different protocols?
Generally, you need a smart hub, such as Smart Things from Samsung or Vera, that supports all of the necessary protocols. The hub acts as a translator, able to communicate with both Wi-Fi networks and other protocols (these are always ZigBee and Z-Wave, but sometimes others as well) and orchestrates your smart home devices so that you don’t have to. With this, you only need one hub/bridge for all your smart devices, making the Z-wave or Zigbee specific bridges obsolete.
Conclusion: Why can’t they all use one protocol?
Home automation is getting more and more popular and the technology keeps evolving. Newer devices that have recently hit the market are trying to think outside the box and break the protocol war. They don’t directly support these protocols, but integrate with other hubs and bridges directly or through services such as IFTTT or Stringify. Take, for example, Amazon Alexa & Nest;- the latter uses Thread while Amazon Alexa simply uses WiFi. Yet, Amazon and Nest can still communicate with each other over the Internet and so the protocol is no longer important. That doesn’t mean that you don’t need a bridge, but it does at least simplify communication between the devices.