Home automation is acknowledged to be the wave of the future. Some analysts are predicting that more than 12 million home automation systems will be installed by 2016. If you’re interested in home automation, now is the time to start becoming a well-informed consumer.
If you are considering home automation, it helps to understand different “protocols” that are used by smart home devices. These protocols are the technological “languages” that allow the different parts of your home automation system to communicate with each other, as well as with a central control system.
If you are installing one single-task home automation device – such as a front door lock – all you really need to look at is the protocol’s range and reliability. You will want something that you know will work effectively as you control it through your smartphone, mobile device or computer.
If you are going to automate multiple devices in your home – not just locks, but lights, video cameras or a thermostat – the protocol becomes more important. If you find devices that seamlessly integrate on the same protocol, it’s likely that you won’t have to control each one through a different app.
That’s where it starts to get a little complicated. There are several protocol standards used today, and all are slightly different. Here are some of the most common:
- Z-Wave: Z-Wave was specifically created for home automation, becoming the international standard. It was released in 2007, so it is also one of the newest protocols available. Z-Wave devices have a small radio built into them that transmits and receives a signal from the controller or from other devices. More than 200 companies around the world have created hundreds of products that all work together, making Z-Wave a good choice for those fully automating their homes. The Z-wave protocol is that which the Monitronics home automation systems use because of its ease of use, reliability, and scalability.
- Universal Power Bus: UPB, or Universal Power Bus, is similar to Z-Wave. It has one of the highest signal reliability ratings out of all the different protocols, but it is also one of the more expensive options and may require a professional to install. UPB uses the AC wiring to conduct signals and control the different devices, which means devices have to be wired into your home’s electrical system.
- Insteon: Insteon is sold only by SmartHome.com, which means that there are fewer developers creating products for it. Because the same company makes all of the devices, they can all work together seamlessly, and no routing software or master controller is needed. Insteon makes use of both the AC wiring in the home and radio frequencies to network their devices.
- Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE): This is the same type of technology used in phones, computers, and gaming systems. Many products on the market today include built-in Bluetooth connectivity, but it is not often used in home automation because of its limited range when compared to other protocols.
- ZigBee: ZigBee was created by IEEE and is an 802 wireless communication standard. Many companies have devoted time to creating home automation systems based on ZigBee. It has a good range and connected devices can quickly communicate between each other. However, sometimes ZigBee devices made by different companies do not seamlessly integrate. There are a few different types of ZigBee protocols, including ZigBee HA, which uses the same wireless connectivity that many computer devices use, and ZigBee Light Link, which are designed to help users manage their energy use.
These are just a few of the different home automation protocols available. A savvy user will want to do in-depth research before selecting one, or consider purchasing a hub that will let the different devices communicate with each other. Those who may want to expand their home automation network later will definitely want to look at systems that are scalable, while those who are fairly sure they only want to control one or two things may want to base their decision more on immediate functionality.