Which smart home automation protocol is right for you?


We have smart TVs, smartphones and smart cars, so why not smart homes too? The smart home industry is still in its infancy. Like any new industry, every manufacturer thinks it knows best and brings its own standards to the market. In the smart home automation market, those standards are based around the protocol used. So which smart home automation protocol is right for you?

A protocol is essentially the language devices use to talk to each other. As communication between devices is how smart home automation works, it is an important consideration. To make life even more interesting there are ten or so smart home automation protocols on the market right now. Some will only work on their own while others will work with a range of protocols.

So before making any buying decisions, it’s important to know which protocol is for you. Let’s take a quick look at each.

UPB, or Universal Powerline Bus uses your house’s wiring to transmit data between devices. The protocol is efficient and reliable but not compatible with many other protocols. It also makes wireless transmission difficult and is low bandwidth so can be slow. You cannot encrypt UPB either.

X10 has been around for almost 40 years and also uses the home wiring to communicate. It was supposed to be superseded by UPB but it didn’t happen. Because of its age, the protocol is limited to simple, narrowband instructions and susceptible to electronic interference. This interference can be mitigated with filters though.

Z-Wave is a wireless protocol that has been around for a while and therefore compatible with a range of devices. Currently, there are around 1,200 devices on the market that work with Z-Wave. The upside is that the protocol is simple to set up, requires very little power and can use each device as a repeater. The downside is that just like Wi-Fi, some homes suffer with low reception.

Insteon mixes both wireless and power line protocols and can combine them into a single smart home automation mesh. It is simple to set up, being mainly plug and play, turns devices into wireless repeaters and is infinitely scalable. Insteon compatible products are also readily available in stores.

ZigBee is another wireless protocol that works very well. It is picky in the devices it will work with so careful consideration has to be made in terms of purchasing and product choice. Nevertheless, it is a very efficient communications protocol that enables fast and easy setup.

We all know Wi-Fi and use it every day so it needs very little introduction here. Wi-Fi just works and many of us already have Wi-Fi routers already. The downside is mainly down to interference and bandwidth but is only really an issue in homes with lots of Wi-Fi devices already.

Bluetooth uses less power than Wi-Fi but has a shorter range. It is also another familiar protocol that we know and use already. The advantages of Bluetooth are interoperability and security. The downside, at least until BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) is more widespread is that very limited range.

Thread is a relative newcomer but is gaining popularity because of its flexibility and self-healing nature. It works well with battery-operated devices and can be secured effectively. Both Google’s Nest and Samsung Electronics use Thread with more manufacturers releasing compatible devices. Currently more than 250 devices work with the Thread protocol.

As to the original question, of which smart home automation protocol is right for you? Much depends on your brand preference and type of home. Many products will work with multiple protocols offering a little more freedom. Others do not but have other advantages. Choosing a protocol right now is a tough choice and will essentially come down to the one used by the products that best fits your needs.

Plan your smart home with Five top tips for planning your smart home set up and 10 tips to get the most out of your new smart home.

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