Smart home protocols: Lights, refrigerators, air conditioners and door locks. They will soon all be accessible via the internet and work together. This is called smart home automation. But in the background it is still a mess. There are far too many protocols. This means that the smart devices remain fairly dumb, analysts warn.
Smart home protocols: Network protocols
What is going on? To get all smart devices into smart action, they must be able to talk to each other. A smart smoke detector that sniffs smoke must be able to switch off the somewhat less smart toaster independently, switch on the security camera and activate the sprinklers. A car approaching the garage must be able to open the garage door wirelessly and automatically. All those actions require that all those equipment run on the same network protocol. And there is the rub.
Smart home protocols: Wifi, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Thread, bluetooth
There are many protocols. They all competed for priority at CES in Las Vegas. We have wifi and bluetooth, but also ZigBee (the picture above this article is an advertisement for this company), Z-Wave and Thread. And then variants of it, and a number of lesser known protocols. All network solutions have manufacturers behind them, and that is going to be a tough battle.
Wifi 900 mHz
Everyone knows WiFi from the online network at home that connects your laptop to the internet, we know Bluetooth from the earbuds that you can connect wirelessly to a smartphone, or a keyboard to a tablet. WiFi in itself is not powerful enough to operate all new devices in a household; for that it literally runs into all kinds of walls. Because many home appliances only need a limited bandwidth, but the signal must reach further, the Wifi Alliance has devised a new protocol that runs on the 900 mHz band. This makes it slower than the usual 2.4Ghz and 5.0Ghz connections, but it goes further. And that’s what it’s all about. The devices simply have to stay connected to the internet, otherwise they will lose their smart functions.
Bluetooth has a limited range, usually only about ten meters. A solution for this was presented at CES: the Cassia Networks hub, which ensures that the signal goes further and also effortlessly passes through walls. For a hundred dollars you have such a bluetooth hub at home, and then the fun can begin.
But there are more hijackers on the coast. Google, and its smart home platform Nest, see more in the platform Thread. Samsung is also threatening to defect to this, which has led the people of the competing platform ZigBee to also support the Thread protocol. That is a step towards a truly connected home network.
But various analysts foresee that it will remain a mess in this area in the coming period. “It’s going to be a huge mess,” said Forrester analyst Frank Gillett and IHS analyst Lee Ratliff concurred: “It’s going to be a Wild West era of smart home connectivity.” Consumers can be forced to buy all kinds of smart things that support the same protocol, or different products, which then cannot communicate with each other and turn the smart home back into a dumb home.
However, the technological developments are faster than ever, and it is therefore particularly interesting to follow how the battle between the network protocols for the smart home continues.