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The smart home hub: what can you do with it and do you need one?

If you have a number of smart products in your smart home, it can be a good idea to invest in a smart home hub. In this article we explain what such a hub is exactly, what you can do with it and whether you need one now.

Filling a house full of smart things

If you want to fill your home with smart things, you have to pay attention to a number of things. Do you have to connect the devices to the power network? Is there a wireless connection option? And what protocols can it connect to – and what other devices would I be able to connect to it? In this article we will not answer all those questions, but we will look more at the last question. The short answer is that a smart home hub can help link your home devices.

But what exactly is a smart home hub? It is a physical device that connects to your internet network that can connect to other smart devices and allow them to communicate with each other. Devices that you can connect to such a device include lamps, thermostats, wall sockets, motion sensors and switches, but in principle all devices with WiFi on board must be able to be connected to them. Think of cameras, fans or sensors that measure whether there is a leak in the house.

Communicate with each other

As soon as data is available from a specific product, the smart home hub can forward it to another product. In this way product b ‘knows’ that product a has done something and it can be seen whether product b should respond to it. For example, you can set that when the motion sensors in the house measure movement, the heating switches on. Or that the fan (possibly on the ceiling) or air conditioning switches on when it gets too hot. Or that an alarm goes off when a camera ‘sees’ someone who is not recognized.

Such a smart home hub usually includes a digital application that you can use on your smartphone or tablet (or on a refrigerator with a large screen or your computer). This way you can monitor the various things in the house in one overview and you can set and automate certain tasks. For example, if a hub supports IFTTT (If This Then That), it is easy to switch on an event when something is activated somewhere (which you have set yourself).

Sometimes it is also possible that apps for devices do not offer certain functions that are available through such a hub. Take, for example, outside operation. Usually you control your smart home devices from home and therefore the same WiFi network, so that your devices can see that you are who you say you are (or you use the location options). But there may be situations where you are away from home and have forgotten to set something. You can do something like this with a smart home hub.

There is not one smart home hub

The smart home hub does not have one appearance, but comes in different shapes and sizes. You will probably think of third-party devices like the Amazon Echo family, with Amazon Alexa on board, but you can also think of Apple HomeKit . You do not necessarily need a physical (extra) hub to use this protocol. When you use HomeKit, you already have Apple devices at home. Devices such as the Apple TV, iPad and of course the HomePod can function just fine as the necessary hub.

A good smart home hub offers support for all or at least the most important protocols and not every hub currently does. For example, we have SmartThings from Samsung or the hub from Logitech – hubs with the promise that all the necessary protocols are present and the necessary software is present to have all your devices in your home. As a result, such a hub seems an indispensable part of any smart home. Moreover, many products also receive their own hub, otherwise they will not work.

There are various protocols available to connect your smart home devices. A protocol ensures that a connection between the devices can be established in the background. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are examples of well-known protocols, but there are also some protocols specially made for smart homes. In this article we highlight the most important ones.

Problems with the smart home hub

However, there are some problems with a smart home hub. If you invest in a specific hub, it unfortunately does not mean that you are ready. Many ecosystems and therefore products only work with their own hub, so you often still have to stack (literally stacking hubs). In addition, some devices can be connected to the general hub, but the functionality is limited. Especially when you compare those functions with the functions from your own application.

In addition, there is a lot more confusion about support when you look at smart speakers. These products, especially the Amazon Echo Plus , can also be used as a smart home hub, but only when the devices offer support for the built-in voice assistants such as Alexa or Google Assistant . Competition is good for keeping companies on their toes, but at the moment it seems to cause more confusion in the smart home market. Because which product works well with which hub?

That is a question you should always ask yourself when you want to buy a product or when you already have a hub (but then you turn the question around: does this product work with my hub?). In addition, an Amazon Echo or Google Home can only communicate with certain devices when the specific hub of such a device remains, because the product in question itself does not have WiFi or Bluetooth support. But that hub does. Anyway, that way you do get access to voice control, of course.

Smart home hub in the form of an app

There are also applications that can act as a smart home hub. Such a hub is often hardware, but you can also try without it first. Good examples of such apps are Yonomi, Wink, Stringify and Elgato Eve. These apps support a large number of devices, but only the devices connected to WiFi. The only thing you will lose is your patience and your time, since you have to take the time to set everything up correctly. When dealing with protocols, you need a physical hub.

But do you now need a dedicated smart home hub?

If all your smart devices in the house offer support for WiFi, then you currently do not have a good reason to take a physical smart home hub. With a digital variant as mentioned above, or the extremely popular IFTTT, you can also come a long way. If you are just starting to install a smart home, then you might do well to invest in something small, such as the Google Home Mini or Amazon Echo Dot. This way you can see how you like this for a relatively low amount and see what the limitations are.

However, if you want to take total control over your smarthome, you can do well to take such a smarthome hub. Make sure to first check which protocols are supported and whether your devices support those protocols, otherwise it will still be of little use. That is actually the most important. When you bring all important protocols together within one hub, a world of possibilities opens up when it comes to connecting devices.

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