There are various protocols available to link your smart home devices. A protocol ensures that a connection can be established between the various devices 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 smart home protocols.
Apple Homekit or Google Weave are not protocols
Many people assume that Homekit from Apple or Weave from Google are their own protocol, because you can control devices with it. They are wrong. Apple Homekit and Google Weave are overarching “information schemes” that determine what a device can do and how it can communicate with other devices. These schemes allow devices to talk to each other. The idea behind Homekit and Weave is that devices can communicate with each other without knowing specific details of the device, such as the manufacturer, parts or operating system. For example, Homekit works with WiFi and bluetooth. Support for other protocols will be added in the future.
A protocol ensures that via a layer under these schemes, even more in the background, mutual communication can take place via a specific language. Support for protocols must have a device at the time of purchase, otherwise it will not work with other devices, for example. Therefore, check carefully which protocol the devices can handle before you make a purchase.
What smart home protocols are there?
The most frequently mentioned protocol for smart homes is Z-Wave. Z-Wave is made specifically for smart home devices. Z-Wave creates its own network, in addition to the existing WiFi network . By using a hub that communicates with your router, it is possible to control your smart home product via your smartphone or tablet.
Z-Wave is intended for specific commands. These commands take up little data. By operating at a low frequency, Z-Wave has little trouble with interference from existing networks, such as the 2.4 GHz frequency with WiFi. Another big advantage of Z-Wave is that any device that can handle Z-Wave can communicate with any other kind of device that also has Z-Wave. In addition, older versions also work with newer versions of Z-Wave. By also using wired devices as repeaters of the signal, Z-Wave has reception in many places. This is also called a mesh network.
Like Z-Wave, ZigBee is specifically designed for smart homes. As a result, the network consumes little energy, and devices with a battery can last a long time. And here too, a mesh network is used. ZigBee sometimes has some difficulty getting devices from different manufacturers to communicate with each other, an ailment that Z-Wave has less problems with.
In addition, there are also different versions of ZigBee in circulation that do not always get along well. If you are considering using a device via ZigBee, make sure that you purchase multiple devices from the same manufacturer, for example. This way you can be sure that everything works together. For example, the Philips Hue lamp does not work directly via ZigBee. The signal first goes from your smartphone to the router, through to the hub, to your router, and thus to the lamp.
Thread is a relatively new protocol, founded in 2014 by Nest and Samsung, among others. Thread assumes that most devices operate on battery, and is therefore energy-efficient.
Thread uses the same frequency and chips as ZigBee. Therefore a mesh network with Thread is also possible. ZigBee and Thread can also work with each other, so that devices will work with each other. You can connect about 250 devices to a Thread network at the same time. Companies such as Samsung and Qualcomm are doing their very best to make more devices suitable for Thread. An advantage of Thread is that the devices can be controlled via the cloud. In addition, the connection is secured with AES, so that your connection cannot be tapped by third parties. Examples of devices that use Thread are the Nest thermostat and the Nest Protect .
Wifi is often used as a protocol for smart home devices. Since WiFi is already available in many households, it can be started quickly. This advantage is therefore a disadvantage at the same time. Due to the many devices that use WiFi, malfunctions and noise quickly arise on the WiFi signal.
This benefits the speed at which your smart home device does not respond. In addition, WiFi is also very energy-consuming: devices such as smart locks or other sensors will quickly consume their battery if they communicate via WiFi.
Another well-known protocol is bluetooth. Bluetooth has the advantage over WiFi that it is a lot more energy efficient. On the other hand, it can transfer data less quickly. The biggest drawback, however, is the range of bluetooth. Mesh networking support for Bluetooth is coming out, which may resolve this issue. With the announcement of bluetooth 5, this has not yet been announced, but that work is being done on it. In addition, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is specifically aimed at devices for your smart home to use as little energy as possible. This could make bluetooth a formidable competitor for other protocols in the future.
smart home protocols – Collaboration in the future?
All these different protocols mean that smart home devices cannot always communicate with each other unless they have the same protocols. In order to still be able to control products with different protocols via one central location and to have routines carried out, several solutions are devised. TP-Link, among others, responds to this by means of a universal router to introduce that can handle ZigBee, Z-Wave and WiFi. If you want to have tasks performed by devices with different products, such a router is ideal. This way, you also have to worry less about which protocol has which device. In the future, such routers and hubs will play an important role in being able to control devices simultaneously without having to install multiple apps. It is important to know that a universal router does not suddenly ensure that the devices with different protocols can communicate with each other.
Which smart home protocols wins?
That’s a really good question and one that’s impossible to answer right now. It is quite possible that different protocols co-exist, such as in the field of audio DTS and Dolby co-exist. However, DTS and Dolby can be played by almost any device. It is also quite possible that one protocol wins, as was the case with video; Blu-ray versus HD-DVD. One thing is certain and that is that there are so many different players at the moment and each has their own preferences and opinions. As a consumer, you already have to think carefully about what you purchase and how exactly this communicates with other (future) devices.