The first step in getting started with home automation is choosing a networking protocol—one that is wired, wireless or a combination of both. Popular technologies for home automation include UPB, INSTEON, Z-Wave, ZigBee, and a few other dependable protocols. The one you select determines the direction of your future home automation system, as each new device must be compatible with the others. Your decision as to which home automation technology is best for you may be influenced by the smart home devices you already own or by your desire to be able to access them from a distance via the cloud.
X10 was the original wired home automation protocol. However, it is showing its age. Many enthusiasts believe X10 technology has become obsolete, replaced by the newer and more versatile wired or wireless technologies.
Universal Powerline Bus (UPB) uses the home’s built-in wiring to transmit home automation control signals. Developed to overcome many of the shortcomings that X10 experiences, UPB is a superior power line technology to X10. UPB is not X10 compatible. If you already have X10-compatible products and you want your UPB and X10 compatible products to work together, you need a controller that talks to both.
Designed to bridge wireless home automation to powerline automation, INSTEON devices communicate over both power lines and via wireless. INSTEON is also X10 compatible, thereby adding wireless capability to an existing X10 network. Finally, INSTEON technology supports home automation novices: even non-technical individuals can set up and add devices to the network.
The original wireless home automation technology, Z-Wave set standards for wireless home automation. Z-Wave extends the usable range of home automation by making all devices double as repeaters. It increased network reliability to enabled commercial applications. Z-Wave devices are designed for ease of setup and use and come about as close to turnkey as the home automation industry allows, which is especially helpful for beginning enthusiasts.
Similar to Z-Wave, ZigBee is strictly a wireless home automation technology. The technology has been slow to gain acceptance with home automation enthusiasts largely because Zigbee devices frequently have difficulty communicating with those made by different manufacturers. Zigbee is not recommended for people new to home automation unless they intend to use only devices made by the same manufacturer.
Manufacturers have begun designing smart home devices to work with existing Wi-Fi networks in the home. Connecting with a home network usually just requires the password. The disadvantage of taking this path is bandwidth. If you already have several devices that access your Wi-Fi signal frequently, your smart home devices might be slow to respond. Also, because Wi-Fi is power-hungry, it drains the batteries of battery-operated networked devices quicker than other protocols.
Manufacturers have embraced Bluetooth wireless technology for relatively short-distance communications. This wireless technology is already in use for smart door locks and light bulbs, for example. It is easily understood and simple to work with. Bluetooth is a secure encrypted technology and is expected to see a faster growth rate than any other wireless technology for the next few years.
Thread is the new kid on the block for wireless smart household devices. You can connect 250 smart devices using the Thread protocol, and it requires little power. Most of the devices that are compatible with Thread are battery operated. Like ZigBee, the Thread protocol uses radio chips to form a secure low-power network.