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Protocols101. What you need to know.

Compatibility  

Whether you are just beginning your journey into home automation. or you’re an old hand who’s been at it for some time. the number one issue that plagues all Smart Home consumers is compatibility issues.

Smart devices are compatible when they speak the same language (use the same protocol). for example, my cell phone is compatible with my wireless headphones because each device has a built-in chip that uses the Bluetooth protocol. on the other hand, my cell phone which uses Bluetooth protocol is not compatible with my Smart Switch which uses Z-Wave protocol. it’s that simple and it becomes clearer as you become familiar with the different protocols.

There are up to 10 different protocols in use today. these protocols are lumped into two categories wired and wireless or some combination. for this post, we will focus primarily on wireless protocols.

The four major Wireless protocols are Wi-Fi. Bluetooth, Z-Wave, and Zigbee. Each one of these standards has its strengths and weaknesses but what’s most important is that nearly every smart home device will almost certainly use one of these protocols. and getting familiar with these standards now will save you a lot of time and money down the road.

Wi-Fi

We are all familiar with Wi-Fi, it’s the engine that drives our cell phones laptops video games. We enjoy its power and range. So it would seem the perfect protocol to connect all your smart devices. and in most cases it is. but unfortunately, when it comes to smart devices no one protocol fits all. While Wi-Fi might be perfect for your home entertainment system, it might not be so great for your smart thermostat and smart locks. One of the issues with Wi-Fi is that your smart device must share the same crowded single with every other device on the network. This can cause interference. Another issue is that Wi-Fi operates on a 2.4ghz frequency, which is high compared to Zigbee and Z-Wave. and since higher frequencies require higher power consumption Wi-Fi will drain battery-operated devices at twice the rate of the other protocols. These and other issues like dead spots are 

why so many companies still cling to old standards like Z-Wave and ZigBee

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a wireless technology that operates on a short radio wavelength. It operates on a 2.4 GHz band. and all Bluetooth devices contain a computer chip with Bluetooth software that allows it to communicate with other devices that have the chip.

Bluetooth is popular because it can send a lot of data over short distances. but its biggest flaw has been his lack of range. but that’s changing, the newest version of the protocol Bluetooth LE. can create a mesh network similar to that of ZigBee Z-Wave. therefore increasing its range significantly.

Z-Wave.

Z-Wave is a popular Wireless protocol that uses radio waves to communicate with other smart devices. Z-Wave runs on the 908. 42MHz frequency. this is lower than the 2,4 GHz frequency that Wi-Fi use.. the lower frequency means less power consumption. which extends battery life significantly

Another great advantage of the Z-Wave protocol is interoperability. this means that a device with the current version of the Z-Wave protocol will still be compatible with a device that has a new or updated version of the protocol.

 Since Z-Wave devices don’t compete with other signals from other devices for bandwidth. there is a lower chance of interference which improves efficiency and speed

Z-Wave, like its twin Zigbee, uses a mesh network. A mesh Network uses each smart device in the network to boost the single. Thereby extending the network’s range.

Z-Wave it’s easy to set up. and is compatible with over 1500 devices and the list is growing.  

Zigbee

Zigbee is very similar to Z-Wave. it operates on an 802.15.4 radiofrequency. and like Z-Wave it employs mesh Network Technology. unfortunately unlike Z-Wave, Zigbee does not have interoperability. this means that your ZigBee device will not be compatible with devices that use updated versions of the Zigbee protocol. Still, with over 1200 devices using the protocol. Zigbee is an essential part of the home automated system.

When it comes to home automation there is no standardized protocol that will control all of your smart devices. But with a little bit of knowledge and some tweaking here and there, anyone can put together an efficient home ecosystem.

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