Smart devices are only smart because they talk to each other. But like English, Mandarin or Urdu, there are several different wireless protocols. that smart home technologies use to communicate, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, ZigBee and Z-Wave.
Most smart home devices support some or all of these wireless standards. Some are used to carry very simple data packets, like turn on or off instructions, or read like room temperature, while others carry sound and picture from one device to another.
In no particular order, here is an overview of all the wireless technologies working in your smart home.
Wi-Fi is the wireless backbone of your smart homeiStock
The most powerful, and arguably the easiest to understand, Wi-Fi is what connects your smart home devices (as well as your computer, phone, and more) to the Internet, through your router. Wi-Fi has come in many different flavors over the years, with each new iteration bringing more speed, coverage, and bandwidth than ever before.
Representing high fidelity (as opposed to your high fidelity audio system), the Wi-Fi standard is overseen by the Wi-Fi Alliance and was introduced in 1998. The various forms of Wi-Fi can be expressed as a suffix after the common 802.11 prefix. For example, Wi-Fi 4 is also known as 802.11n, Wi-Fi 5 is 802.11ac and the latest and best Wi-Fi 6 is 802.11ax. These standards have a high degree of backward compatibility, so it is generally the case that an older device with Wi-Fi 4 will still work with a Wi-Fi 6 router, although it may lack the performance of a Wi-Fi device. -Fi 6..
The range and bandwidth of Wi-Fi make it perfect for quickly transporting large amounts of data throughout your smart home. That said, it may have a hard time penetrating the thicker walls of older homes or completely covering larger properties. That’s why Wi-Fi signal boosters are useful smart home accessories, repeating the signal your router emits to help improve the signal throughout the house.
Building a mesh Wi-Fi network can also be a good idea, as multiple routers located throughout the house help create a larger, more stable network for all of your devices, from TVs, computers, and game consoles to light bulbs, built-in. speakers and thermostats to connect to.
Wi-Fi is the backbone of your smart home, and it’s important to ensure a good connection in every room before you go much further in building your smart home.
Bluetooth is commonly used in various smart home devicesiStock
Bluetooth has been around for over 30 years and is overseen by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. The unusual name comes from the 10th century Danish King Harald Bluetooth, known for uniting Danish tribes into one kingdom – like the way Bluetooth helps many different devices connect to each other.
Bluetooth connections are used for device-to-device connections, typically between a smart home device and your smartphone when they are about 30 feet away from each other. You rely on this for smart home gadgets, like door locks, only when you’re nearby.
Some smart lighting systems use Bluetooth, and Signify recently added the option to its new Philips Hue bulbs, allowing them to connect directly to a smartphone and the Hue app instead of starting with the Hue Bridge.
Bluetooth is also commonly used to connect wireless gamepads to game consoles and other devices such as computers and tablets, and is used to connect a smartphone or wireless speaker or headset. .
Smart speakers, like the Amazon Echo and Nest Audio, connect to the internet over Wi-Fi, but can also be used as a Bluetooth speaker through your phone.
NFC is most commonly used for in-store contactless paymentsiStock
NFC stands for “near field communication” and transfers commands between devices that are no more than four centimeters apart. Because the devices have to be so close, NFC is often referred to as “touch to pair”. Instead of adding a device to your home network via a series of on-screen prompts, NFC lets you ‘tap’ the new device chip to an NFC-enabled Wi-Fi router, smart home hub, or device. similar smart home and then add it to your network.
This setup process makes it easy to connect a new speaker to a smartphone, for example, while NFC tags can be used to trigger smart home automations and routines.
NFC is most often used to pay for items in stores or to travel on public transportation systems such as the New York City Underground and London Underground. Here, pressing your credit card or NFC-enabled smartphone completes the transaction. On a similar note, the technology is used by smartphones to unlock certain compatible car models.
ZigBee / Z-Wave
Zigbee and Z-Wave are wireless technologies specific to the smart home
While Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC are established wireless standards, ZigBee and Z-Wave are more secure wireless connectivity protocols designed exclusively for smart home devices.
With its relatively limited range of 35 feet, ZigBee is often used for device-to-device communication by major cable providers. Comcast and Time Warner as part of all of their home systems. ZigBee is the more energy efficient and faster to respond of the two, often found on smart home devices that run on batteries such as sensors and remote controls.
Zigbee operates on 2.4 GHz, 90 MHz and 868 MHz frequencies and has a data transfer rate of just 250 kilobits per second, significantly slower than even the worst Wi-Fi connection. Up to 65,000 Zigbee devices, called nodes, can operate on the same network, which means that for smart homes there is virtually no limit to the number of products connected at the same time. There are over 2,500 ZigBee Certified products from over 400 member companies of the ZigBee Alliance nonprofit.
Developed by Danish company Zensys in 2001, Z-Wave is a wireless network protocol primarily designed for use in home automation. Because the technology is owned by one company, the Z-Wave standard has remained exactly that – a standard – and as such, every Z-Wave device works with the others. This differs slightly from Zigbee, which is split into several different protocols, and devices from one protocol don’t always communicate with those from another.
Zigbee has an operating range of around 100 feet and is considered slightly more reliable, and is favored by smart home security vendors such as ADT, First Alert, and Honeywell. The Z-Wave Alliance has 3,200 certified devices available from 700 companies.
Although ZigBee and Z-Wave cannot talk to each other, many smart home devices support both protocols to make it easier for consumers to combine devices into a smart home system. The right mix will be up to you.
Ultra wide band
HomePod Mini uses UWB technology
The latest wireless technology to enter the smart home is called Ultra Wideband, or UWB. This technology has only been featured on a handful of products yet (as of February 2021), but it has great potential. UWB chips are already installed on some high-end smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 and S21, and the iPhone 12. These chips aren’t doing much at the moment, but companies are starting to show what UWB is all about. able.
An early example is how the iPhone 12 and the HomePod mini smart speaker use UWB to understand each other. The iPhone then alerts the user and offers to switch a lot from one device to another. Bluetooth could do that too, but the strength of the UWB is its far superior accuracy when used over short distances. It operates with a very high bandwidth, hence its name, and covers a large part of the radio spectrum.
Samsung will use UWB technology with a future version of its new Galaxy SmartTags, and Tile and Apple are expected to release their own UWB-powered possession trackers later in 2021. Again, they are expected to perform better than their pre-existing Bluetooth counterparts.
Besides greater accuracy, UWB is a more secure medium for transferring data than Bluetooth and NFC, making it a good option for the growing trend of replacing car key fobs with smartphones. Some automakers already allow the use of a smartphone with Bluetooth in place of a dongle, but it’s likely that they will switch to UWB once the technology is rolled out to more handsets and is found to be the superior, safer and more accurate option.