A Quick Look at the Major Home Automation Protocols

Here’s another question that gets asked a lot at the Life-Changing Products Exhibit: What’s the difference between the major home automation protocols? Here’s a quick rundown of the major technologies and how they work.

Wi-Fi. Many new gadgets to hit the market rely on your home Wi-Fi network. They typically come with free apps that find the device and connects it to your network. Then you can use other Wi-Fi connected controllers such as Google Home, Amazon Echo, or Apple TV to connect the devices and create scenes.

Z-Wave. Z-Wave, which is also growing in popularity, uses low radio frequencies to communicate with home automation devices. Many new gadgets come with built-in Z-Wave compatibility. You can also buy inexpensive wall-socket adapters. You’ll need a hub to set up and control the devices. The exhibit showcases Fibaro’s system.

Bluetooth. Bluetooth is what you use to connect your smart phone to the car or play music through a speaker. Bluetooth devices contain a computer chip with a Bluetooth radio and software that facilitates communication between devices. You don’t need a central controller to string devices. The exhibit uses it to communicate with the June Oven and wireless speakers

ZigBee. ZibBee is similar to Z-Wave in many respects; it also relies on radio frequency communication. But it’s less common. It started as a commercial spec but has moved over to homes. ZigBee uses a mesh network, which makes it faster to communicate between devices. It’s a frugal user of energy.

UPB. Universal Powerline Bus (UPB) is the follow-on to the X10 system that many early adopters used to automate their home. It uses your home’s exiting power line to send communications between devices. You need a central controller that manually connects to different devices.

Insteon. Insteon is a proprietary protocol that works both wirelessly and over powerlines. Compatible devices instantly join the network when powered up. It features a dual-band mesh network with turns power-line operated devices into repeaters. That gives it a strong signal range.

Thread. Thread is a newcomer to the market, created in 2014 by seven founding members, including Google and Samsung. It’s frugal on power since most connected devices run on batteries. The system relies on the same frequency and radio chips as Zigbee. The Nest thermostat relies on Thread.

About Boyce Thompson

Boyce Thompson, the author of The New New Home, is a writer and editor who has spent more than 30 years covering the housing market. Thompson began his career as a writer for publications such as The Washington Post, Governing, Practical Homeowner, Venture, and Changing Times, the precursor to the Kiplinger Letter.