Find out how smart home systems connect wirelessly in your home
Smart devices are only smart because they communicate with 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 instructions to turn on or off, or a readout like room temperature, while others carry sound and picture from one device to another.
In no particular order, here’s 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, etc.) to the internet, through your router. Wi-Fi has come in many variations over the years, with each new iteration bringing more speed, coverage, and bandwidth than ever before.
Meaning wide 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 greatest Wi-Fi 6 is 802.11ax. These standards have a high degree of backward compatibility, so it is generally possible 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. 6.
Wi-Fi’s range and bandwidth make it perfect for quickly transporting large amounts of data throughout your smart home. That said, it can have a hard time penetrating the thicker walls of older homes or completely covering larger properties. This is why Wi-Fi booster amplifiers are useful smart home accessories, repeating the signal emitted by your router to help improve the signal throughout the house.
Building a mesh Wi-Fi network can also be a good idea, where 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, up. -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 within approximately 30 feet of each other. You rely on this for smart home gadgets, such as 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 the Hue Bridge first.
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 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 contactless payments in storesiStock
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’. to an NFC-enabled Wi-Fi router, smart home hub, or similar smart home device 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 routines and automations.
NFC is most often used when paying for items in stores or while traveling 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. Similarly, 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 top cable companies. Comcast and Time Warner as part of their Complete 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 a time. There are over 2,500 ZigBee Certified products from over 400 non-profit ZigBee Alliance member companies.
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 a range of around 100 feet and is considered slightly more reliable, and is preferred by smart home security vendors such as ADT, First Alert, and Honeywell. The Z-Wave Alliance boasts of 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 most recent wireless technology to enter the smart home is called Ultra Wideband, or UWB. This technology has only been present on a handful of products so far (as of February 2021), but it has great potential. UWB chips are already on some high-end smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 and S21 and the iPhone 12. These chips aren’t doing much just yet, but companies are starting to show what UWB is capable of.
A prime example is how the iPhone 12 and HomePod mini smart speaker use UWB to figure out each other’s location. The iPhone then alerts the user and offers to hand over a lot from one device to another. Bluetooth could do it too, but the strength of the UWB lies in its much greater accuracy when used over short distances. It operates at a very high bandwidth, hence its name, and covers a large part of the radio spectrum.
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Samsung is set to 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, these are expected to perform better than their pre-existing Bluetooth equivalents. .
In addition to 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 is likely that they will switch to UWB once the technology is rolled out to more handsets and takes hold. proven to be the superior, safer and more accurate option.