April 19, 2016
When it comes to automating your home, your choice of protocol — the type of language your devices use to “speak” to each other — might just be the most important decision you make. It determines network speed, compatibility with other devices, length of signal range, battery life, among so many other things. And there is a lot to choose from — the market is flush with protocols that have varying strengths and weaknesses. While the amount of information out there may seem intimidating, ultimately it comes down to choosing the set up that best fits your home and lifestyle. We prepared a breakdown of three of the most widely used protocols based on key features to help you determine your ideal smart home set up.
A good way to start is to ask yourself which smart-home devices you want, and see which protocol has them work together most seamlessly. This aspect, interoperability, will tell you if you can link your lights with your motion sensor, or have your alarm siren go off when a door is unexpectedly opened. The greater interoperability, the more options you have.
ZigBee is a popular communication standard that can carry a relatively large number of devices — up to 65,000 in theory! But it’s had trouble when it comes to interoperability because it can be made by different manufacturers who use different software profiles. So even if two devices are certified ZigBee, they still may be unable to talk to each other. This can complicate and limit your choice of devices.
Insteon is a home automation protocol known for its compatibility with wireless and powerline-based protocols, like X10. If you’ve already got a bunch of X10 devices in your home, Insteon would ease the transition to a wireless system. That being said, there isn’t much in the way of choice for Insteon, whose product line is limited and more expensive than the alternatives.
In terms of interoperability, experts and the home automation community agree that nothing beats Z-Wave. Because it’s licensed only by Sigma Designs, all Z-Wave devices, old or new, can talk to all other Z-Wave devices. If you consider that Z-Wave is compatible with more than 1,300 certified devices and can manage over 230 at a time, you’ve got a lot to choose from.
Don’t forget that compatibility also depends on your Z-Wave controller’s software so it’s good to research your hub first. We recommend getting an open controller like the VeraPlus or ZipaBox by Zipato so you don’t have to worry about product support.
Range length and network type are also important determiners in the success of your smart home network. ZigBee, Insteon, and Z-Wave all use mesh networks, meaning if two devices are too far apart, their signals can hop along devices in-between. However, both Insteon and Z-Wave have the advantage of automatically doubling their hardwired devices as signal repeaters, resulting in more reliable communication.
In the race for range, ZigBee comes in third, again, with a range of up to 35 feet. Insteon and Z-Wave both nearly triple that figure with ranges of around 100 feet. While these range figures are usually quoted as “line of sight”, a combination of long range and mesh network capabilities is ideal for homes where walls and obstacles come into play.
There are a lot of things that make a protocol efficient or inefficient — is it easy to install, maintain, and use? Does it save on energy usage? Is it affordable? Different protocols offer their own advantages, as well as their drawbacks.
Insteon is one of the easiest to install — all you need to do is turn on the device, press a button and it will join your network automatically. However, a mix of Insteon’s lack of variety and expensiveness means that it might not be the smartest choice for those new to home automation.
ZigBee and Z-Wave have a lot in common: they’re both low-cost and energy efficient, meaning you don’t have to worry about your battery-operated devices for months. But ZigBee’s lack of compatibility means that the installation process might be more frustrating than it should be — you’d be restricted to buying all your devices from the same manufacturer to ensure connectivity.
With that, Z-Wave’s installation process only involves a couple of minutes and the press of a button. Maintaining and controlling all your devices can be done from the sleek interface of a single mobile device.
It comes as no surprise that we believe Z-Wave is the most reliable choice for your smart-home-to-be. It’s one of the most compatible, it’s energy efficient, easy to use, fast and affordable. What started off as a group of early adopters has now grown into an impressive community of smart home innovators. The technology has evolved as well. Z-Wave Plus products introduce 50% more battery life, 67% more range, and 250% more bandwidth. See how you can start saving and building your smart home here.
Did we miss something? Share your smart home experience in the comments below!
February 04, 2017
After many years with HA that started when X-10 was the only choice, I agree Z-wave is the best protocol choice by far.
Previous comments refer to (trying to advertise and sell?) hubs and software, not the subject, which is protocols.
January 12, 2017
I have used Homegenie and been very happy. Have purchased SmartThings 2 Months ago and very happy with it as well.
August 22, 2016
Personally I think that Zipato is the best product, I had another smart home controller for 6 months, and it had a lot of bugs, and it was really complicated, but this controller from Zipato really did everything I was hoping for and also their support is really good and fast. See it for yourself: https://www.zipato.com/
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August 06, 2020
If you already have Amazon Echo set up, you know how convenient it can be. There’s nothing like walking out the front door with full hands and telling Alexa to turn off your lights last minute. But these smart lights and plugs can be slow to react as you keep adding more smart home devices and clogging your network.
Alexa only “speaks” WiFi (and ZigBee if you have the EchoPlus). It currently doesn’t support Z-Wave, the protocol of choice for home automation thanks to its high speed and low interference with other connected devices in your home. That means you can’t have a Z-Wave switch or plug speak directly to your Echo. BUT you can use a smart home hub as a bridge between your Z-Wave devices and Amazon Alexa. Now that’s a whole other level of functionality to unlock!
And if you already have a Z-Wave hub but no smart speaker, you might be thinking how cool it would be to have voice control for your automations and smart home devices. It’s a step towards a more integrated, easy-to-use smart home with improved security, comfort, and convenience.
May 10, 2020
Starting May 13, 2020, Wink will be charging its users a $4.99 monthly subscription fee. If you don’t pay, you’ll lose your automations, smart rules, and access to voice control. [Update 5/30/20: Wink has since backed out of the decision, at least for now. Update 7/27/20: The subscription service for Wink is finally in effect.]So is it worth paying $5 a month for Wink’s service? The platform hasn’t been adding new features or expanding its list of supported devices for a while now. The announcement introducing the subscription model didn’t include any details on when and how the system would start updating again. They also failed to give users at least 30 days notice to consider how to move forward. If you’re thinking about switching to another platform, we can’t blame you. Here are a few alternatives for reliable smart home solutions that are most popular among our customers and the team here at The Smartest House. They’re all one-time investments without monthly fees. You’ll find a list of benefits and limitations with each platform, but if you have any questions about specific features we didn’t cover here, get in touch or post in the comment section below.
November 05, 2018
Winterizing your home used to mean lots of physical labor - caulking windows, installing heavier drapes, maybe even changing out older windows and doors that were too efficient at releasing insulated air. Winter prep can still mean all of the above, but new Z-Wave technology has made certain aspects of winterization easier while adding another level of protection as those temperatures drop.
Here’s what we’re using to stay cozy and make sure our energy bills don’t make us freeze in our tracks:
This is one of our winter must-haves. It’s the first Z-Wave line voltage thermostat in North America (but be careful, it won’t work with forced air systems!). Use it to control electric baseboards and convector heaters all from your Z-Wave hub’s app interface. Reduce your energy consumption by 30% with custom heating schedules, or just switch to the thermostat’s built-in Economy mode to keep things efficient.