Protocol Pile-Up: Which Smart Home Network Is the Best?

April 19, 2016 3 Comments

Read which smart home technology works best if you are just getting into home automation

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!

3 Responses


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:

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Winter is Coming: How to Prep Your Smart Home for the Cold

November 05, 2018

How to Prep Your Smart Home for Winter

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:

Stelpro KI Z-Wave Plus Thermostat

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.

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Your Gift Guide to Z-Wave Hubs

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The Smartest House Gift Guide to Z-Wave Hubs

Choosing the ultimate smart home system for your needs and lifestyle can be daunting if you don’t know what to look for. Each hub comes with its own advantages and limitations; a certain feature might be a godsend for someone else but a deal breaker for you. That’s why we’ve listed our top 3 Z-Wave hub recommendations below, including what we love about these hubs but also some things to consider when choosing the right one for you. And good news! They all support Alexa, so you can count on a voice-activated smart home this holiday season.

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The best Z-Wave Motion Sensors: Compared

June 08, 2017 14 Comments

Detailed Guide to the best Z-Wave Motion Sensors: Compared

You often ask us for recommendations: what are the best, most reliable Z-Wave motion sensors out there? The choice seems endless with new devices coming out every day. While we have our favorites, choosing the right sensor for YOU will depend on YOUR needs, lifestyle, and ideas on how to apply the product to your Z-Wave network and collection of devices. So we thought we should ask one of you to test and compare our best-selling smart home security sensors.

We wanted feedback from someone who has tested and programmed lots of Z-Wave devices but most importantly, from someone who has used them in real-life scenarios at home. The comments detailed below and the invaluable side-by-side comparison chart are by Kevin LaFramboise, an expert SmartThings user and the creator of some of the most advanced and stable custom device handlers for the popular platform.

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