We all take different approaches to adopting new tech, and this is certainly the case for smart home technology. While ‘early adopters’ like to dive straight in with the full range from a leading manufacturer, many like to hang back and take a more gradual approach.
As a result, many thousands of homes have accrued a growing mound of different devices (smart light bulbs, locks, doorbell cameras, switches) that have been gradually added to the home. Each of these are running on a variety of apps, platforms, and protocols. With so many different devices and systems, the so-called ‘smart home’ is looking a lot less smart with each new device that gets added to the pile.
Choosing a single smart home platform to consolidate and control all devices is a logical next step. It ensures that all devices work together and operate in a more stable way. It simplifies your interaction with them via a single interface or dashboard. There is also a better guarantee of security using a unified system with known variables and ongoing security support.
Think of this new phase of your smart home as a ‘do-over’; you get the chance to build something truly secure and easy to operate by choosing a single platform that uses one home automation protocol. All those various bulbs, switches, thermostats and other devices can then be brought under one, secure platform. This makes your home safer, and much easier to use.
The wireless smart home protocol your devices use is the foundation layer upon which your smart home is built. So it needs to be stable, secure, and future-proof. Let’s dive in and explore the options in detail.
First, let’s clarify the difference between the platform and the protocol.
Think of the platform as the family that all the devices belong to. It is the single system of smart accessories and devices that operate together, and are controlled using a single platform interface (although this can be on multiple devices). The most popular platforms these days are Google Home and Apple HomeKit. They have become large ecosystems of devices and Apps and can be controlled simply via a Google Home App or Apple Home App, pending your preference for Android or IOS.
The protocol however, is the way that communication works between devices within the platform. Various protocols coincide, with each protocol using different transmission frequencies, and having variation in network topology and power consumption - this affects interoperability, performance and potential interference with other devices.
It is best to think of the protocol as the language that all the devices in the same family use to speak to one another. And yes, some families are bilingual – but it is better to use a single protocol if possible because this reduces interference and confusion.
There are three good options for wireless communication protocols in your smart home: Wifi, Zigbee and Z-Wave. Next to these 3 there are other proprietary protocols as well. However we only review worldwide well accepted standards, to ensure a solid number of devices are out there using those protocols.
As market consolidation in the smart home space continues, manufacturers are gravitating towards just a few standard protocols, so these three should be the focus of your attention.
Many smart devices operate using Wifi. As a pre-existing protocol in wide use, and with Wifi routers already in the home, a Wifi based smart home product can be plugged into your home network. This is also the major drawback; Wifi is becoming very crowded.
As Wifi continues to support a growing load of devices, video streaming, music, and heavy data transfers, there is less bandwidth available. Interference starts to become a problem. More-over Wifi signals are sent at a frequency of either 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz, and have a typical reach of only 45m (2.4Ghz) or even just 15m (5Ghz) - that is, if there are no obstructions like walls or floors. You will need repeaters to ensure you are able to control your washing machine in the basement, or your lights in the garden.
While there have been advances in Wifi technology that have kept it going for longer (including extension into the fast 5 Ghz frequency), Wifi problems are becoming an issue once again, and older Wifi routers struggle to cope with the increasing number of connected devices.
Apart from router capacity, reach and bandwidth, Wifi communications have high power demands which makes it less useful for low-voltage and battery-operated devices, like all types of sensors.
Another downside of Wifi is the need to enter a new Wifi password for every device you connect, including smart switches, wall plugs or lights, of which you are sure to end up with dozens. Imagine changing your router. It will have you running around the house resetting loads of devices.
Although it started as an ‘available plug and play solution’ using existing technology, Wifi was never designed for home automation.
You might be able to start your smart home with the router delivered by your ISP, however when you start to become more serious about building a smart home and to make it operate properly, Wifi has too many constraints.
Z-Wave is a revolutionary protocol concept that runs on a peer-to-peer ‘mesh network’ which enables each device to act as a repeater. This way, signals can be ‘passed along’ from one device to another. This largely extends the potential reach of the network throughout the whole house and increases its stability. If one device fails, the self-healing network can route-around the failing device as far as the transmission distance will allow.
Unlike Wifi and Zigbee (which both use the 2.4 Ghz frequency), Z-Wave transmits at a longer wavelength/lower frequency - 868 Mhz in Europe. The lower frequency means that the radio waves penetrate further. The ‘standard’ Z-Wave Plus has a range of 100m between the devices. Even accounting for obstacles, this is a much greater range than Wifi-based platforms, guaranteeing a solid performance from basement to attic and the far end of your garden. Because it is a low-power protocol, it is also the perfect choice for smart home applications which rely on battery-powered sensors and other devices.
The Z-Wave standard has specifically been developed for home automation by a single company, which guarantees interoperability of all devices. The Z-Wave standard is well-maintained by the Z-Wave alliance. With over 20 years in the marketplace, Z-Wave is the market leader in home automation products with no less than 700 manufacturers offering a large selection of different devices available with Z-Wave – literally plenty of choice in every category of home automation. Dimmers, switches, climate control, thermostats, blinds, sensors and energy monitoring - to name just a few! There are more than 3300 different devices already available, and all working to exact standards.
In the US Z-Wave is THE go-to protocol for home security and it is fair to say Z-Wave operates with a very high degree of security.
Z-Wave delivers you direct insight into the power consumption of each single device, offering you all the possibilities to create scenes or automations to optimise your energy usage.
So where is the catch?
To be honest, we do not really see a catch. You will need a Z-Wave controller, which enables you to easily administer all devices with a single interface. Z-Wave devices come with a higher price, however we believe that choosing for Z-Wave is well worth this investment.
Like Z-Wave, Zigbee is also developed as a home automation standard. It is based on a mesh network, ensuring a solid reach and performance of your smart home network. Like Z-Wave you need a Zigbee hub or controller as the brain of your smart home and to connect your devices to. Like Z-Wave also Zigbee includes good levels of security.
There are two important differences from Z-Wave:
There are currently far fewer Zigbee devices available, compared to the competitors – but they’re catching up. Zigbee is widely used in smart lighting, and it has been adopted by various manufacturers to support some other smart home devices over time.
It will come as no surprise to you that Z-Wave is Thinka’s recommended protocol of choice for a wireless smart home platform. Z-Wave has a track history as a mature, market leader in smart home technology with a stable ecosystem of thousands of interoperable smart home products.
It also offers the greatest transmission range, while effectively reducing traffic on the same frequency used by your Wifi. Because it is a low-power mesh network, it provides more stability and it reduces battery drain on devices that are battery powered.
Finally, Z-Wave is a tremendously convenient system which makes it easy to configure and set-up new devices.
Now, with the new ability to use a HomeKit Bridge to access both the Z-Wave and HomeKit systems, the possibilities are looking better than ever before. Thinka for Z-Wave is the first officially certified HomeKit bridge, allowing you to bring high quality Z-Wave devices in your Apple HomeKit smart home ecosystem.
With Thinka for Z-Wave you have a Z-Wave controller supporting the latest Z-Wave Plus 700 standard as well as bridging all your Z-Wave devices to Apple HomeKit.
The latest Z-Wave Plus 700 series features a number of important improvements that is going to make your live as installer or homeowner much better:
Compared to the Z-Wave Plus 500 series:
Thinka Z-Wave is a Z-Wave controller based upon Z-Wave Plus 700 series and bridges all your Z-Wave devices to Apple HomeKit.
Want to know more about Thinka Z-Wave?