Common Protocols used in Home Automation systems today: There are many common protocols currently used by Home Automation systems. X10 and Insteon protocols were designed to communicate over Home Power Lines. Insteon has since adopted Wi-Fi capabilities in addition to Home Power Line communication. All of the other protocols communicate over some form of Wi-Fi connection. Let's take a look at some of the most common protocols in use today.
Insteon - Insteon Home Automation technology has been in use since the early 1990s, adding capabilities and features to its protocol over time. The proprietary Insteon protocol uses radio-frequency communication over home power lines, and more recently an Insteon Hub that aids wireless communication with some newer devices. The Insteon protocol is also backward compatible with the older X10 protocol should you desire to incorporate those devices into your Insteon system.
X10 - X10 was one of the first Home Automation protocols adopted by consumers, dating back to the 1970s. X10 protocols are primarily supported by proprietary X10 products, though the newer Insteon protocol did adopt backward compatibility with the X10 protocol. X10 uses a proprietary communication technology over home power lines.
ZigBee - ZigBee is a wireless language protocol that everyday devices use to connect to one another. Not only is ZigBee popular for Home Automation products, it has also become a proven technology used in more than 70 million Smart Electric Meters in the USA according to the ZigBee Alliance. Established in 2002, the ZigBee Alliance was created to oversee standards and testing to ensure all devices using the ZigBee protocol are able to communicate with each other without regard to brand or product.
Z-Wave - Z-Wave is a wireless language protocol that everyday devices use to connect to one another. Z-Wave based products have become proven as a strong presence in home security, home monitoring, energy management and Home Automation management. The Z-Wave Alliance was established in 2005 by a group of leading product manufacturers with a goal to grow the industry into a more practical widespread reality. Z-Wave has grown to a very strong presence in the IoT (Internet of Things) since that time.
BLE - BLE is the acronym for Bluetooth Low Energy Technology. BLE is designed to communicate wirelessly while using a significantly lower amount of battery power. Newer devices known as Bluetooth Smart use the BLE technology and also offer the ability to extend signal range farther than previous versions. Bluetooth was first created in 1994 as a wireless technology for devices to communicate over short distances. This technology is commonly built into millions of devices that share voice, data, music, photos, videos and other information between paired devices.
Wi-Fi - When you think of Wi-Fi you usually think of laptop computers, tablets, or similar devices and how they get online, but some companies have adopted standard Wi-Fi as the mode of communication for Home Automation. For example, the Belkin WeMo line of products: Set everything up, and all you need is an existing Wi-Fi or 3G/4G cellular connection for your WeMo devices to communicate with each other. No special protocols are needed, just use what you may already have in your home. Some feel this is a better, simpler option for the masses, while others raise legitimate questions about sufficient available overhead or security – the consumer will have to decide if this is a best option for their circumstances.
THREAD - THREAD was born in 2014 as a cooperative project of Google Nest Labs and other reputable manufactures out of a desire to get multiple devices to talk with one another despite being from different manufacturers. Focus was placed on simple, secure, power-efficient processes that communicate over assigned radio frequencies creating a mesh network. Mesh network devices communicate with each other and not at only a single point, meaning there is no single point for failure on the network - if one goes down, the others continue to communicate. THREAD also incorporates a battery-friendly design to keep your devices running longer. The THREAD group is not another standards body, rather THREAD works with cooperating existing technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ZigBee and others to ensure their standards are implemented through THREAD technology for the best possible results.
Putting this all together - what does it mean? Just like people from different countries speak different languages, so do Home Automation products from different manufacturers communicate through different protocols. Just like people, many Home Automation products speak more than one language. The decision regarding which protocol to use is a decision each individual must make, and the best way to make that decision is to become informed on what exactly the different options are. Individual decisions may be driven by backwards compatibility so that they can continue to use older items while at the same time growing their systems into the future. For others, this may be their first venture into Home Automation and they may be driven by a desire to have a long-proven standard with a great reputation, or, they may opt for the latest technology, possibly unproven, but perceived to carry their systems well into the future.
Now we can put it all together and start Selecting Your Home Automation Components.