Home Automation standards explained

Not sure where to start? You are not alone! The DIY home automation industry has come a long way in just a few years – and that’s where it can get confusing – with different competing standards for IOT – the Internet Of Things – all trying to get consumers attention.

Which Home Automation system will work for you?

Hubs are hardware controllers that link smart devices together, they either use some or most of these systems below – click over when you are done here and we’ll show you which products are compatible with your choice of system.

Listed alphabetically and carefully described below are the different home automation hubs and standards for intelligent smart homes, incorporating the Internet of Things:

 

Amazon Echo devices with Alexa

Amazon was first to market with their Amazon Echo Smart Speaker. The Echo will effortlessly stream music Amazon Music or Spotify or songs and albums from your smartphone as well as link to smart devices and hubs.

Amazon wisely opened their Smart Home Skills api to third party developers, who have so far enabled over 15,000 different ways of communicating with the Echo (and compatible) devices. Alexa uses these “skills” to communicate with its users, allowing them to order pizza’s, Uber’s control devices (lights, locks, thermostats etc) and even order items from Amazon itself.

Many devices such as light bulbs, switches and locks are now offered as “Alexa compatible” meaning you don’t need a bridge or a hub to connect your new device, although many hubs are compatible with Alexa. The Amazon Echo range of devices are the best supported and maybe the easiest for the DIY home automation newbie.

In the Fall of 2017 Amazon announced an improved Echo Plus, a smaller Echo with better sound and the all new Echo Spot with a screen – great additions to the already great Amazon Echo lineup.

A number of other home automation manufacturers are producing Amazon Alexa compatible devices including Anker’s Eufy, a cheaper Amazon Dot clone and the Cowin DiDa a full size Echo replacement.

What does the Amazon Echo and Dot work with?

The Amazon Echo is compatible with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, IFTTT, Amazon Alexa, WeMo, Insteon & Wink. Will work with ZigBee and Z-Wave devices if you use a Samsung SmartThings Hub.

Click to review choices of Amazon Alexa compatible smart speaker hubs.


Apple HomeKit incorporating Siri

Apple’s HomeKit uses the iOS-only Home app to control your connected devices using Siri.  When Apple’s HomePod speaker hits stores in December it will add Smart Speaker capability with much better audio capability than the Echo or Google Homes offerings.

The Home app will control lights, window shades, and other devices anywhere you have a Wi-Fi or cellular connection. Important to note that Siri voice control will only work when you’re on your local Wi-Fi network. — unless you have an Apple TV. The Apple TV acts as a bridge, so you can say, “Siri, turn on the lights,” even when you’re away from home.

However, an Apple TV (or an Apple iPad left at home) will act as a bridge (or hub), so you can say, “Siri, turn on the lights,” even when you’re away from home. Until the arrival of the Apple HomePod smart speaker, you’re only able to control Apple devices on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

The Apple HomeKit Smart Speaker Hub is not yet available.


Bluetooth

Bluetooth is wireless, inexpensive and automatic using low power radio waves to create a personal area network ideal for home automation.

Once contact is established the service can automatically re-establish that connection, without pressing any buttons or needing to issue commands. One of the typical uses for Bluetooth is connecting smart phones to car auto systems.

In home automation, Bluetooth is built into some smart devices such as plug sockets and light bulbs. Bluetooth is also incorporated into Amazon Echo devices to enable additional speakers.


Google Home with Google Assistant

Google Home is smart – it’s able to pull info from your Google account to keep you informed about your calendar appointments and the traffic on your commute. It can also control some of your smart-home gadgets along with your TV and speakers if you also have Chromecast.

You can also play music on the Home itself. It pulls from Google Play Music, but you can also sync up your Spotify, Pandora and TuneIn accounts. It can even tell voices apart and give personalized responses to each of your family members.

The Home app is easy to use on both iOS and Android and integrates the Home with Google Assistant, Google’s answer to Siri and Alexa.

What does Google Home work with?

 The Google Home Speaker is compatible with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Nest devices, Philips Hue lights, August Smart Lock, Belkin and Lutron light switches and Lifx bulbs IFTTT commands. Will work with ZigBee and Z-Wave devices if you use a Samsung SmartThings Hub. Learn more about compatibility.

Click to learn more about the Google Home speaker with Google Assistant


Hamon Kardon Smart Speakers

Harmon Kardon has been busy this year – that have announced two new products:

The Invoke is the more important offering – its the first smart speaker to incorporate Microsofts Cortana voice recognition system. The Invoke includes a seven-microphone far-field array just like the Echo’s, but it also includes three woofers and three tweeters, as opposed to Echo’s one of each so we are assuming better sound quality.

The major advantage of the Invoke over its competition from Google, Apple and Amazon is Skype (also owned by Microsoft), the Invoke will support Skype, phone and landline calls.

The Allure – Amazon Alexa compatible which will pumps out 360-degree sound – it will glow too, reacting to your voice commands and pulses along with the rhythm of the music it’s playing with multicoloured ambient light.

Both the Invoke and Allure home automation products are slated for release later in 2017 – stay tuned …

Hamon Kardon Smart Speakers are not yet available


IFTTT

If This Then That, or IFTTT, is a free online service that put simply, allows users to set up triggers for certain occurrences. These triggers and actions can readily be applied to a selection of home automation devices that offer IFTTT functionality.

If you have certain schedules, you can use IFTTT to set up recurring rules – for instance, you can establish a rule to activate your front porch lights when your smart doorbell detects motion.


Insteon

Insteon is a home automation manufacturer using its own propriety standard. All its products can work with or without a hub using existing power wires in the home along with radio-frequency communication signals. These signals can automatically jump from one layer to the other, and back making for a reliable and secure system.

To link Insteon products together simply press and hold their set buttons – one at a time. Insteon may be the least complex of the smart home systems.

Most Insteon devices are X10 compatible – they can be programmed to respond to or control other devices via X10 commands. Those with extensive X10 systems that want something more reliable, should consider upgrading to faster more reliable Insteon hubs.

Insteon products can be controlled from the manufactures smart phone app and are compatible with Amazon Alexa enable devices, and limited support for a few non-Insteon products such as the Nest Thermostat. Note that there currently no integration with IFTTT.

The Insteon Central Controller Hub uses its own proprietary protocol. Supports both Insteon thermostat as well as the Nest thermostat (iOS and Android) and for a few non-Insteon products the Amazon Echo . There is no integration with IFTTT.

Click to review choices of  Insteon Hubs.


Samsung SmartThings

Samsung wants to be at the center of your smart home utilizing the Internet of Things with an almost complete family of physical products, including smart light bulbs, locks, thermostats, cameras, doorbells and more …

SmartThings offers its own Smart Home Hub along with a new mesh router called Samsung Connect Home which both extending your Wi-Fi network and acts as SmartThings hub, too. The SmartThings smart phone is required to control the hub and its devices.

Note. This range of devices are best suited to tech savvy DIYers who are willing to tweak and refine their smart-home system.

Samsung SmartThings is compatible with a large number of third-party devices including smart thermostats like the Honeywell Lyric Thermostat and Ecobee 3. incorporates Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ZigBee and Z-Wave and it works with both Google Home and Amazon Alexa.

What does the Samsung SmartThings Hub work with?

The Samsung Smartthings Smart Home Hub is compatible with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, IFTTT, ZigBee and Z-Wave, Amazon Alexa & Google Home.

Click to review choices of  Samsung SmartThings Smart Home Hub.


Thread for Smart Homes

Thread is a collaboration by Google’s Nest Labs, Samsung, ARM and some others, wanting a proprietary networking protocol for smart home automation.

Thread works with the Nest Learning Thermostat and the Nest Protect smoke detector, both Google products, as well as with Brillo, the Android for Internet of Things device. Brillo also incorporates Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

As with Z-Wave and ZigBee, Thread also supports battery-operated devices including thermostats, lighting controls, safety and security products. Note that Thread won’t work with the Nest Cam (formerly known as Dropcam).


WeMo devices

WeMo is not a standard, it’s a brand name belonging to well-known manufacturer Belkin.

WeMo devices piggyback on existing WiFi to connect to the WeMo smart phone Apps controlling these devices. Worth noting that they can also be controlled using IFTTT and by voice through an Amazon Echo via Alexa or using a Google Home Smart Speaker.

WeMo devices do not need a hub but they can be linked so you could, for instance, have a WeMo motion sensor device trigger a light switch when someone enters a room. Setting up a WeMo device is amongst the easiest available, make sure you have your Wi-Fi password handy.

What do WeMo devices work with?

Only needs Wi-Fi. Uses the free WeMo app – no hub required. Will work with IFTTT, Amazon Alexa (except for the Belkin NetCam), the Google Home Smart Speaker and the Nest Thermostat.

Click to review choices of  WeMo devices and related products.


Wi-Fi

At its simplest Wi-Fi allows devices to connect to the internet using radio waves instead of a hard wired connection.

Wi-Fi sometimes referred to as ‘Wireless Local Area Network’ or WLAN have lots of advantages. Wireless networks are easy to set up, unobtrusive and fast – traveling at the speed of light – just the job for trhe smart home of the future.

There are two types of wireless connectivity – through your mobile network provider or a wireless Internet connection through a WiFi router. A WiFi router first gets the data from a phone/cable line connected to an internet modem, then converts this data into radio signals transmitting them in its range.

Most home Wi-Fi networks are secure, so connecting your device to a wireless router will usually require your Wi-Fi network name and it’s password.


Wink Hub 2 and Relay

Wink Hub 2 uses Bluetooth, Z-Wave, ZigBee, and WiFi to connect smart devices. Lutron lighting and Kiddie smoke alarm devices are also compatible.

Wink’s smart phone app automatically discovers Wink hardware, so adding smart home gear is fairly simple. There are setup instructions based on the specific product you are adding.

Note that the Wink Relay, a touchscreen control panel, is compatible only with WiFi and ZigBee. However, you’ll be able to connect devices to the Relay using a Wink Hub 2.

Wink has now also partnered with Amazon – so Wink devices can communicate with the Echo using Alexa. Please also note that Apple’s HomeKit is not supported by Wink.

The Wink Hub 2 is compatible with Wi-Fi and supports Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Google’s Thread and Amazon Alexa. Additionally, the Hub 2 works with Philips Hue lights, ecobee3 thermostat, Nest camera and uses IFTTT to program recipes. You can control it using Android and iOS devices. Wink’s hub doesn’t currently work with Google Home. 

Click to review choices of Wink Hubs.


X10

X10 is older technology, a pioneering home control technology when introduced in 1975, employed for decades by home automation DIY enthusiasts all over the world. X10 devices utilize a home’s existing powerline wiring for communication. X10 products can be used to control lamps and appliances, replace wall switches along with monitoring doors, windows and motion.

X10 devices utilize a home’s existing powerline wiring and Wi-Fi for communication to control lamps and appliances, replace wall switches and even be used to monitor doors, windows and motion detectors.

X10 is largely a one-way technology, leading to clearly visible delays between pressing a button and the “light going on” – it’s also more sensitive to attenuation and line noise than other, more modern systems.


Z-Wave

Z-Wave hubs and it’s over 1500 compatible devices are based on low-energy wireless radio waves with  2-way communication. Z-Wave now has support from hundreds of companies, including Honeywell, Belkin, Kwikset, Yale, GE, Black & Decker, and Leviton.

Z-Wave Plus is optimized for easy set-up. However, Z-Wave classic may require placing the smart hub near the device that you are adding to your network. Both incorporate a dedicated mobiles app for controlling devices.

Z-Wave also enjoys better interoperability, historically, than Zigbee, but Z-Wave is not compatible with other systems. One plus is that Z-Wave uses less power than WiFi sending signals, so batteries in Z-Wave devices can last for three to five years.

Even though they are similar, ZigBee and Z-Wave devices are not compatible with each other.


ZigBee

ZigBee device makers include GE, LG, Logitech, Philips Hue lights and Samsung amongst others. Note that some of these companies also use Z-Wave, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. ZigBee is designed for devices talking to devices, so it’s great for the Internet of Things.

ZigBee is somewhat faster that Z-Wave, and is generally considered cheaper to implement. ZigBee also supports battery-powered devices, some of which can operate up to seven years on one set of batteries.

Even though they are similar, ZigBee and Z-Wave devices are not compatible with each other.


Conclusions and suggestions for the best home automation system:

  1. If you don’t want to mess with a hub, the no brainer is to go with the best supported smart speaker – an Amazon Echo or an Alexa compatible alternative.
  2. For an easy to set up smart home automation system with a hub and the most options (and still be Alexa compatible) consider either Wink or Insteon products – but you have to stick to one or the other.
  3. If you really like to tinker and consider yourself tech savvy, you’ll be considering the Samsung SmartThings products. Or the really nerdy with legacy X10 systems, should look at Insteon hubs and devices.
If you can follow directions and would feel comfortable setting up a home wi-fi system you’ll be able to handle options 1 and 2.