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If you are automating your home, most likely you figured that many smart devices need a bridge or a hub for smart home in order to function correctly.
Why do some smart devices need a hub when automating my home?
When you get started with automating your home, you quickly find out that many devices need a hub for smart home or even a bridge to function correctly. For example, if you use smart bulbs such as Sengled Element Classic, Hive Active Light or Philips Hue, both need a bridge, a bridge that most of the time is not compatible between devices from different manufacturers which leads some people to buy too hubs like the Samsung Smart Things or Google Nest hub.
There are many people who are not sure if they really need to buy a smart-hub when building your smart home. And for the most part, the explanations given by both manufacturers and smart device vendors are not clear enough that people can choose the best route that applies to them.
Why do I have to connect smart devices through a hub or bridge instead of connecting them directly to my Wi-Fi network?
For example, if I have some Philips Hue bulbs, an Amazon Echo and an ecobee3, how can I figure out if I need a hub? Is there a methodology that will help me to determine which hub is best?
If I have a wifi router installed in my house, some smart lamps, a smart door lock and a smart-speaker, what is it that prevents me from using them without using a smart-hub?
Going into a more technical detail, some smart-devices communicate with each other using proprietary protocols, not based on standard internet protocols, this is how certain manufacturers force customers to buy more devices of the same brand.
In reality, today, consumer IoT is no different from many other areas, we are witnessing an important battle between suppliers who are interested in dominating the home automation market. From the chip suppliers that promote their chosen radio network, the device suppliers promote their own control tools and there are still others that specialize in interconnecting them all, ceasing to be specialists in some particular type, but becoming act as controller for all other devices. This war between manufacturers usually advances with the creation of alliances and the definition of standarts used primarily by the strongest competitors, the weakest being obliged, in most cases, to adapt to these same standards.
When implementing smart homes, people have to commit to one or more ecosystems and hope for the best.
Currently, it cannot be said that one ecosystem is better than the other, some ecosystems that choose to specialize in some features such as lighting while others choose to specialize in other features such as sound, home security or even air conditioning. There are still others who choose not to specialize in any particular area, but to create central controls that adapt to the different suppliers.
There are ecosystems that privilege the quality of materials, design and differentiated features while others opt for solutions that allow them to keep prices more reasonable. Just like people choose Android or Apple when they buy their smartphones. At Iot, people will sometimes have to make similar commitments.
Despite efforts to create a global standard, it is unlikely that a single global standard will emerge, and it is less likely that a completely open standard will be created.
This answer may seem cynical, and more opinion than fact, but IoT is a new market with huge rewards for vendors that dominate. Current users of IoT are early adopters that will be frustrated while the battle of technology giants is played out. Understanding the current state of the market is important to adjust your expectations while evaluating the technology.
You need a smart hub or bridge when some of your devices don’t use Wi-Fi and, therefore, are unable to communicate directly with your home network. è Very often we find devices, especially actuators, such as motors and locks, and sensors (touch, temperature, lighting or motion detectors) use protocols such as ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth and Thread making it impossible to communicate directly with the Wi-Fi router. The hub serves as a translator, allowing the connection of these devices to Wi-Fi networks or even to other devices that also speak different languages.
How do these protocols differ from a typical Wi-Fi network?
Wi-Fi is an excellent protocol to have your computers, smartphones or even televisions connected to each other and to the internet. It is an excellent means of communication for surfing the internet, streaming movies, etc.
Despite being an excellent communication channel, Wi-Fi is not the best protocol in all cases, the high availability and bandwidth has a high energy consumption as the reverse side of the medal. See, for example, how your tablet or laptop battery runs out when you start watching a movie on Netflix …
Most smart device manufacturers avoid using the Wi-Fi protocol because that would require the use of batteries with a lot of power or a dedicated power supply.
If all smart devices used wifi, we could get ridiculous of having smart LED lamps using more energy than their old incandescent lamps.
These ZigBee or Z-Wave protocols are protocols that allow you to start communication faster, do not require you to maintain a persistent connection, but on the other hand, they allow you to transfer or receive a smaller amount of data and have a shorter range. Philips Hue lamps, for example, use ZigBee, which is why the bridge is needed to “convert” back to Wi-Fi, so that all other devices can interact with it.
In the figure we can see a comparative study between some well-known wireless communication technologies, where you can see some of the motivations that lead manufacturers to use for the ZigBee protocol. In this comparison we find as main advantages the low energy consumption, the possibility of connecting a very high number of devices and a high range.
ZigBee has a much lower transfer rate than other protocols, but this will certainly not be a problem considering the advantages described above, in addition, the devices that usually use this protocol have a very limited communication, communicate their current status, and accept commands from the controllers. certainly manufacturers are able to keep these communications short so that channel bandwidth is not an issue.
For your lamp or thermostat, Wi-Fi doesn’t make much sense. If your device is only sending a few bytes of data (for example, just a number), why spend a lot of energy on each transmission?
In short: Wi-Fi makes sense when you want to send large amounts of data over long distances. On the other hand, your devices probably don’t need to transmit that much data; therefore, there will certainly be other better protocols for this purpose.
What else do the hubs do?
Some hubs, such as Nest or SmartThings can also execute programmed routines, “automations” or “recipes” as dubbed by the IFTTT consortium, and allow the customization of these behaviors to your needs. Generally, these devices provide an editor of this type of rules so that you can customize them as you wish.
Some hubs also allow you to integrate with the IFTTT to allow and facilitate the programming of some rotunas when it is not available or is not easy through the interface of your device.
Do I really need a hub?
Your need for a hub depends only on your personal configuration in your smart home. If you only use devices with a wi-fi connection, then you don’t need to.
There is even some parallelism between a smart-hub and a Wi-Fi router, both are devices capable of transmitting and receiving radio signals, and it has some internal intelligence to allow managing communications as well as other rules and configurations.
There are already some devices that support both the functionalities of smart-hub and Wi-Fi router, all in one. This type of solution is already available for residential market bundled with wi-fi mesh solutions.
If you need to automate something that your device manufacturer has not already left automated, the hub will certainly be a good option.
On the other hand, if you use different sensors or buttons to control your devices, the smart-hub will certainly be the best option to keep everything connected, allowing your control even when you are away from home and thus defining the routines according to your needs. preferences.
If you want the flexibility to customize how your devices work and interact, a hub is a great idea.
But if you are planning to buy a voice assistant from Google or Amazon and just want to know how the traffic is or the weather, then this is not really necessary.
To help you choose a hub better, you should consider the following:
What protocols are used by your devices?
You should find hubs that are compatible with the protocols used by your devices. At the limit you may need more than one hub as more than one protocol is used on your devices.
Do your devices reference specific integrations with any hub? For example, ecobee3 specifically lists SmartThings and Wink as compatible. You should take these references of your devices into account as they will lead to a simpler and easier configuration.
Does the hub you are analyzing allow you to automate things in a simple way? Each hub has its own configuration, some of them even require programming in a language you don’t know. If this is the case, then you should avoid them, it is better to have a less functional hub than one that promises a lot and that you cannot control afterwards.
Have you made your choice whether or not to use a smart-hub in your home? Have you found a hub compatible with all your devices?
We would like to know a little more about your adventures to make your home smarter.