This week on the Bright Ideas series by Acuity Brands®, trends in lighting and the smart home industry were discussed and examined by Jeff Spencer – Vice President of Smart and Connected Devices at Acuity Brands. This week, he’s going to expand on each smart home technology available in the market, and for which homes each might be the best fit.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SMART AND CONNECTED DEVICE?
Nowadays, the term “smart home,” appears to be synonymous with “connected” homes. In reality, there is distinction between the two.
Smart devices, on the other hand, are connected devices which also employ some form of artificial intelligence or cloud connectivity.
The evolution of the telephone provides a helpful comparison. In the early 1900s, phones originally connected via cord into handsets and the walls of houses. In the 80s, wireless handsets started to appear – but they still charged and rested in stations around the house when not in use. Lastly, the rise of mobile devices and smartphones such as the iPhone in the early 2000s has done away with docking stations entirely and have introduced a myriad of new applications to what was once merely a conversational machine.
WHAT ARE THE MOST POPULAR SMART HOME DEVICES?
Home automation remains a fairly fragmented landscape; but with the introduction of voice assistants, the two most popular smart home technologies have become Amazon Echo® and Google Home®. On the surface these appear to be merely smart speakers, but they are in fact smart platforms that are constantly changing and upgrading. To choose one of these hubs is to effectively choose a side regarding the platform you’ll use to control your smart home.
The four most popular connectivity technologies out in the market today are Wi-Fi, Bluetooth®, Zigbee, and Z-Wave.
Amazon’s hub uses Wi-Fi for cloud connectivity, and Bluetooth for phone connectivity; and is starting to expand to include Zigbee controls as an option as well. Google Home has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but not Zigbee. Neither hub currently offers Z-Wave controls.
That being said, both Amazon and Google smart home technology can connect to and control devices which employ Zigbee and Z-Wave throughout the house.
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF EACH SMART HOME APPLICATION?
Wi-Fi doesn’t require a hub and offers users a better range for their connectivity. It offers a lot of data: dual bands between 2.4 and 5 gigahertz. It is also a service that is present in almost every home nowadays. That being said, one of its drawbacks is its dependency upon a functioning router. It also requires power, so it’s not an ideal choice for battery-operated products.
A good Wi-Fi solution would be a medium-sized deployment for applications that require a lot of data, like sound or video, for several devices over longer ranges.
Zigbee works independently of any Wi-Fi router, and it’s excellent for somebody who owns a lot of devices. In fact, with Zigbee, the more devices, the better! The con is, without that high count of devices to build out its network, it has a fairly poor range.
Zigbee does require a hub to work with voice assistants like Alexa and Google, and the system will be completely dependent on that hub; so if you lose the hub, you lose your smart home. The applications for that are really for more cost-effective large deployments for home automation with many devices through a large space.
Of every available smart home technology, Z-Wave actually offers the best security. Similar to Zigbee, it works even better with more devices and creates larger ranges when it has a large mesh network. It’s also less prone to interference due to the unique wavelengths it uses. However, it is very expensive and requires a proprietary chip.
A lot of people don’t go with Z-Wave mainly because they find that it’s more expensive, and they can usually get what they need with some of these other protocols. But Z-Wave is a good option if you prefer security over cost as your top priority.
Bluetooth® Low Energy Technology
Bluetooth is very low cost. It’s automatically available in every phone already. It’s portable; it’s homogeneous; and it’s easy to use. However, it has a shorter range and can control far fewer devices.
Today, Bluetooth technology is good for simple applications with very limited devices or devices that get connected and disconnected often, like Bluetooth speakers. That said, Bluetooth is expanding quickly and is a very widely used technology that is viable for home automation use.
WHAT ARE THE TOP CONSIDERATIONS FOR STARTING A SMART HOME?
The key to employing smart home technologies well is to have a plan before you even begin. Users should think about what they want now, and what they may want in the future.
Start off with something that’s very simple, easy to install and set up and use. However, also make sure it’s a scalable option; because smart home applications can grow very addicting. Once someone starts, often they want to add it into more rooms and connect even more devices to the ecosystem.
It’s easy to start off a smart home with platforms like Alexa and Google, because they’ve been designed to be user-friendly. Then you can expand that ecosystem with hubs like SmartThings, which works with both Alexa and Google– but is also built into all Samsung devices, appliances, and TVs.
After looking at the pros and cons of all protocols, it’s usually best to choose devices that have dual-protocols like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth; or Zigbee and Bluetooth; so that the best of both worlds is available to you. Better yet, look for devices that work with both Alexa and Google, to retain maximum flexibility in case you ever make a switch between those hubs in the future.
Lastly, look for something that’s seamless. For example, one of the benefits to Alexa is that manufacturers can create devices with Alexa built in. So now, users can have their Amazon home assistant built into their ceiling lights. It’s a totally seamless solution without having to keep a plugged-in box on an already cluttered counter.
Visit juno-ai.com to learn more about available smart home technology, and subscribe to the Bright Ideas series newsletter to get the show’s newest episodes sent straight to your inbox. Next week’s episode, we’ll examine how embedded controls in lighting fixtures can save time and money on a jobsite, and over the life of the building they inhabit.
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