Choosing a Communication Protocol for a Connected Device: Should You Consider Anything Else Than WiFi?

As smart solutions are getting more approachable nowadays, people rush to add convenience, efficiency, and security to their homes with the help of emerging technologies. Consumers start stuffing their houses with smart devices, usually facing the same challenge - how to make all the gadgets interact smoothly?

Smart appliances need to “talk to each other”. And here come communication protocols, which orchestrate the workflow of a smart home network. There are several options of such protocols, and in this article, we’ll describe to you details about the most recognized four.

WiFi

WiFi-chip

If you were asked to point at a person who had never used WiFi, would you manage to do that? Probably not, as WiFi is the most commonly used wireless network solution today. And there’s a fair reason for such a recognition - it enables fast and stable communication, accessible within a range of approximately 40 meters indoors.

WiFi is a ubiquitous solution when it comes to the Internet of Things connections, as it is approachable and flexible. Users can easily configure their smart home devices through WiFi, which is just as simple as managing their smartphones via this network. Also, if there’s a wireless router installed in a house already, customers don’t need to worry about an additional hub or access point to connect smart home devices. But as every solution, WiFi has both advantages and drawbacks.

Advantages:

  • High speed
  • Stable capacity and reliability
  • Extensive device compatibility
  • Wide accessibility range
  • Easy-to-integrate
  • Large-range accessibility

Disadvantages:

  • High power consumption
  • A limited number of connected devices - don’t expect high performance from a cheap router or connecting multiple devices simultaneously

WiFi-powered smart home applications:

  • Piper security system for home monitoring and protection
  • Video Doorbell to chat with visitors via a smartphone even if hosts are not at home
  • Wemo home automation to control domestic electronics remotely

BLE

BLE-chip

The second-popular wireless protocol is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). This solution is highly adaptive, secure and easy to set up. Compared to WiFi, though, BLE consumes less power and is a perfect fit for low-power home solutions.

Originally, BLE was not so practical for devices scattered throughout large spaces because of its short-range accessibility (around 10-15 meters). But there’s a solution already - BLE mesh, which can connect hundreds of devices and create large-scale device networks with the accessibility range extended up to 200 meters.

BLE solutions come in handy if you aim to design home lighting or climate systems. We do not recommend to leverage Bluetooth for security systems and surveillance, as it’s not stable enough to cope with such pressing tasks.

Advantages:

  • Low power consumption
  • Increased security
  • Easy to integrate
  • Extensive device compatibility

Disadvantages:

  • Short-range accessibility
  • Low stability - a device may not work if it moves out of the accessibility range

BLE-powered smart home applications:

Zigbee

Zigbee-chip

Zigbee is mostly used for sensor-based systems and monitoring applications, which can easily interact with each other. One of its core strengths is security, built on data encryption principles used in various financial institutions like banks. Similar to BLE, Zigbee uses a controller hub for easier system management and configuration.

Setting up Zigbee won’t take much time, but it’s still not as common for a usual consumer as connecting via WiFi or Bluetooth.

There is one more drawback. The system is very picky and doesn’t accept all the devices, especially those produced by different manufacturers. As a result, interoperability remains an issue for this technology.

Yet once the user succeeded in hooking a few different devices up together, they will soon notice how flawless and speedy the interaction between them can be with Zigbee.

Advantages:

  • Fast communication between devices
  • Low power consumption
  • Increased security

Disadvantages:

  • Low device compatibility
  • Short-range accessibility - around 20 meters
  • Need for a hub

Zigbee-powered smart home applications:

  • Home automation
  • Smart asset tracking
  • Smart grid monitoring

Z-wave

ZWave-chip

Z-wave is a mesh network protocol, which, much like to Zigbee, requires a hub for connected system management and configuration. But there’s a difference as well - Z-wave consumes less power and performs tasks 6 times slower.

The communication protocol has the accessibility range up to 40 meters and can cover large houses, supporting up to 232 devices. The main benefit of the system is that it is compatible with a wide range of gadgets, regardless of the manufacturer.

Advantages:

  • Large-range accessibility
  • Extensive device compatibility
  • Increased security
  • Easy to set up and simple to use

Disadvantages:

  • Need for a hub
  • Weak performance
  • Slow data transmission

Z-wave-powered applications:

Which One to Choose Then?

Even though Zigbee and Z-wave are also popular amongst smart home devices manufacturers, we suggest you to turn to WiFi and BLE. First, they are more common and widely adopted beyond smart home systems. People actively use them, trust and, what is particularly critical, don’t need to install extra hardware to build a centralized communication network.

Easy to set up and maintain, both WiFi and BLE support multiple devices. It will allow your consumers to add any gadgets to the connected system. But in case you still hesitate on choosing the ideal implementation for your idea, contact us for a consultation. We’ll provide you with more details on every solution and align your requirements and expectations with their offering.

01 Nov 2018
Olya Bohun / Tech Enthusiast
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