PROS and CONS of Smart Home Hub vs WiFi and Cloud Automation
Smart Home automation is arguably the hottest tech topic of the day. Along with its popularity has come a seemingly endless array of options from a multitude of vendors with technology including WiFi, ZWave, Zigbee, Insteon and UPB.
In the early days of home automation, the smart home hub or home automation controller was the foundation of the smart home. All devices needed to talk to a central controller since they used a proprietary signal (remember X10 anyone?).
With the proliferation of WiFi smart home devices and gadgets that talk directly to a cloud service through your home’s WiFi and Internet connection, the question becomes whether we need a smart hub at all. After all, your NEST or Honeywell WiFi thermostat works on its own and gives you an iPhone or Android app right? The same goes with WiFi light switches, dimmers and locks.
If your smart home solution is using only WiFi devices and your automation needs are simple, you won’t need a hub. As long as your Internet and WiFi router are working you can talk to Alexa or Google to control lights and locks.
What was that? Your router and WiFi are never glitchy are they? You never have to reboot the router right? Internet’s always up? Hmm. Interesting consideration. If you’re planning to install lots of WiFi devices and running on a $50 router or the free one from your Internet company you may want to at least think about an upgrade to something better and more stable. Also something more business class and secure.
Beyond that there are some other considerations. So you can integrate locks and lights and other devices using “the cloud” and IFTTT and the like right? Yes of course. Mind you, Google’s cloud went out last week for half a day or so.
THOUGHTS ON CLOUD AUTOMATION
Integrating devices via the cloud works just fine but do keep in mind that means when something happens in the house; lets say you open the door and you want the WiFi lights to turn on, the lock has to connect to your router, send a message to a cloud server, then it has to send a message to IFTTT which in turns has to send a message to the cloud server for the lights and then the message goes back down to your house and the light turns on. Some days that might all happen quickly. Other days, not so much. Lots of moving pieces when there’s a network, WiFi and 3 cloud servers in the mix.
It might sound like I’m bashing the cloud. Not at all. In fact the Internet is awesome and cloud services especially when they’re all free – who wouldn’t appreciate that.
At the same time you might consider a few things.
#1 How critical is it that the light turns on when the door opens?
#2 How important is it that this happens really quickly?
#3 How stable is your network and router?
#4 Do you care if you can’t access devices without Internet?
#4 How many devices are you going to have?
If you plan to have a lock, a few light switches, some voice assistants and a thermostat it’s probably not all that concerning. But if you’re planning to roll out whole house automation with 50, 70 or 100 dimmers, 10 keypads, cameras, 4K TV’s streaming Netflix, wireless audio and music streaming? That’s a different story altogether.
BENEFITS OF SMART HOME HUBS
Enter the smart home hub and technologies like Insteon, ZWave and Zigbee. None of these technologies rely on WiFi or your network. They have their own communication protocols and they talk device to device and device to hub.
With these systems, your router or the Internet can go down and you can still trigger a lighting scene with a keypad. Lighting scenes happen directly and inside the home so they’re much faster. If you have a hub with enough horsepower and memory, then all the processing and triggers also happen inside the hub and inside the home – so the Internet can still go down – and when you open the front door your foyer lights still turn on – pretty much instantly.
If you switch out for a new router or get a new Internet service, you don’t have to reassign IP addresses for your dimmers, r worry about IP ranges or WiFi coverage. Your Netflix, audio streaming, downloading and gaming won’t be competing with your light switches. Your wall dimmers won’t be competing for IP addresses with your computers and TVs.
SMART HOME HUB OR CLOUD?
Getting back to the question at hand – do you need a smart home hub or not? The answer depends on your short and long term goals for smart home devices and world domination of course.
Ultimately, all of these devices are amazing – whether the technology is WiFi, Insteon, Zigbee, ZWave or UPB. The moral of this story isn’t to ditch WiFi for ZWave or use Insteon over Zigbee. That’s a completely different conversation. It’s merely to give you pause as you dive in to the world of home automation and the smart home.
Take some time to look at different options and think about whether you plan to “go big” or just dabble with some key pieces. It’s possible to have a WiFi installation with over 100 smart devices, or an Insteon installation with only 2.
That being said for a larger installation, where speed matters, where rules and automation triggers need to be more advanced, where Internet interruptions aren’t tolerated – a smart home hub is very definitely the way to go. Most hubs feature local brains to the installation and will help bring all of the home’s smart devices together. The more powerful hubs will let you create true automation that requires less user input and more smart convenience.
Smart home hubs can provide much more powerful automation rules, triggers, schedules and scenes. They also tend to do a much better job of bringing together disparate systems. So for example you might be able to create an automation rule that turns on all the lights and shuts off the furnace fan motor in case of a fire. Oh and send an email or text about it too – while your alarm system reaches out to the monitoring station so they can call the fire department for you. Or you might want to turn off the main water supply when you arm your alarm to vacation mode. Oh and turn down the heat when you arm it as you leave the house.
Stay tuned for another article discussing some of the most popular smart home hubs with their inherent pros and cons. In the mean time feel free to reach out to the folks at Aartech Canada for some advice. Aartech has been selling and supporting smart home products long before big box stores made them popular.