When the Internet was first invented, it completely revolutionized how people communicated and worked together. It brought a new era of free information for everyone, transforming life in ways that were hard to imagine back in those days. But the current wave of Internet is not about people, it’s about intelligent, connected devices that exchange crucial information in a collaborative ecosystem. To interact successfully with the real world, these devices must work together at high speeds, higher scalability and must offer capabilities far beyond our current requirement (or imagination). IoT is bringing a paradigm shift in the technology world, and this is just the beginning!
For IoT to achieve what it has set out for, smart home devices must be able to seamlessly exchange information and communicate with each other. The information collected must then be sent to the server infrastructure, which then analyses the data and sends it back to devices, programs or people. So what makes this exchange of information and the delivery of top-notch applications and services from virtually anywhere possible? Through the use of IoT protocols. There are a multitude of IoT protocols on which a smart home can be built. From device discovery and management to data exchange and communication, each protocol has the capability to interact with various connected devices and instruct them to perform a function.
Although choosing the ideal smart home protocols can be challenging, support for a large number of devices and device interoperability are of primary importance, followed by power consumption, bandwidth, and, of course, cost. Let's look at five of the most popular IoT protocols in the home automation space.
X10 is a pioneering home automation protocol and has been around since the 70s. Although a number of higher bandwidth alternatives are now thronging the market place, X10 remains a popular protocol in the home automation space with millions of units in use worldwide due to its inherent capabilities and affordability. While it utilized a home’s existing powerline wiring for communication, X10 today possesses wireless technology and is widely used across products from controlling lamps and other appliances to monitoring doors and windows and for detecting motion. Because X10 products have been around for a long time, hybrid systems are now being launched that are a combination of X10 devices and several other modern wireless devices that use protocols like Zigbee or Z-Wave.
Another wired technology, UPB was launched with the intention to replace the X10 due to its superior reliability; UPB devices are said to offer 100 times more reliability than X10 devices, are less susceptible to powerline noise, and offer an increased communication range. By using a home’s existing power lines, UPB also minimizes costs to a large extent and has the ability to control devices both inside and outside the home. UPB and X10 products are, however, not compatible and need a special controller that will talk to both.
Insteon was designed to bridge the gap between wired and wireless protocols; as the X10 protocol started aging, it brought with it a range of reliability and performance issues that needed to be addressed. Insteon integrates wired and wireless communication into a single system and offers great reliability and flexibility. Because Insteon is compatible with X10 devices, it's a great way to transition to wireless. And because wireless protocols like Zigbee and Z-Wave require complex routing strategies and are also expensive, Insteon is the perfect mid-way solution. Not only is it easy to install, it is also simple to use, highly responsive, and affordable.
ZigBee is exclusively a wireless home automation protocol with a key ability to support mesh networking — something that none of its predecessors offered. In a mesh network, each node is capable of self-discovery on the network, and every device acts as a relay that sends and receives information. As a result, ZigBee's wireless network can become larger, stronger, and more reliable when a new device is added. ZigBee is also a low-cost, low-power technology and provides excellent range and creates rapid communication between other ZigBee devices. That makes ZigBee the ideal choice for smart energy devices, including lighting and HVAC control.
Thread is an IP-based wireless networking protocol that is specially designed for low-power connected devices in the home automation space. Being an open standard protocol, Thread is easy to use and incorporates the highest degree of encryption and authentication schemes. Because Thread is designed to be battery friendly, it requires very little energy to operate. Devices that are part of a Thread network also create a mesh, providing excellent resiliency and eliminating the chance of a single point of failure. Thread supports a wide variety of products, including appliances, access control, climate control, energy management, lighting, and security.
50 Billion Devices (and Counting)
In this technology-led world, there are currently 50 billion smart devices! While these devices are making lives easy and comfortable for us, there's a lot more they can achieve. This is where IoT comes into the picture; by using intelligent protocols, IoT is connecting these devices in a meaningful way, delivering applications that can truly change the way we live our everyday lives and fundamentally change our world.