Smart home basics you need to know

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If you’re embarking on the smart home journey, chances are you have already started encountering a whole host of new concepts and terms that you’re steadily adding to your knowledge bank.

 

Words like router, hub, internet, sensor and activator, for example. All these are commonly used in smart home speak, but they can soon become a little bit overwhelming.

To assist we’ve compiled the full list of smart home terms from A-Z here, but in the interim, here are the smart home basics you need to know to kick off your smart home journey.

Smart appliances do not make a smart home

With more and more smart appliances and products like lightbulbs available, it’s tempting to think a smart home is just about controlling items in your home using a mobile phone.

While that’s part of what a smart home does, a true smart home doesn’t end there. Real smart homes involve a network of interconnected items that can be controlled to intuitively improve your lifestyle and execute tasks to your liking.

True smart homes involve an ecosystem utilising the internet, a smart home network, a hub and sensors and activators that all work together to provide seamless living.

So, let’s delve a little deeper…

The role of the Internet

Yes, yes you’re probably familiar with this one but in the smart home the internet plays a crucial role of connecting your home to the outside world.

That occurs through two types of internet – fixed and mobile, and the difference between the two is important.

Fixed internet is the type made famous by the NBN. It’s the internet that is wired directly into your property and then distributed via a router that allows devices like computers, printers, laptops, gaming consoles and smart TVs to access the world wide web via a wireless (Wi-Fi) connection.

Mobile internet, on the other hand, is the type of internet that you tend to use on your smart phone as part of the 4G or even 5G network, and you can also use this to connect your computer, printer and laptop to if required, but the data involved tends to be more expensive.

In the smart home, internet allows you to access the outside world and world wide web. This connection to the internet is often the foundation of a smart home, but it isn’t where it ends.

Meanwhile mobile internet is how you control your smart home from afar via your mobile phone, accessing what state it is in, viewing live images of your property and then altering the settings you want.  

Networks in the smart home

Once inside your home, networks come into play. This is the way the devices inside your property talk to each other. As we mentioned, in a standard home, devices like laptops, printers and smart TVs might talk to each other using Wi-Fi. They may even communicate via Bluetooth where a tablet, mobile phone or laptop hooks up with a Bluetooth Speaker to transmit sound, for example.

But smart homes also utilise other communication means. Most commonly the “languages” used between smart appliances, fixtures and fittings in a smart home are mesh networks like Z-Wave and Zigbee.

And the key difference is this – Wi-Fi networks see all information and data transmitted to a router then redistributed, so the router is a central point. When you have a lot of devices on a network, this distribution method can get clogged, slowing the network down.

Conversely in mesh networks, each new device you add to the network becomes a transmission point. The information uses each connected device as a potential path to relay information.

That means a mesh network is fast and becomes stronger when you add more devices. It’s also more reliable – if one device drops out, an alternative route is quickly found.

In terms of the difference between Z-Wave and Zigbee, they operate at different frequencies, while Z-Wave is a closed proprietary technology owned by a company, Zigbee is open, meaning no-one owns it and anyone can access it.

In general terms, Z-Wave is considered the preferred option for a mesh network because you can expect any device with the Z-Wave logo to communicate with each other. Every Z-Wave network and all Z-Wave devices have unique IDs that are used to communicate with your hub. This adds a layer of security to smart home operation.

The Hub

All properly installed smart homes have hubs. This is like the master control of the smart home network. The hub connects to the internet but also oversees the mesh network, allowing you to ascertain what state various items in your smart home are in and then control them.

Hubs also allow you to set scenes and routines for your home, so a series of things can happen at one time to suit your lifestyle. For example, a coming home routine may see you use an app on your smart phone or voice command to tell your hub you’re coming home.

The hub will then execute a series of predetermined commands, like switching on the exterior lights, unlocking the door when your phone is in proximity, turning on the oven, and starting up the heating or cooling.

Sensors and activators

In order for a smart home to be intuitive, fixtures, fittings, electrical power points and even some appliances have sensors and activators.

Sensors determine the environment a device is operating in sensing things like temperature, ambient light etc and whether something is off or on.

Activators allow this item to be told to do something. So for example a sensor might determine it’s raining so an activator will make a window close.

These feed information back to the hub, which can then control what something does and the parameters in which it will operate.

That’s how scenes can be played out. So a leaving home scene sees the hub determine the lights are on, some power points like the TV one are drawing power, the front door is unlocked etc, and using the parameters you have set will secure the home by shutting off the lights, switching off set power points and locking the doors.   

About Lera Smart Home Solutions

Lera Smart Home Solutions is a leading installer of smart home technology in the greater Sydney region. Our team boasts over 20 years’ experience in IT networking, programming and the electrical industry.

We have sourced the most reliable and cost efficient solutions from around the world to provide the very best in smart home solutions, and work with our clients to understand their needs.

You can learn more about transforming your house into a smart home here, access our smart home calculators here or contact us directly for further advice.

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