Skip to main content

When setting up a home automation system or a smart home you generally need to pick a communications standards, in general it is best to remain within the same standard for everything. There are situations where that may not be possible. I am going to give a brief overview of the common standards that you will find on the market.

 

X10

X10 is the granddaddy of standards. Developed in 1975 by Pico Electronics. As it was the first viable protocol for home automation it became the industry standard for home automation. It dominated the home automation landscape for decades, hundreds of manufactures build X10 devices. X10 generally uses powerline communications, in some situations RF would be used. RF was not often used but the protocol did support it. Some of drawbacks of X10 is it's lack of speed, limitations of number of nodes, electrical interference issues, and lost commands. This lead to X10 falling out of favor as new protocols were invented.

Zigbee

Zigbee is was conceived of in 1998 however, was not finalized until 2003. Zigbee is a RF based mesh networking protocol. It is very low power, this makes it wonderful for battery operated devices. There are some obvious issues when we talk about low power RF, range being a big one. Zigbee pro was introduced in 2007 with some modifications allowing for a more structured network. The low data rate, RF only nature, and low data rate has made Zigbee a no go for most home automation tasks. It does however shine in one area, Smart Power Management. Zigbee has become a goto for smart meters, electric cars, and many energy monitor devices. 

Z-Wave

Z-Wave was introduced by Zensys in 1999. This is absolutely one of the most common protocols used on the market. It is a wireless mesh network that allows for both direct and indirect communication. The original Z-Wave standards were very weak and did not meet with much market success. The Z-Wave Alliance was established in 2005. At that time there were only 6 products being produced, by 2012 that had blooned up to 600, and by 2019 was more than 2,600 products. This is by far the most common protocol you will run into if you are working with smart gadgets as well, it is the go to for companies like LG, Samsung, ADT, and so on. There is still one major drawback, it is a wireless only protocol. This does blow a major hole in it for larger homes or if you want to control multiple buildings on your property. 

Insteon

Insteon was introduced by Smartlabs in 2005. It is the youngest and yet the oldest of the common home automation protocols. Insteon is an evolution of X10 with some major improvements. First off the addressing has been expanded over X10 allowing for virtually unlimited devices, second pairing is just push button, third is mesh over both electric line and RF, each device both receives and repeats all commands. Most devices are backward compatible with X10. As you can guess this is my favorite protocol, it is by far the most reliable of the common protocols. However, there are a few drawbacks. It is proprietary, this is not an open standard. While the devices do not require a hub for operation, you will not get the most from them without one. Inteon is manufactured almost exclusively by Insteon, an upside of that is quality control. Limited number of devices, however, the devices that are produced allow for automation of nearly everything you can think of. Since several of the devices allow you to control non-smart devices, installation of more complex systems are best left for professionals. This is not a protocol for the diy weekend warrior. 

KNX

If I don't mention KNX someone will beat me about the head with it. KNX is and OSI based protocol. For those who don't understand that, it means it is the same method that is used for TCP/IP that allows the internet to work. It means KNX as a protocol is unaware and unaffected by the physical mode of transit. It can be used in RF, Twisted pair, Electric Line, or any IP network. Now with all of its versatility you simply are not going to find much for KNX in home automation, it is used heavily in professional settings for automating things like big box retail stores and office buildings. So why mention it? Because there is a growing number of people deploying it into homes and one day it maybe the goto for home automation, it just isn't right now.

 

Why no Bluetooth or Wifi, simply they are not home automation standard protocols. Certainly they can be used for that, however, that is not their intended use.