Getting started with smart home technology is daunting. There are many different paths you can take. A common part of smart homes is the central ̵
Deciding if you need a hub is just one of the many choices you have to make when building your smart home. It might just be one of the bigger choices you have to make as it has a big effect on the appliances you can add to your home. We’ll explain what a smart home hub is so you can decide if you should go that path.
Let’s talk about protocols
When it comes to smart homes, a number of different protocols can be used. These protocols determine how the devices in your home connect and how they can be controlled. For our purposes, there are three protocols most smart home owners should understand.
The first is what you’ll find in many of the standard smart home gadgets: Wi-Fi. These devices, including light bulbs, switches, outlets, and many typical smart home things, connect to the wireless network in your home.
Each of the devices is on your WiFi, which is how it communicates with the app on your phone or the Alexa or Google Assistant smart speaker. All you need to set up these devices is your Wi-Fi password. You do not need any additional hardware.
The other two protocols are Z-Wave and ZigBee, and these are what typical smart home hubs use. These protocols are also wireless, but do not use Wi-Fi. Z-Wave and ZigBee devices create a “mesh network” that allows them to communicate with each other. This means you are not limited to the range of your router.
Rather than each device being on your Wi-Fi network and communicating independently, Z-Wave and ZigBee devices are all connected to the hub. The hub is the only thing connected to Wi-Fi. You communicate with the hub, which then sends commands to connected devices.
RELATED: What are “ZigBee” and “Z-Wave” Smarthome Products?
It all happens in the Hub
The term ‘hub’ is the perfect description of what a smart home hub is. It’s the centralized device that connects everything else in your smart home. When the hub fails, so does your smart home. It is the heart of the system.
There are many pros and cons to this type of installation. If you have dozens of smart home devices in your home, you can prevent them from overloading your Wi-Fi network with a hub. They connect to the hub instead of your router.
This also makes it easier to add new devices to your smart home. Wi-Fi devices usually require a third party app and Wi-Fi credentials to set them up. Once you’ve set up a hub, all you have to do is plug in a new device and wait for it to appear in the app for your hub.
Speaking of apps, this is another benefit of a hub. For Wi-Fi devices, you usually need to use third-party apps from the device manufacturer. These apps are then what you use to control the devices. If you mix and match brands in your home (as many people do), you’ll need to remember a few different apps.
There are, of course, ways you can consolidate Wi-Fi devices into a single interface with something like the Google Home app (or Apple’s Home app, for devices that support HomeKit). However, this requires extra work and that is not always possible with every brand.
With a hub, everything can be done from one app. Devices are connected to the hub and then appear in the app. You always use the same familiar interface. Hub apps are also typically more powerful, including tools for routines and complex automation.
Hubs aren’t perfect
We talk a lot about hubs here, but the truth is, they aren’t without its issues. Smart home hubs can be tricky, annoying devices at times. The hub takes care of everything, so if the hub fails, your entire smart home will be down.
That may seem obvious, and the same is true for Wi-Fi devices. No internet means your smart home is not very smart. The difference with a hub is that it can sometimes go down for other reasons. For example, if Samsung’s SmartThings network goes down, the hub won’t be able to connect to devices, even if your Wi-Fi is okay.
As with many things, the more complex you add to a system, the more likely it is to fail. Using a smart home hub gives you access to a whole new world of possibilities, but that also brings some extra challenges.
Do you need a hub in your smart home?
The big question many people have when starting a smart home is whether they should invest in a hub. You look at extra costs up front that seem to complicate things. How do you know if it’s worth it?
The truth is, that’s a very personal question. It really depends on the type of smart home you want to create. Most people don’t have to worry about a hub. If you only want a handful of smart light bulbs and switches, you don’t need that extra complexity. Add a smart speaker and you have a pretty nice, simple system.
When you start to get into the more serious side of smart homes, a hub becomes necessary. If you’re thinking about replacing all the light switches in your home, adding motion sensors in multiple rooms, and building crazy projects like fake windows, you should probably look into a hub.
Which hub is best? Well, that’s another tough question to answer. There are several competing platforms on the market right now. The one that seems to have the most appeal is Samsung’s SmartThings platform. It has been around for a long time, backed by a large company, and supports many popular smart home brands.
Works as a SmartThings Hub
A hub can make your smart home even smarter, but that doesn’t mean your home is stupid without. It’s up to you to decide how far down the rabbit hole you want to go.
RELATED: How to Build Your Own Artificial Natural Light Window