The main operating standards for home automation technology are the following four: Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, Zigbee and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). However, these are not the only ones you will come across when building your smart home. Other standards or protocols include X10, Insteon, Thread, and Universal Powerline Bus (UPB).
Wi-Fi: Most people are familiar with Wi-Fi, but may not realize it has a place in home automation. Many smart devices on the market connect to smartphones or hubs via Wi-Fi, and it makes sense - it's a widely available network that people know how to use. The downside, however, is that many devices already work over WiFi. Adding another, potentially bandwidth-intensive, can cause traffic congestion and, in some cases, signal interference.
Z-Wave: Many smart home devices use the Z-Wave protocol, which usually transmits on the 908.42 MHz frequency. The protocol uses a mesh network - a chain that turns individual smart devices into nodes. These nodes forward data packets from one device to another until the packets reach their final destination. Z-Wave devices are known for their interoperability, although it occurs exclusively within the Z-Wave home automation network.
Zigbee: Like Z-Wave, Zigbee relies on a mesh network. However, it generally operates on the 2.4 GHz frequency. Many smart home devices use the frequency due to its long range. Some developers like to work with the Zigbee protocol for its security and low power consumption. Consumers, in turn, benefit from that security built into their Zigbee devices.
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE): Bluetooth Low Energy is another well-known protocol. In the past, the technology relied on short-range radio frequencies to communicate between two devices very close to each other. Now, however, the technology is capable of creating mesh networks, which take care of some of the protocol's legacy gamut issues. Its other main advantage is security - it relies on government-grade encryption.
X10: Some protocols have fallen out of favor or are little used today. The X10 is one of them. It's been around for years and relies on a home's powerline system to transmit signals. This standard probably won't work well with smart home devices that need fast connections.
Insteon: Insteon tries to bridge the gap between wireless and powerline-based protocols. It is a versatile protocol, which may explain why devices and hubs are relatively easy to install. Like Zigbee and Z-Wave, the protocol uses a mesh network. The difference is that Insteon uses two bands to increase reliability and performance, and this also complements the powerline network. However, Insteon works in fewer smart home industries than some of the other protocols. The protocol tends to emphasize lighting, security and air conditioning.
Thread: Thread is so new that many consumers don't know it. This protocol has caught the attention of companies like Google and Samsung and aims to create a secure home network capable of handling more than 250 smart home devices. This kind of potential capability could lead to Thread becoming a more mainstream protocol in the years to come.
Universal Powerline Bus (UPB): Universal Powerline Bus is also relatively rare, although it is more current and reliable than the X10. This system effectively transforms the wiring in your home into a network for the transmission of signals. While UPB devices outperform X10 devices, other protocols and products far outperform UPB in speed, security and interoperability.