The topic of Communication Technologies in Automation might confuse you a little bit as to what it actually means. Though Automation, Home Automation, and Smart home are the terms that we have now come to use frequently, most of us are barely scratching the surface. There is a lot more to Automated Systems such as a Smart Home or Smart Automobiles.
Though most of the times, people, in thoughts of automating their home, just grab in a bunch of smart devices and then take an expert assistance in setting them up. Most consumers do not actually try to understand how Automation works. An in-depth understanding of how an Automated System works is important since it helps the user to better configure the system. By Automated System, we are referring to a combination of Smart Devices, that compliment each other’s functionalities to create the best experience for the user. A Smart Home is just one example of an Automated System.
One Important such understanding is on how different Smart Devices interact with each other. If the question in your mind right now is, why should Smart Devices even interact with each other, let us take an example to understand the same. Consider this situation where you walk into your house after a really long and hectic day. And then you get into your room. Assume that your bedroom and bathroom are fully automated. What happens next can go about in two ways – One, that as you get into the room, you first turn on the lights with your smartphone and, use your smartphone to open the window blinds and then again use your smartphone to turn on on your smart heater. The second scenario is when you walk into the room and give a single command that will turn on the lights, open the window blinds and start your water heater. Clearly, the second scenario is the most preferred one.
The first scenario is an example of where you have set up dedicated controllers for each of your Smart Devices and then control each device using dedicated commands. This is really cumbersome and in no way meets the definition on a Smart Home.
The Second Scenario, however, is the best. You get to give one combined command and the actions are executed without any further manual intervention. This scenario is possible because of the communication between the Smart Devices, with or without the presence of a central mediating hub in the middle. The command given in the second case requires the Smart Devices to operate in a sequential manner. The lights have to lit up first, followed by the Window Blinds being rolled up, and finally, the heater is turned on. Once the lights have turned on, this information is passed on to other Smart Devices who executes their functionalities. This is where the importance of communication kicks in.
In order for effective communication to happen, there should be a common language in which the devices can exchange signals. This needs the importance of communication protocols in automation. Though there are many communication technologies available currently, the three main technologies that are most widely employed in Smart Devices are ZigBee, WiFi, and Bluetooth.
ZigBee is more of an entry-level communication technology. Compared to Bluetooth and WiFi, ZigBee has lower data transmission rates and hence uses less power than the former technologies. However for smart homes, since most of the Smart Devices are within a fixed level of transmittance, the lower data transmission rate and shorter range of ZigBee does not pose much of challenge. Devices using Zigbee as communication technology uses less power and hence are more efficient in terms of power. Most devices that do not use batteries and not a permanent power supply may use ZigBee. Also, Smart Devices using ZigBee have more battery life as compared to other devices.
Wifi is the most dominant technology in the Automation Industry right now. The main reason for the widespread popularity of WiFi is its high rate of data transmission and improved. Most Smart Devices in the market currently come configured with WiFi as the communication technology. Since WiFi technology is widely used by almost all devices, it is easier to connect and synchronize multiple devices.
Devices that use one Communication technology may not be able to directly interact with another device that uses a different technology for communication. Now, this is where the knowledge on Communication Technologies become helpful to you as a Consumer. When you are picking up different Smart Devices, keeping this point in mind, you can pick devices that use similar technology for similar functionalities. Also, you can pick Smart Devices based on your use cases. To cite an example, if your need is to set up an automated with shorter range and better battery life, you can consider Smart Devices with ZigBee as the technology. However, if your need aligns with more range of coverage and faster response, you can very well go for the WiFi technology. In the coming articles, we shall be discussing ind detail about each of these technologies.
In case you are picking up devices with different communication technologies, you might want to use Home Hobs. You can read about the importance of Home Hubs in Automation from our article.