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Controlling Your Smart Home

In order to operate all the smart devices in your smart home, and for them to communicate with one another (and with you), all those devices need to be connected to some sort of network. That could be your existing Wi-Fi network, or it could be a different network that uses a different protocol.

In the home automation/smart home market, three companies or consortiums have introduced their own wireless networking technologies that have meet with widespread approval among both professional installers and consumers. These technologies are INSTEON, Z-Wave, and ZigBee.

All three of these technologies utilize wireless mesh networks that work by connecting one device to another device and then to another. This creates a "mesh" of connections, unlike the hub-and-spoke model used by Wi-Fi and other traditional networks. Each device in the mesh network acts as a repeater, receiving and sending every message to all other connected devices. The more devices added to the network, the stronger it becomes.

To control all the devices on whatever network you choose, you'll need some sort of smart hub and a series of smart controllers. Most manufacturers of home automation equipment offer their own proprietary hubs and controllers, although some equipment is designed to work across platforms.

Some of the most popular home automation systems include Control4, Creston, Homeseer, Iris, SmartThings, Vera, WeMo (from Belkin), and Wink. There's also X10, the granddaddy of home automation systems, which is showing its age but still a favorite in the DIY market. All of these systems sell both individual components and starter kits with just the right stuff to get you started.

Figure 7 The Wink Command Center Kit includes the Wink Relay hub and controller, smart LED light bulbs, smart window/door sensors, and a smart thermostat sensor.

For example, Belkin's WeMo system includes smart controllers that enable you to control your room lighting, home security cams, humidifier, Mr. Coffee machine, Crock-Pot slow cooker, and more. There are connected power switches, motion detectors, door and window sensors, you name it. There are enough sensors and controllers available to connect together all sorts of things in your burgeoning smart home.

Figure 8 Controlling various devices in your home with the WeMo smartphone app.

It's much the same with products from other manufacturers. If there's something that can be controlled remotely or automatically, chances are there's a controller (and a smartphone app) for it.

This is how a lot of DIY folks are dipping their toes into the smart home thing. Pick a smart hub from one the companies just discussed, and then purchase a variety of controllers to control various devices in your home. It's still kind of piecemeal, but it's coming together and it all pretty much works. Yes, the smart home of the future will be lot smarter and a lot more autonomous, but we're getting there -- one thing at a time.

Michael Miller is a prolific and popular writer. He has written more than 150 non-fiction books over the past twenty-five years, along with numerous articles, blog posts, and instructional videos. His best-selling books include The Internet of Things, The Ultimate Guide to Bitcoin, and Computer Basics: Absolute Beginner's Guide.

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