Home Automation Protocols: What You Should Know

Smart devices are considered smart because they can communicate with each other. However, to understand commands and signals, these devices need to speak the same language or home automation protocol. There are some smart devices that may not be clever enough to understand your house rules or simply can’t co-exist with the other devices you have in your home. Because compatibility is often an issue, you may want to understand how your smart devices communicate.

Two of the oldest protocols you may have encountered while browsing for your next smart device are Z Wave and Zigbee. These automation standards are more commonly used for DIY devices which  frequently work on batteries. They also work as signal repeaters, which can greatly increase your network’s range. However, for these protocols to work, you need to connect them to a main hub. The hub will work as the brain of your connected devices and smart home.

  • Z Wave



Z Wave is a radio frequency protocol owned by Sigma Designs that can help most of your devices to communicate with each other. Its interoperability and backwards compatibility has made Z Wave a relatively popular choice among several smart device manufacturers. This means that if you have one Z Wave device, you can pair it with any existing, older or even newer Z Wave products.

  • Because Z Wave comes from one particular company, its price is relatively controlled.
  • Z Wave has an operating range of 30 m or 100 ft. This is typically increased or decreased depending on the area of installation. The presence of walls, for one, can affect your devices’ signals.
  • Each Z wave device can act as a signal repeater. If you want to increase coverage, you simply add more Z wave devices in your network.
  • You can connect as much sa 232 Z Wave devices in a single Z Wave network.
  • Its maximum data transmission rate is marked at 100 kbps/second.
  • It utilizes low frequency band which means it can’t directly interfere with other signals, such as your Wi-Fi connection.
  • You may not be able to use Z Wave devices in countries or areas outside of its home region because of varying radio frequencies in location. In the U.S, Z Wave devices work at 908.42 Mhz.
  • Its latest version is the Z Wave Plus which was released last year. It adds up additional functionalities but retains the interoperability and backwards compatibility of Z Wave. This version also initiated changes with the Z Wave certification program.
    • Manufacturers must first undergo technical certification. This is carried out by Sigma and a third party testing house.
    • After being technically certified, they need to undergo the marketing certification phase which is handled by the Z Wave Alliance.
    • These procedures and processes are carried out to ensure that their devices are interoperable and that the Z Wave logo is properly placed for the consumers’ awareness.
  • Manufacturers that decide to use Z Wave as its main home automation protocol are added to the Z Wave Alliance. It’s a group of more than 300 companies that rely on the Z Wave chip set to automate your home. Its latest member is Iris by Lowe’s.
  • Zigbee



Zigbee is a protocol developed by the Zigbee Alliance. It is an open standard which makes it relatively cheaper in cost than Z wave. It is developed and marketed by several manufacturers.

  • It is more flexible in that software and applications can be developed on it.
  • Its range is marked at 35 feet which makes it a lot shorter than that of Z Wave.
  • In the U.S, Zigbee can operate at 915 Mhz frequency or 2.4 Ghz frequency. It is more globally compatible but is known to interfere with wireless connections operating at the same frequency, such as your Wi-Fi.
  • Zigbee’s maximum data transmission rate is marked at 250 kbps.
  • In theory, you can connect up to 65,000 devices to your Zigbee network.
  • Similar to Z Wave, Zigbee also works in a mesh. It means that each device can act as a signal receiver and repeater.
  • Zigbee consumes low power. Devices that work on this protocol can last long on battery life.
  • The latest Zigbee version released in the market was Zigbee 3.0.

Aside from these two automation protocols, newer standards have also been released. This includes Wemo from Belkin and the more recent Thread. These protocols aim to answer several homeowners’ concerns, particularly with range, number of devices and power.

  • Wemo


  • Wemo is not a wireless automation standard. Instead, it works by sending signals through your Wi-Fi router to communicate with each other.
  • The maximum number of devices that you can connect with Wemo will depend upon your router’s capacity.
  • Because Wemo devices have built in Wi-Fi, you should expect them to consume more power.
  • Although internet-compatible, not all smart devices can work with Wemo.
  • It’s maximum range is at 100 feet.
  • You have the option to create your own rules as Wemo is compatible with the internet-based automation protocol If This Then That or IFTTT.
  • Thread


  • Thread was founded by popular names in the industry such as Samsung Electronics, Yale Security and Nest Labs.
  • It works on the same radio standard as Zigbee and is based on 6LoWPAN which means it requires low power.
  • Thread, which runs on the 2.4 Ghz band, can interfere with Wi-Fi signals.
  • It is expected to support devices that functions on batteries such as sensors and other security products.
  • Similar with the older automation standards, Thread runs on a mesh network
  • In theory, Thread has a range of 100 feet and it can accommodate 300 devices at its maximum on a single network.
  • Thread can work with or without internet connection.

Because Thread and Zigbee have the same working specifications, it didn’t come as a surprise that the Zigbee Alliance and the Thread Group decided to work hand in hand for the Internet of Things. They, however, retain their own independence despite the collaboration.