Making Sense of Home Area Network Choices

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Here’s what you need to know to make an educated business decision about which HAN protocol is best for your company’s connected product strategy.

Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth… there are many Home Area Network (HAN) protocols to choose from.  Each has its strengths and weaknesses.  The result is that there is no single HAN protocol available today which is suited for all connected product applications. Choosing the right HAN protocol for your connected product initiatives really boils down to three business considerations: installation, batteries, and throughput requirements.

Installation

Are your products professionally installed, or DIY? The biggest issue with connected products is complicated installations. If the process is confusing and frustrating, products are more likely to be returned by retailers or not adopted by installer channels. This is one of the main challenges of DIY ZigBee and Z-Wave products. ZigBee and Z-Wave use a special networking topology called “mesh networking.” Basically, this means that each connected product can act as a message repeater for adjacent connected products. The advantage of course is that if you have a lot of Z-Wave or ZigBee products throughout a home, you get great range. But if you only have a single product, you get very short range. This is not a big issue if your products are professionally installed. Professional installers understand the mesh concept, and know how to add repeaters when necessary to get a product in the back of the house (say a light) connected to the far away router in the basement. Consumers, on the other hand, are more likely to get frustrated and confused by mesh networking because this concept is completely new to many of them. So if you’re working with DIY products, it’s safer to work with Wi-Fi or vendor-specific protocols that use a network topology that consumers are already familiar with, since this means less customer frustration and a lower customer support burden.

Battery Powered

Does your connected product need to last  six months or longer on a single set of batteries? If so, you can safely rule out Wi-Fi for now.  Today’s Wi-Fi chips consume a tremendous amount of power, which makes Wi-Fi simply out of the question for battery-powered products for the time being. Z-Wave, ZigBee, Bluetooth, and many customer specific protocols all offer low-power capabilities, which makes them all suitable for battery-powered products. Which one you choose largely depends on other considerations, such as installation method.

Throughput Requirements

How much data do you want to send to and from your connected products? Are you sending basic telemetry data, or media like audio and video? The only wireless protocol with enough bandwidth and throughput to handle audio and video is Wi-Fi. That’s why you always see Wi-Fi being used for IP cameras in security systems.  ZigBee, Z-Wave, and many customer-specific protocols were designed for simple telemetric updates like temperature or on/off status.

Whither Device Interoperability?

Traditionally, a major deciding factor in choosing a HAN protocol was device interoperability.  As we have discussed in previous blogs, the Internet Cloud changes that historical interoperability paradigm.  You don’t need to use the same HAN protocol across your entire product portfolio, because each device’s data and control goes to and from the Cloud via an app.  For example, Lowe’s IRIS home automation system supports Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and Z-Wave devices, yet still brings them all together in a single app.  Likewise, the Arrayent Connect Platform enables seamless interoperability among all your devices, even if you are using different HAN protocols across your product portfolio.

Arrayent: HAN agnostic

As you can tell, here at Arrayent we don’t play favorites when it comes to HAN protocols. Early in our company’s development, we realized that there was not going to be a single universal HAN standard for a long time. So we built our platform architecture to support them all. Our goal is simply to enable you to connect your products to the Internet with as little cost and complexity as possible. And if you decide that some of your products would work best with Wi-Fi, but others would work best with ZigBee or Z-Wave, we’re prepared for that. Your customers can still control them all from a single smartphone app, and they would never know the difference. Because that’s the way it should be.