On our most recent IoT Podcast episode, Derrick called into our voicemail hotline asking what the purpose of hubs and if he should be considering products that work with smart home hubs. It’s a timely question because the market appears to be transitioning away from hubs, bridges, and gateways.
When I hear someone say “smart home hub”, I generally think of hardware such as Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Hubitat, and other similar products. And the purpose of these is to be the central brain of the smart home, managing communications and commands between connected bulbs, blinds, thermostats, and the like.
These typically include all of the different radios smart devices use, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth at a minimum. Some also have Zigbee and/or Z-Wave radios as well for connected devices using those standards. So in addition to being the brain that runs your smart home routines and automations, these hubs also get data from your connected devices onto your home network.
Speaking of bridges, and gateways for that matter, I consider those to be similar to a smart home hub but limited in scope. The old Philips Hue bridges that were required with early Philips Hue bulbs are a good example of this. They take the Zigbee signals from Philips Hue bulbs and get that data on your home network over the necessary ethernet cable. However, you’re not going to run a whole home with multiple devices and brands on a bridge such as this.
Lately, we’ve seen a big trend towards “hubless” products, which typically use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth radios.
This eliminates the need for any separate hub, bridge, or gateway device because these connected products can communicate directly with smart speakers and your home network. Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Nest speakers both support Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices, for example. Amazon also makes one Echo speaker that includes a Zigbee radio and therefore can support Zigbee-based products.
In fact, Philips Hue’s latest lineup of smart bulbs use Bluetooth instead of Zigbee, so a Hue Bridge is no longer needed. The G by CE products can also connect directly to a supported smart speaker. This makes it easier to connect and control smart devices that, in the past, used more cumbersome software and hub-based hardware.
Ultimately, the question of “should I be buying devices that require hubs or not?” is a personal preference, even as we approach 2021.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with having hubs around the house, although keep in mind that some require a hard-wired connection to your home network. And you can typically create more complex routines or automations with a true smart hub. However, if you’re looking for simplicity and fewer hardware boxes in the house, smart devices that don’t require a hub can easily meet your needs too.
Whichever route you decide to take, make sure the devices you want in your smart home are supported by whichever hub or smart speaker system you use. Planning ahead is the key!
To hear Derrick’s question as well as our full discussion, tune in to the IoT Podcast below: