A smart home hub: what is it for?

smart home hubs

If you have just purchased an Echo device, you are probably taking your first steps into the world of the smart home. A booming sector, as highlighted in 2017 by a study by Statista Digital Outlook Market relayed by Capital magazine, estimating that connected objects related to the home universe should represent a cumulative turnover of more than 1.8 billion euros by 2021. And the most promising sector seems to be the smart home sector, whose revenues are estimated at 609 million euros within 3 years.

Smart home hub, the brain of your home

In this website, you couldn’t escape the smart outlets, Wi-Fi or Zigbee bulbs, smart thermostats, IP cameras, and other connected objects. Between the good tips we share and the many questions that feed the group on a daily basis, you’ve probably even caught the virus and started to equip yourself…

After purchasing their first Amazon Echo device, neo-Alexicans are quickly tempted to go further and start connecting their homes in order to enjoy the comfort of smart home. All right, you may ask, but what exactly is smart home hub?

What is the purpose of a smart home hub?

You might tell us: but I already have an Internet box, isn’t that the same? No, not really. Their only common point is to aggregate different technologies, although some ISPs have tried or are still trying to include home automation solutions in their boxes, as Orange did a few years ago with Homelive (which will stop definitively in July 2019) or more recently Free and its Freebox Delta.

Okay, but what’s the point? As we explained above, the smart home hub will be the brain of your smart home, the central control unit of your house and its connected devices. Because if Alexa already plays this role in part, she still has many limits, especially if you have a lot of equipment. The box will allow you to centralize everything and see all your equipment on a screen, a “dashboard” that you can display on your computer, your tablet, or your smartphone.


How does a smart home hub work?

The smart home hub is a real computer composed of a hardware part (motherboard with processor, memory, etc.) and a software part (an operating system and a smart home application). Connected to the Internet via a network cable or Wi-Fi, it can also have a SIM card to compensate for possible breakdowns or the absence of a network.

To control a house, a smart home hub works with sensors and actuators. The sensors are responsible for transmitting information to the box (opening a door, temperature, presence of water, detection of movement, etc.) and the actuators are instructed by the box to perform a task following the information provided by the sensors.

The box will therefore need a proprietary application (TaHoma, Eedomus, Zipato, Fibaro, etc.) or open source application (Domoticz, Jeedom, etc.) capable of interpreting this information transmitted by one, or more is better, communication protocols.

Here are the main protocols:

Z-Wave: it is a bit THE king’s protocol, the most widespread. It is bidirectional (it allows status feedback to the box), secure (it encrypts communications) and relies on mesh technology (each Z-Wave device acts as a repeater of the radio signal, like the Wi-Fi Mesh). It operates in the 868 MHz frequency band.

Zigbee: it’s probably the one who talks to you the most, because being open source, it is used by many brands, and we find it on Philips Hue or IKEA bulbs, Osram plugs, Xiaomi Aqara products, Echo Plus and Echo Show 2. This protocol also has the advantage of being based on a mesh network and therefore of being able to easily extend its range, and of being bidirectional. It is also secure as it is based on 128-bit AES encryption. Like the Z-Wave, it uses the 868 MHz band in Europe, but also the more efficient but more saturated 2.4 GHz band.

RF 433Mhz: it is not strictly speaking a protocol, but many brands still rely on these radiofrequencies for their proprietary protocol (Chacon, X10, Coco, DI-O or even Oregon Scientific, Somfy RTS…). You necessarily know them and you probably have devices that use them. Their main advantage is undoubtedly their low implementation cost, but their major defects remain limited scope and relative safety. Nevertheless, it may be interesting to check them and choose a compatible box.

Which smart home hub to choose?

Before choosing a smart home hub, it may be interesting to draw up specifications and analyze your needs. This requires a clear definition of its objectives and you will be able to determine which protocol(s) to use.

While it is preferable to opt for a so-called “open” protocol so that all devices can communicate with each other, the simplicity of a proprietary protocol can also satisfy you. It is up to each of us to determine our needs.

Here are some smart home hubs on the market:


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