Smart Home for Dummies – How does it really work?

Once a temptation for only the tech-savvy or the wealthy, smart homes and home automation are becoming more common. Today smart home technology is becoming more affordable and accessible to almost every home. More and more people would like to have the convenience to control their homes from anywhere around the world and have a preset automation for their daily lives.  

However, smart home companies always assume that the end users understand how the technology works and often forget to explain it. In this article I will describe how the smart home technology works and answer the same questions I have been asked on several occasions:

How do all the devices in your home connect to your hub and how can you control them through the app?

These smart gadgets, like the bulbs, the thermostat, the speaker, the motion sensors, the blinds etc. connect either using the home network (LAN or WiFi) or have a low power wireless capability that connects them to a dedicated wireless gateway (sometimes also called a hub).  The most common low power radio types used today are:

  • Bluetooth
  • Z-Wave
  • Zigbee

The nCube hub supports Smart Home devices attached to the home network or via either Bluetooth or Z-Wave radio. 

WiFi and LAN

What is it?

A wired home network uses an Ethernet cable to connect the computers to the network router. Wired home networks are less expensive and faster than wireless networks.  A WiFi home network provides the flexibility to connect your products to the network using wireless instead of a cable.  The majority of home broadband systems now provide both Ethernet (LAN) ports and WiFi capability.

How does it work?

Some Smart Home devices can be attached either by the LAN cable to the broadband box (or an intermediary IP switch if you have one) or by connecting them as a Client to the WIFi network.  Either way, they are given a local IP address – a unique address on the home network.

The nCube hub can be connected to the home network either with a LAN cable or as a WiFi Client. 

The nCube hub, by being attached to the home network, can therefore ‘see’ and connect to relevant Smart Home devices attached to the same home network.  Smart Home devices (such as Nest, sonos) that need to be attached to the home network do so via the home broadband box and not directly to the nCube hub.

API (Application Programming Interface)

The Smart Home devices attached to the home network use the IP local addresses to talk to the nCube hub.  However they all have a different API -  a bit like each talking a different language; a roomful of people all speaking in their own language - French, German, English, Spanish, etc - and not understanding any other language won’t get very far.  The nCube hub is equivalent to being multi-lingual and can talk the relevant language to each smart home device.  Sometimes this requires authentication (talking in code) or talking via the cloud service that the device belongs too (see that new girl over there; go and converse via her parents not directly).


What is it?

Z-Wave is a wireless technology that lets smart devices talk to one another. Household products, like lights, door locks and thermostats are made “smart” when Z-Wave connectivity is added inside the product’s design, giving them the capability to communicate and perform the desired function. Z-Wave operates wirelessly and securely and devices can be easily accessed and controlled on your phone, tablet or pc.

Z-Wave is a protocol; it's not made by any one manufacturer or sold by any one company. To be classed as a Z-wave product they have to be certified and should work with other Z-Wave products.

How does it work?

With typical RF networks, adding devices saps resources like a bunch of digital leeches, either causing it to slow down or creating interference that can produce crashes.

With Z-Wave, the exact opposite is the case. Z-Wave-enabled devices to create a mesh network between them, and it gets more strong-like-bull the more devices you add. As they are added, they automatically weave into the mesh, and then create the most optimal pathways to send data, with each device able to act as a repeater for other devices. Should one device fail, the mesh self-heals, instantly creating a new transmission pathway. Picture Z-Wave as a colony of hyper-aware ants, instantly responding to any obstruction by just pressing-on and finding a new way back to the colony.


What is it?

Bluetooth is a global wireless communication standard that connects devices together over a certain distance. Think headset and phone, speaker and PC, basketball to smartphone and more. It is built into billions of products on the market today and connects the Internet of Things (IoT). If you haven’t heard of the IoT,

How does it work?

A Bluetooth device uses radio waves instead of wires or cables to connect to a phone or computer. A Bluetooth product, like a headset or watch, contains a tiny computer chip with a Bluetooth radio and software that makes it easy to connect. When two Bluetooth devices want to talk to each other, they need to pair. Communication between Bluetooth devices happens over short-range, ad hoc networks known as piconets. A piconet is a network of devices connected using Bluetooth technology. The network ranges from two to eight connected devices. When a network is established, one device takes the role of the master while all the other devices act as slaves. Piconets are established dynamically and automatically as Bluetooth devices enter and leave radio proximity.


Now that you know a bit more about the different communication protocols, let’s go back to the smart devices. Theses connected gadgets have a computing hardware, including processors with embedded programming telling them what to do, sensors that gather various sorts of readings (such as temperature, moisture, light, motion etc.…) and communication hardware that can send and receive signals.

At the moment, a lot of connected devices can talk to the Internet and to our phones, and maybe even some related products, but most of them can't talk to one another because of proprietary hardware and software with differing standards, languages and communication protocols. For most of the current remotely controlled smart household items, you'll need to use a different app or website to interface with the device or look at the data, unless they were specifically designed by the manufacturer to work together.

This is where the central hub such as the nCube Home comes in handy. It doesn’t matter which communication protocol the connected device use, be it WiFi, LAN, Bluetooth or Z-Wave, it will still be able to communicate to the other gadgets that have a different communication protocol. And that is done through nCube home hub that acts as a bridge.

1 comment

  • Jennifer

    Very informative blog post, thanks for sharing great content. Really technology plays a vital role in our life, without this we cannot live our life in a nice way. Here I got a new technology related information on a website, I wish to share with you all about bluetooth transmitters

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