Smart home explained: a glossary of smart home terms

New to smart homes? Get your head around some of the key terms you’ll come across in the smart universe.

Smart Assistant

This is the virtual person that “lives” in a hub to assist you – like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri. When asked, they can activate your smart devices, make smart functions happen and answer all manner of questions.

Home Automation

Making smart things in your home – like your appliances and lighting – perform functions automatically without you needing to do anything.

Bluetooth/Bluetooth LE

Bluetooth is a wireless radio frequency technology that devices use to connect and/or communicate with other devices over short distances.

Bluetooth LE is the new-and-improved Bluetooth. It’s popular in smart devices due to its low energy consumption allowing devices to run for years on a single battery.

Geofencing

Geofencing is a feature used to trigger a function as soon as you (and your phone/tablet) enter or leave an area – like your smart lights turning on as you walk to your front door.

This is done by using the GPS, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth in your smartphone/tablet to create a virtual boundary around a real-world location.

Hub

A central device that lets you control all your smart devices through one interface, and enables them to speak to each other and perform sequential, coordinated functions – like having the kettle boil after the kitchen lights turn on.

Most smart devices come with their own app to control them, so you don’t need a hub. But having one is useful if you’d like everything hooked up to one “master control”, and want to avoid switching apps all the time. Learn more about smart home hubs.

Internet of things (IoT)

A collective term referring to everyday smart devices that connect to the internet and each other.

Pairing

The process of your smart device “syncing up” - or pairing with - with your Wi-Fi, hub or another device. Once a device is paired, you can control/monitor it using an app or assistant.

Protocol

A set of rules – or “languages” – used by smart devices to communicate with other devices. Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave and ZigBee are all protocols. This is where a hub can be handy, as it basically acts as a translator that allows your devices to speak to each other seamlessly.

Two-way talk

A feature that lets you speak with someone on the other end of a video feed remotely – just like a video intercom. For example, most smart cameras and smart doorbells have two-way talk, so you can see your guests through a video feed on your smartphone, and they can speak to you using the built-in microphone.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is a wireless radio frequency technology that devices use to connect and/or communicate with other devices via the internet. Reliable and familiar, it’s very common in smart home devices – but more power-hungry than Bluetooth, Z-Wave and ZigBee. Its biggest advantage over these other protocols is that it uses the internet, so you don’t need to be close to your device to control it.

Z-Wave

Z-wave is a wireless radio frequency technology (like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi) that’s popular in smart products due to its low power usage. It doesn’t require the internet, but has a range of around 30 metres, so you need to be close to your devices to control them. It also operates on a different band to Wi-Fi, so it won’t interfere with or slow down anything connected to your home internet.

ZigBee

ZigBee is another wireless radio frequency technology similar to Z-Wave that’s popular in the smart home domain. Just like Z-Wave, it’s highly energy efficient and runs on its own band, but has a limited range of around 30 metres.

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A glossary of smart home terms

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