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Protocols

While all smart bulbs communicate wirelessly, they use a few different protocols. Two products use Zigbee to communicate with their linked devices, but they don't interoperate. According to multiple sources, including one from the Department of Homeland Security, ZigBee can operate either in the 2.4 GHz ISM band or 915 MHz band. Wikipedia also indicates that both bands can be used in the US.

WeMo products use ZigBee Home Automation Profile Version 1.2 on the 2.4 GHz band. Philips Hue Lux, on the other hand, uses ZigBee Light Link, which also operates in 2.4 GHz. Belkin has implemented the mesh networking feature of the ZigBee protocol. So not only does the hub communicate with the lights, but the lights form a mesh network that helps extend operating range. So if needed, one WeMo bulb could pass along a command to another that is farther away from the hub. I was unable to determine if Philips uses mesh networking, but here's a link from Philips' developers program.

Z-Wave is another popular wireless communications designed for Home Automation products and is the one used by the GE Link products. Like some ZigBee products, it operates in the 915 MHz band.

The Connected by TCP product uses yet a different communications protocol: 6LoWPAN. The acronym stands for either iPv6 over Low Power Wireless Personal Area Networks, or a more recent acronym, IPv6 over low power wireless area networks. Whichever yo choose, 6LoWPAN competes with Z-Wave and ZigBee.

Insteon uses its own proprietary protocol and is the only product that uses dual physical layers (RF and Powerline) to ensure reliability. The RF component of Insteon devices operate in the 915 MHz spectrum like Z-Wave and some ZigBee devices. Products are automatically enrolled in a mesh network, so as you add devices, the network becomes more robust.

There are other Smart LEDs that work using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, like LIFX' Wi-Fi and Ilumi's Bluetooth multi-color bulbs. But those are beyond the scope of this review.

Basic Operation

All the kits install in a similar manner:

  • Plug in and connect the hub
  • Download and install the app from the app store for your platform;
  • Run the app and find the Smart LEDs on your hub
  • Set up scenes and groups (optional)

For wireless hubs, you have the additional step of connecting it to your home Wi-Fi network. Since all products follow the same process, I'll only comment on setup in the individual reviews if I ran into an installation problem.

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