Smart Home Hub 101: What It Is, Why You Need It & Setting Up

Establishing a smart home requires a “brain” of sorts that can centralize all the processes inside your home. This “brain” of a smart home is otherwise known as the smart home hub.

Not only does it centrally process information within your home, but it will also allow communication of multiple smart home devices either locally or through cloud connection.

Smart home hubs have been providing ease for smart homeowners because they work as a bridge for different smart devices. It is an essential component that every individual who is looking to set up a smart home should be aware of.

What is a smart hub, why do you need it, and how do you set it up? A smart home hub is described as a software or hardware that connects multiple smart devices across a smart home. It is essential for a smart home because it allows the centralization of processes in a user-friendly application.

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Setting it up can be done by following a series of steps included in this article but also depends if the smart home hub is connected to a cloud or is locally-controlled. 

Aside from just knowing the definition of a smart hub, it is important to understand why it conveniences your life and advances your smart home to the next level. Also included in this article is an installation guide for both cloud-connected and locally controlled smart hubs. Check them out.

What Is A Smart Hub?

smart home hub

For starters, a smart home hub is a software or hardware that links devices across a home automation network. It also controls communications among all the smart devices that are connected to it.

Smart home hubs are either connected locally or to a cloud. They play a vital role when using IoTs, or, the internet of things, which are devices that are linked through Z-Wave, Zigbee, or Bluetooth rather than Wi-Fi.

At times, a smart home hub is called a smart home bridge. It collects as well as translates different types of protocols from multiple smart home devices.

Imagine a smartphone that is not Zigbee-enabled wanting to communicate with a smart lock that utilizes Zigbee instead of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The smart home hub works as a translator between devices to allow communication between the two of them.

A smart home hub is like the brain of a smart home. It links different devices as well as systems inside your home in a centralized platform. Aside from that, it simplifies the management and monitoring of the network for the user by providing a single, smart home app that allows users to navigate different applications and systems more easily.

With this, the user can do anything in just one tap, from opening the garage door to locking the front door, rather than having to control each smart device individually/from varying apps.

Additionally, a smart home hub also eases network congestion. It works as the master home automation controller that diverts traffic off of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

All the users of its accompanying mobile app can remotely access the different systems and devices that are connected to the hub even if they are away from home. The level of convenience this provides is incomparable.

Why Does Your Home Need A Smart Home Hub?

If you are planning to include multiple smart devices in your home, it may become difficult for you to control them one by one. Aside from spending more time navigating them, you will exert more effort to do so.

A smart home hub centralizes all the processes into one streamlined smart home application. Most smart hubs also allow users to set timers and change how a smart device behaves using the options that are present in the mobile app.

As a result, you no longer need to move from where you are just to lock a door or adjust the temperature inside your home, and you do not have to access each smart home device’s mobile app individually either.

For instance, you may schedule to switch all the lights on in your house instantly at six in the evening. Or, you may want to turn on the heater when the temperature drops. These (among other tasks) can all be accomplished through the simple use of your smart home hub.

To make it easier for you to determine if you need a smart home hub or not, here are some of the questions you need to ask yourself:

  1. How many smart devices do I need to control?
  2. What level of ease do I want to achieve when controlling these devices?
  3. What is the method I want to utilize in order to connect them?
  4. Do I have an existing device that can work as a smart home hub instead of buying one?

Technically, you do not have to purchase a smart home hub to utilize the functionality of a smart home. On the other hand, this device is something you must opt for if you are planning to add more devices in your home or want the convenience of all of your smart devices being centrally connected.

A smart home hub can make it easier for you to control multiple devices, even all at once. Aside from that, you can set each device beforehand and let them do their job throughout the day.

Smart home hubs also provide a bridge between varying devices because it translates the protocol they individually utilize to adapt to one another. With this, you can now use different smart devices with great ease without having to ensure that each smart device you purchase stems from the same brand/functioning pattern.

To summarize, a smart home hub is an essential component of a smart home. It works as a bridge to allow communication between different smart devices, either locally or in the cloud. But with the advancement of technology, you can also select a hub-less option from the market.

Contrarily, these are often limited to particular devices and may come with compatibility issues when connected with other brands.

Depending on the needs of your smart home, you must also consider some factors before buying a smart hub, including multi-user support, security, compatibility, connection, and so much more.

How To Set Up A Smart Hub?

After choosing the right smart home hub for your home, you will, of course, need to start the installation process. By following this comprehensive guide for installing smart home hubs that are connected to the cloud and for those smart hubs that are locally connected, you will have a better understanding of how to make this an easy process.

Before I list out and explain the steps involved in setting up a smart home hub, I’d like you to watch this video on how to set up a Google home hub.

Google Home Hub Setup & Home View Walkthrough
Watch this video on YouTube.

Installation Steps For A Smart Home Hub Connected To The Cloud

Right after choosing the right smart home hub for you, you have to start the installation. Here is how you can set up a typical smart home hub that is connected to the cloud:

1. Connect The Smart Home Hub To A Power Source

Of course, you need to plug the device first in order to start installing it. Usually, smart home hubs connect using an AC adapter. But for some units, they integrate rechargeable or backup batteries in order to install.

You should be able to tell this by looking at your device, but if you have questions, you may refer to its manual.

2. Sync The Smart Home Hub To The Cloud

Cloud-powered smart home hubs require an internet connection, so you may have to connect them to your home’s internet router using an Ethernet cable.

On the other hand, some smart home hubs are Wi-Fi enabled. For this reason, connecting it to the cloud is much easier and faster. If it is Wi-Fi enabled, then you will want to connect the device to your home’s internet sourced through your personal Wi-Fi security standards.

3. Download The Smart Home Hub’s Accompanying Application

Right after connecting the smart home hub to the cloud, check if it comes with a mobile application so you can download and install this on your mobile device.

Most new smart home hubs today are accessible using a free app that is installed on smartphones- typically on both Android and iPhone devices. Other smart hubs, on the other hand, comes with downloadable devices for computers.

Through downloading the accompanying application to your mobile device, you will then have the control source for the smart home hub available to you in the palm of your hand.

4. Sign Up For An Account

To access the applications that arrive with cloud-connected smart hubs, you have to create an account first. The app will let users fill out a simple form that will allow them to create an account as well as a password that they will use every time they open the app.

Creating a secured account is crucial because these can provide an access point for cybercriminals, so ensure  to place a strong password for your account.

5. Add Smart Devices In Your Smart Hub

After logging in, you can begin to discover smart devices that are installed in your home. Add each of these devices to the hub to centralize and control all of them in one place.

If you are not tech-savvy, do not worry; most smart home hubs arrive with easy to follow on-screen prompts that will guide you along the way. Once you have completed this, proceed to the next steps.

6. Set Up Triggers, Scenes, And Schedules

For starters, a scene is a collection of actions that you can set in order to occur at a particular time that is indicated. For instance, a “bedtime scene” could include turning off lights as well as locking doors by 10:00 pm.

Aside from scheduling a scene, you may also indicate a particular situation that can trigger a scene. For example, you could set a trigger for all of the lights at home to switch on once the front door is opened. Setting up triggers, scenes, and schedules will help to make the most out of your smart home devices.

7. Set Alerts And Notifications

One of the best features included with smart home hubs is that they will send you alerts through email or SMS. So in the case of certain events, such as unauthorized access or malicious movement in or around your home, you can receive a message or email making you aware of the activity.

You can modify this option during the installation of the smart home hub in order to fit your notification preferences.

Installation Steps For A Locally-Controlled Smart Home Hub

 

Inaccurate Smart ThermostatWhile most cloud-powered smart homes provide a wide range of features and niceties, they also arrive with disadvantages.  One of these disadvantages is that you may compromise your privacy because connected smart home hubs may collect a lot of information about its users.

Cloud-powered smart home hubs are usually integrated with voice assistants to centralize all the control. Little do people know that these AIs (artificial intelligence) are recording every command you ask them, and most of the time, they send it to human employees for review.

Aside from that, some connected devices also record what you do. Every bit of information they can get is used for the improvement of the systems, yet, the manufacturers of these devices may sell your data.

Companies that provide cloud services may also close or leave the domain of a smart home. If this happens, the smart home hub you purchased, utilizing their service, will no longer work.

Through a locally-controlled smart home hub, you will be able to establish a smart home that does not require a cloud connection. As a result, you can avoid any of the issues that come along with cloud-connected devices.

A smart home always requires a central system, like a brain as mentioned before, to make it work. However, the cloud is most often involved in these processes. So, it will leave you with no choice but to compromise in order to access the complete functionality of the device.

If you are willing to compromise a few functions that only the cloud can provide, though, then you may install a smart home hub to be locally-controlled.

Nowadays, you can have a smart home hub that can be controlled entirely locally. This simply means that all the commands you give it or even the process of setting it will only run locally.

The downside is that most locally-controlled smart home hubs have a more complicated installation, but we are here to help.

Install The Apps & Drivers

To set up your locally-controlled smart home hub, make sure to install the applications that it arrives with. Aside from that, you also need to install all necessary drivers into the smart home hub to make sure that it will work. Depending on the smart home hub you choose, you may connect one or more applications and drivers to the hub itself. 

You can check the specifics by reading the installation guide from the smart home hub manufacturer. Installing the apps and drivers needed is also easy because most smart home hubs arrive with a dashboard that has a user-friendly interface.

Discover Devices

Next, you will need to add devices to the smart home hub. Take note that your smart home hub should be synced to the same internal network that the smart devices are connected to. If not, you may find errors or difficulty in adding the smart devices to your smart home hub.

You can discover devices by using the hub’s dashboard. By discovering them, you are essentially showing the smart home hub which devices in your home you want to connect to it. When you have discovered the device(s) you are looking for, proceed to the next step.

Rename The Connected Devices

Most smart home hubs will also allow you to rename the smart devices you connect. So, after adding devices in your smart home hub, make sure to rename them to find them easily when you need to.

For example, rather than “Light 1” and “Light 2,” you may consider renaming your devices to “Bedroom Light” and “Kitchen Light” to help with any confusion and add convenience to your routine. You do not have to rename all the devices at once. If you need to come back to the dashboard again to re-configure, you may do so.

Add More Devices

When you are planning to add more smart devices in the future, you can easily do so by discovering and setting them up one at a time. You only need to open the Apps tab in the smart home hub’s dashboard and then click on the connected devices to set up the device.

Things To Consider Before Buying A Smart Home Hub

Are Smart Home Hubs Without a Cloud PossibleBefore buying a smart home hub, make sure to check the following:

Integrations

The number of integrations your smart home provides is the number of smart devices it will permit to connect to it. Some models and brands of smart home hubs provide more integrations compared to others. For this reason, make sure to consider buying the one that provides more available integrations. 

On the other hand, smart home hubs that provide more connectivity options usually have a more complicated setup. Meanwhile, a closed system may not offer too many connectivity options, but they are easier to work with.

When considering a smart home hub’s number of integrations, you must also consider the size of your home. You should opt for a smart home hub that provides a wide range of extenders if your home is very large. For those who need multiple Wi-Fi connected hubs, they will probably require several extenders to be connected to the hub.

Voice Control

For those of you who are opting for ease and productivity, it is ideal to choose a smart home hub that can integrate with a smart speaker such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa. This will be your virtual assistant who responds to your verbal commands.

While this smart feature offers great convenience, it is not a critical component to make a smart hub work. But if you find it appealing and useful, make sure that the smart home hub you purchase supports at least three of the most popular voice assistants today.

Most smart hubs allow at least one of the widely used voice assistants. It is also important to note that this feature is highly sought after for home buyers, so if that is a future consideration of yours, you might as well purchase one that has a voice control option available.

Operating System Compatibility

Most systems are compatible with Android and iOS, so make sure to know if a smart home hub fits your needs. For instance, some units of smart home hubs are not compatible with Windows smartphones. It will be important to review this prior to making the purchase or you may find yourself with a device that will not work for you.

Smart Home App

Usually, smart home hubs are accessible using a smartphone application. On the other hand, PC or Mac users may also gain access using another option that is provided by the smart home hub manufacturer.

Choose a smart home hub that arrives with an app with an easy-to-navigate user interface. Popular brands are continually improving their applications to ensure your convenience. Still, most of these improvements make the user controls more complicated.

Knowing this, make sure to test several mobile applications from different smart home hubs before making a purchase. Usually, these devices are free to download online.

Be aware, though, that you can only get the full experience when you include real smart devices. So, look for screenshots that are available around the web to observe how to use the app when adding different smart devices.

The most essential thing that you need to consider before buying a smart home hub is to make sure that the entire control does not rely on the app alone. In other words, your existing wall switches should still function when connected to the smart home hub and should not be disabled simply because they are connected to be “smart”.

Connection

You can have a smart home hub that needs a direct connection to a router or the one that connects through Wi-Fi.

Be sure to review the options as well as consider your preferences based on the information disclosed above concerning connecting your smart home hub to a cloud or locally. The choice truly is yours, but you will want to weigh the pros or cons of either option.

Compatibility

Most smart home hubs can accommodate a wide array of smart devices. Make sure to consider what is standard for the smart home devices you use in your home. For example, be sure to check if the smart home hub you will buy can accommodate Zigbee, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, and Wi-Fi.

Security

Most smart home hubs require an internet connection at all times to provide control and feedback options even if you are away from home.

Also, these devices communicate across server manufacturing companies that serve as a third party between your smartphone and the smart home hub. As a result, you are most likely exposed to malicious attacks.

Most smart hub manufacturers are addressing these concerns. Also, these security concerns are often over-hyped, and there are no known existing cases of hackers randomly controlling smart homes. On the contrary, you must not take these concerns lightly because the risks still exist, so it is important that you are vigilant.

Multi-User Support

Aside from the factors mentioned above, you must also ensure that a smart hub allows multiple users to access it. Of course, it would be ideal to let everyone in your family have access to your smart home. But see to it that the smart home hub also comes with an option that will allow you to restrict other users with some functions.

For example, you might not like to let your kids change the important settings in your home, including the temperature and others.

A smart home hub with multi-user support allows any member of the family to control the devices connected to the hub using their smartphones. You can also provide limited access for a visitor in particular cases.

But if you live alone, you are less likely to opt for this smart home hub feature. Either way, if you are looking for flexibility, having this feature in your smart home is a good choice overall.

Hub-less Options

Today, the most popular smart devices are improving their flexibility by becoming widely compatible with other smart devices. Even if these devices do not communicate across a similar wireless standard, they can communicate with each other.

Most manufacturers that develop smart devices are collaborating to allow their smart devices to connect. With the help of cloud connection, different brands of smart devices will be able to communicate.

As a result of this bright collaboration between manufacturers, you can now choose whatever smart home device you want without having to fret over any compatibility requirements such as Zigbee and Z-Wave.

Some of the cloud-based platforms you can encounter include Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, IFTTT, and Apple HomeKit. These platforms allow smart devices (utilizing the cloud) to communicate and work together seamlessly.

When you use these hub-less options to establish a smart home, you will be able to add more types of smart devices in your home. These devices can work together without having to control them one by one or through a smart home hub.

On the market, many smart devices utilize cloud connection to link with other authorized devices. It removes the need for these products to communicate with one another across your home.

Also, several smart devices, such as light switches and smart bulbs, arrive with a bridge or a gateway device that is mounted to your home router, connecting to your home internet and network. These devices allow you to control them using a smartphone remotely and locally.

Bridges allow compatibility along with hub-free cloud platforms as well as voice control using particular smart speakers.