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Smart Home Products

WiFi, ZigBee, BLE how to choose the right smart home technology.

When we shop electronics, we are prone to choosing smart devices that support wireless technology, and can be easily controlled or accessed by smartphone. Nowadays more and more devices begin to use the wireless protocols to communicate each other, compared with hardwired communication, the wireless can provide many advantages, it seems the weakness of today's wireless technology has been resolved almost completely. Many companies have to decide which protocol to use for their new smart devices at the beginning of product design, is WiFi or ZigBee, or the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)? Some even consider to use their own private technology or the conventional 433/868MHz RF protocol. Companies take many factors into account including cost, power consumption, wireless range and interoperability and more.

ZigBee: based on IEEE802.15.4 standard low power consumption local network protocol. According to the definition on Wikipedia, ZigBee is a low-cost, low-power, wireless mesh network standard targeted at the wide development of long battery life devices in wireless control and monitoring applications.

BLE: Bluetooth Low Energy, it’s a low cost, short distance, and with excellent interoperability wireless technology, leveraging multiple smart technologies to reduce the power consumption, it’s also called Bluetooth Smart.

After went through many trials, we finally concluded a principle when select the right protocol, the principle is:

  1. Need to plug power supply, using WiFi
  2. Required to interact with smartphone, using BLE
  3. Detectors use ZigBee

Based on this principle, the smart wristband products using BLE, security detectors use ZigBee, IP cameras and water purifier etc products use WiFi. Some products may use two different smart technologies together, e.g. a smart Air conditioner will use the WiFi + BLE, since it need to plug the power, and be required to interact with smartphone.

The product is required to plug the power supply should use the WiFi, because it’s not only very convenient to users, but also it can connect to remote server directly. Today, many homes still have few smart devices, your product can be possible the first smart device. Setup WiFi is a bit hassle if comparing with the Bluetooth, but once it has been done successfully, WiFi will be very easy to use. Can be easily connected with the smartphone is one of the important advantages to Bluetooth. However, WiFi is more convenient, since it can interact as long as the smartphone can access Internet, though utilizing local network, the router’s WiFi coverage is more larger, can allow the communication among the devices that located in different rooms. WiFi can achieve the connection between users and the equipment, cloud server and the equipment or equipment to equipment.

The disadvantages of WiFi

High power consumption

If the devices use the battery as the power supply, with WiFi connection, the battery can’t last for a long time, need to be frequently recharged or replaced, which will cause inconvenience to users. While, the BLE and ZigBee can achieve working several months, a year, or even several years without replacing the battery. Therefore, today’s wearable products use BLE protocol. The detectors use the ZigBee protocol simply because ZigBee Alliance has the standard protocol to detectors, Bluetooth Alliance doesn’t have.

High cost

Currently, the cost of WiFi chipset is higher than other rivals, however we think the cost will go down soon, cost will not be the disadvantage to the WiFi. If giving up the WiFi because of the cost, this shouldn't happen.

Mesh architecture is not efficient

The router will be overloaded if it connects with too much WiFi devices, cause the mesh architecture is not efficient. If the home has more than dozens of lights or hundreds of detectors, the WiFi protocol will not handle it. Many people recommend to use the ZigBee or BLE Mesh to replace the WiFi, if there are several the same devices working at the same time. This trend is not yet obvious, and WIFi will have its own Mesh specification, but not necessarily be replaced.

No standard application layer specification

WiFi doesn’t have standard application layer specification, products from different companies can’t be compatible each other, can be easily monopolized by leading companies.

Mayuri Patel is a marketing associate at eInfochips, expected the retail business will receive benefits from the utilization of BLE technology in her recent published article – “Bluetooth Low Energy – The future of retail technologies”. In her article, she explained how the BLE worked without using technological jargon. 

How Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) works?

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) was released as the part of Bluetooth 4.0 specification in 2010. It derives from Nokia’s Wibree technology since 2006, then ultimately has been combined into Bluetooth. Bluetooth Low Energy devices are also called "Bluetooth Smart" devices, typically these devices can work for a long time though merely being powered by a high-capacity button battery. Ultra low power consumption is the core feature to BLE technology. For example, a BLE device uses a button battery can emit continuous signal more than approximate 2 years. The traditional Bluetooth and BLE share the same frequency band (2.4GHz – 2.4835GHz). BLE protocol has low data transmission speed, it’s not suitable for large data transmission applications. How does BLE communication work? Well, BLE devices continuously send radio signals to nearby smart devices (iPhone, iPad, Android phone or tablet) within a specified range (typically the distance is short), this is the "advertising" part. Smart devices/smartphones which are in that range can listen and then establish the connection. Currently, almost smartphones and the latest Desktop OS (iOS, Android, Windows 10) are compliant with Bluetooth Low Energy.

How Bluetooth Low Energy Works?
How Bluetooth Low Energy Works?

How the retail business can benefit from BLE?

Being more engaged with the customers therefore to grow the business, this is the core benefit which BLE technology can bring to retail business. Business owners always want to anticipate what the market changes are and quickly adapt new strategy to attract customers in providing a seamless, consistent shopping experience. 

Relying on BLE technology, the data based on product features, visible attributes (colors, sizes) and price information, availability of stock, can be better consumed. Almost all customers nowadays that enter a shop are carrying some kind of smart device on them. "If Bluetooth low energy is used, then customers can be alerted with personalized coupons, and deals as soon as they enter a store" - Mayuri Patel wrote.

Things that BLE can achieve to Retail Business

BLE enabled smart devices such as BLE trackers have the capability to real-time track of whether an item within the premises, Bluetooth tracker can stay in near constant communication with your smartphone.  BLE smart devices can help traditional offline retailers to engage with customers better, can increase the sales conversion, also cater the personalized offer or promotion based on customer’s in-store behavior. BLE devices are helpful in detecting the presence of the customer closer to the store, even before they enter the premises. Receiving relevant or personalized information and a customized experience goes a long way in converting sales. If you have some ideas on how to implement the BLE technology into your business, please don't hesitate to make a comment.

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