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Smart bulbs and LED strips, better with Wi-Fi, ZigBee or Bluetooth?

Right now on the market there are a large number of smart light bulbs and LED strips that allow us to control them with our mobile phone. Depending on the brand and model we choose, they can be connected through different wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or ZigBee. . Before buying many LED bulbs and strips for your home, we are going to explain the strengths and weaknesses of each wireless technology in different areas, and we will also make an additional recommendation on what you should look for before buying.

What is the best wireless technology?

It must be taken into account that smart light bulbs and LED strips always They will be connected to electricity permanentlyTherefore, the fact that a wireless technology consumes more energy (such as Wi-Fi), compared to another that consumes much less (such as Bluetooth or ZigBee), is not important in these cases, since these devices are not powered by batteries. If at some point you buy a home automation device that is powered by batteries, then you should completely dispense with Wi-Fi and buy a device with Bluetooth or ZigBee, since you will notice that it consumes much less energy and the autonomy will be clearly superior. .

Coverage

The Wi-Fi connectivity of LED bulbs and strips always work through 2.4GHz band, a band that clearly has a really good range, so we will not have coverage problems as long as it reaches every corner in your home. If you have several APs or a Mesh Wi-Fi system, it will be much better so that these bulbs and LED strips always have the maximum possible coverage.

The Bluetooth coverage is clearly inferior to the Wi-Fi network, in addition, we will need a device that acts as a “hub” so that all devices connect to it, and thus it can connect to the Internet. It must be taken into account that, in many cases, the Bluetooth incorporated into LED bulbs and strips is only used to connect with our smartphone locally, that is, if we are in the same room.

The coverage of a ZigBee network is total, since most devices that use this technology also act as repeater nodes, perfect for extending the coverage of the ZigBee network to the last corner of our home. In this case, this technology also needs a “hub” that actually acts as a ZigBee router, it is not like the Wi-Fi network in which the router is directly the home Wi-Fi router or the Wi-Fi Mesh nodes.

Speed

With this type of use of smart bulb and LED strips, the truth is that speed is not important at all, because the exchange of information takes up very little space, so it doesn't matter if we use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or ZigBee, since we will not need a high transfer rate for it to work perfectly. The commands to turn on or off, and even to change colors, take up a few bytes, so any technology is perfectly valid.

If we make a speed comparison, the truth is that Wi-Fi is much faster than Bluetooth or ZigBee, 802.11n connectivity in the 2.4GHz band is unrivaled in this case. But we insist that, to use these devices, it is not necessary to have speed.

Connection latency

Connection latency is very important in LED bulbs and strips, because we want them to turn on or off as soon as possible as soon as we give the command. Any connection delay will make the user experience not good. In these cases, the winner depends on several factors:

  • Wifi: we depend on the coverage received from the devices, the interference from other WiFi networks, and also how many devices are simultaneously connected to the home wireless network. Additionally, if we have Mesh nodes, we also depend on how they are interconnected (wired or WiFi), as it can add additional latency.
  • Bluetooth: It must be taken into account that the hub will add latency to the connection, and above all, if the hub is connected by cable or Wi-Fi to our router. It is generally connected by Wi-Fi, so The latency of the Bluetooth must be added the latency of the Wi-Fi connection. We must also take into account possible interference with other devices, and even interference caused by the WiFi network.
  • ZigBee: the latency will depend on how many nodes of the mesh network the data will pass through, in principle, a ZigBee network is very well optimized and the latency is really low, since it is specifically designed for this type of use. For this reason, wireless networks with this standard have very low latency compared to others.

Fast and latency-free WiFi connection

As you can see, we have a clear winner and it is the ZigBee network, although if you have a good Wi-Fi wireless network they will also work really well, especially if you can have some load balancing, and activate functions like “Airtime Fairness” » to reduce connection latency in case you have many WiFi clients.

Stability

The stability of the wireless connection of these devices is the most critical point. If we have random disconnections, we will notice that the lights cannot be turned on or off, or that there is high latency (while making the connection again), so the user experience can be disastrous.

Without a doubt, wireless technology that It will provide us with greater stability in our ZigBee home automation network., since it is a technology that is specifically designed to provide great stability to all nodes. Additionally, in case a node has problems, it has self-healing so that the data goes directly through another node to the main ZigBee “router”, making the stability and reliability of the connection optimal.

With this we do not mean that Wi-Fi connections do not have good stability, but we depend on many factors such as the state of the Wi-Fi router or the Mesh network, the configuration of the WiFi access point, how the WiFi roaming between nodes, if we have many wireless clients connected to the same AP and we are saturating it, etc. Something similar happens with Bluetooth, if we are going to connect two or three devices to the same hub it should work without problems, but if the number of devices begins to increase, we may have stability problems because some of them disconnect.

Do I need a hub to connect it?

In the case of the Wi-Fi connectivity we do not need any hub, we can configure all the bulbs and LED strips directly with our main WiFi router, or with the Mesh network that we have installed in our home. Without a doubt, it is the simplest and fastest way to configure our devices, suitable for all audiences due to its ease of configuration.

In the case of Bluetooth, if you are going to connect locally from the smartphone to the device, we will not need any hub. However, if you want to control it through the Internet or the home automation system, you will need a hub or relay to communicate with the local network. For example, Shelly Plus devices have Bluetooth and can be used as a hub for other devices.

Differences between Zigbee and Z-Wave for home automation at home

Finally, ZigBee requires that we have a router controlling the entire network, that is, we will need a “hub” with this technology to be able to set up a network. In addition, with each device that we connect, it can also act as a ZigBee node and thus act as a signal “extender”, perfect for taking the wireless connection very far. All ZigBee devices, except those powered by batteries, have the functionality to act as an extender node.

Conclusions

Today there are smart light bulbs and LED strips with all three technologies. Depending on the current installation in your home and how many you buy, our recommendation varies between Wi-Fi or ZigBee mainly. If you have a good Wi-Fi wireless network at home, with full coverage, either with a router or a Wi-Fi Mesh system, and you plan to buy less than five bulbs or LED strips, then our recommendation is that you buy Wi-Fi models. Fi because they are cheaper, easy to install and will work perfectly for you.

If you want to think about the future, where you are going to install all the light bulbs in the house, and many LED strips, then you should invest the money in a good ZigBee network, and take advantage of its mesh network, low latency, great connection stability and excellent coverage, since these devices will also function as nodes to repeat the signal.

You should also highly value the possibility of integration into a home automation system such as Home Assistant, and you will be able to control them centrally through an application, regardless of the brand you use, with the aim of having all the home automation centralized. under the same ecosystem. In addition, you will be able to carry out really advanced automations.

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