Need a Better Overview


(Velo Steve) #1

SmartThings sounds like almost exactly what I have been looking for, for years now.

At the “grand vision” level, the various online descriptions are pretty good, but I am unable to find the next level down, such as:

Are Android and iOS being treated as equals, or is one the lead platform with the other one lagging behind?
What happens when my internet connection goes down?  I have UPSs and a backup generator for power, but when the power is out, so is my internet provider (that's life in rural California).  Cell service can be flaky too, when the weather gets bad.
What's the range of the hub, and what can I do if one or more Things need to be farther away?  I can extend my gigabit network there, but I don't know if that will help.
Can a program on a computer on the local network talk directly to a Thing, or does it always have to go through the cloud?

I’m sure others have more questions along these lines.


(Gray) #2

Hi Velo Steve,

I have no authority whatsoever, but I’ve spent far too long reading over information so perhaps I can help here.  I’m sure others can correct me if I’m wrong.

Are Android and iOS being treated as equals, or is one the lead platform with the other one lagging behind?

This is an excellent question, and I’m wondering too.  Reading back over what the team posted, I started to suspect that the Android app might be lagging the iOS app somewhat, but I assume that both will be available when everything is first shipped.

What happens when my internet connection goes down?  I have UPSs and a backup generator for power, but when the power is out, so is my internet provider (that’s life in rural California).  Cell service can be flaky too, when the weather gets bad.

It’s my understanding that the Internet connection to the hub is only needed for external devices (e.g. the phone app) to talk to the hub and thereby control devices.  Everything would “work” as designed without the Internet connection, unless things are set up to, say, send you an e-mail or a text message or the like–which wouldn’t make it out.

There was talk of adding in cellular connectivity, but the developers have said that that won’t happen with the first round of hardware.  Maybe in the future, but presumably this would also come with a monthly fee.

What’s the range of the hub, and what can I do if one or more Things need to be farther away?  I can extend my gigabit network there, but I don’t know if that will help.

I can cite the relevant answer from the FAQ here:

The SmartThings Hub incorporates two robust mesh networking technologies that are designed to provide a direct range of 150-300ft depending on a range of environmental factors. Beyond direct Hub-to-Thing range, the mesh networking capabilities will allow for individual connected Things to speak with the Hub through each other - extending range much further.
And also, you don't need to worry about extending your gigabit network to any of the Things, since they'll be using Zigbee or Z-Wave.  The quotes I've heard on the range for an individual Zigbee or Z-Wave device vary, but the strength is that plug-in Things can act as repeaters and extend the range of everything.

Can a program on a computer on the local network talk directly to a Thing, or does it always have to go through the cloud?

My general understanding of how this architecture works is that your computer or smartphone will interact with the hub through the Internet.  In turn, the hub will control all of the Things, communicating with them using Zigbee and Z-Wave.  This kind of circles back to my answers above, so I hope that makes sense.


(Velo Steve) #3

Thanks for that very helpful answer.  If it’s all correct, this will work perfectly for me.  I can easily add an extra Thing to act as a repeater, if necessary.

On my way to place a pre-order.


(Gray) #4

There is one important distinction to keep in mind: battery-powered Things won’t operate as repeaters.  I’ve seen them mention that, for example, the motion detector can operate either plugged in (using micro USB) or on batteries.  The difference is that when you plug it in, it’s a repeater.  I guess the only other plug-in standard Thing is the outlet at this point.

I think the other complication is that Zigbee and Z-Wave systems will form independent meshes, so you couldn’t put a Z-Wave device at the edge and expect Zigbee repeaters to make it within range (so far, for example, the moisture sensor and siren are Z-Wave, but all of the other Things you can choose from are Zigbee).  I think there might be some amount of trial and error with this in practice.  But in theory, it shouldn’t be hard to make things work everywhere you need.


(Chrisb) #5

One possible problem here… I think the brains of the operation isn’t going to be the Hub, but rather the Cloud service.  I don’t know this for sure, so you’ll want to verify it with a SmartThings person, but I think that the Hub needs communication to the cloud in order for it to be able to tell the devices what to do.

For instance, let’s take a simple example.  You have an open/close sensor on a window.  If the window opens, you want your connected Alarm to go off.

Here’s what happens:

  1. The window is opened.

  2. The sensor registers this, and sends a signal to the Hub saying: “I’m window #2 sensor, and I’ve just been opened.”

  3. The Hub relays this info to the SmartApp residing in the cloud. “Windows #2 sensor has just been opened.”

  4. The SmartApp consults it’s table of instructions and finds the entry: “If Window #2 sensor opens, signal Alarm #1 to go off.”

  5. The SmartApp sends a signal to the Hub to contact Alarm #1, and tell it go off.

  6. The Hub relays this inform to Alarm #1.

  7. Alarm #1 starts going off.

Of course, if you lose power and internet access you lose step 3 (and step 5).  No info is passed to the SmartApp, so no decision can be made based on sensor input.  And of course no command can be sent to devices to from the SmartApp either.

Ideally this the SmartApp would “publish” the commands you create to the Hub so that it could act independently from the SmartApp in the case of lose of communication with the SmartApp.  But I don’t think that it can do that right now.  Please verify this with someone from SmartThings.  I might be talking way wrong here.  But this is my impression of how everything works.


(Gray) #6

Interesting, chrisb.  My understanding was different, though I have no clue whether I’m even close to being right.

What I was thinking is that the hub controls actions that happen.  Some of these require sending to the cloud, so could only happen if connected to the Internet.  Others could be done without the cloud.  These would be set up through the cloud though, so couldn’t be adjusted or checked up on without an Internet connection.  So the only way to interact with Things from, say, your phone, would be for the hub to be connected to the cloud.

Three examples:

  1. “Send me a text message when Window #3 opens.” – could only be performed if the hub is connected to the Internet

  2. “Turn on light plugged into outlet #3 if motion detector #1 detects motion” – would be set up through the cloud, but could take place if hub is not connected to the Internet, so long as it is still on.

  3. Turning on outlet #3 from my phone while sitting on my couch – could only be done if hub has Internet connection, since phone app would interact with the cloud, not the hub.

 

Am I way off here?  That seems quite likely…


(Eric Schuld) #7

Gray - at this point I’m not 100% sure we know how much the hub can or cannot do. From the information we have - I believe internet access is an essential component to the functioning of the system.

All of the events have to be managed and then triggered by a server - I don’t think there is any of that functionality in the hub itself. That it is just the central nervous system that passes the information on to the brain that is the SmartThings server.

 

I think you are correct on #1 and #3. I’m doubtful that #2 would work - but I could be wrong - as I don’t think we have all the information to answer that right now.


(Chrisb) #8

Well, perhaps we need a verification from a SmartThings employee.  I agree completely with 1 and 3 of your examples.  Those would obviously need internet/cloud access.*

I hope you are right on number 2.  This is sort of what I was hinting at should be the route for SmartThings to take… that is the rule is setup in the cloud, but then “published” (or pushed or copied or whatever terminology you want to use) to the hub.  But my understanding is that it doesn’t do that right now.  Again, I hope I’m wrong and could very well be wrong.

 

(* on a side note… I can conceive of a situation in which these are both possible without cloud access.  If a smartphone can be a “thing” and connect to the hub via Wifi or BT.  Imagine if the hub is smart enough to look for Cloud access and if it’s not available, then look for cellphone that may be in range.  If so, then through a app on the cell phone it could send a text.  That way if I’m away but my son (when he gets a cellphone) is at home, I could conceivable get a text from his phone.  Likewise, if I’m connecting to my hub via Wifi or BT, then I don’t need cloud access to send commands (like turn on a light).)


(Lucas) #9

Gray,

Your idea is how I think most of us would LIKE how the SmartThings would work but I am afraid it is not. The hub acts as the gateway between the “things” and the Smartthings cloud. I would love for the hub to have limited functionally without connectivity to allow your example 2 to happen at anytime. To me this should be a core feature of Smartthings!

I think it boils down to the Physical Graph business model where they want connectivity 100% of the time so in the future its a monthly cost. I hope this will be clarified in the future but I am assuming the internet is required!


(Chrisb) #10

Lucas,

You bring up a good point: “I think it boils down to the Physical Graph business model where they want connectivity 100% of the time so in the future its a monthly cost.”

I believe I’ve read before that ST has said they are NOT interested in making their money on the hardware.  That’s not to say that they intend to lose money hardware-wise, but the hardware isn’t primarily a revenue stream.  It’s the software end where they are going to be making their money.


(Lucas) #11

Chrisb,

I still think the core functionally of the hub should operate without connectivity from the Smartthings cloud. If it does not, I dont see why things could not then start to work on multiple hubs. If the hubs are just extensions of the Smartthings cloud then if I leave home my SmartSense Presence can work on any other Smartthings account I allow or at least up to so many.


(Velo Steve) #12

Perhaps stating the obvious, but a security device is useless if all the intruder has to do is flip your breaker before walking in.

Same for many fault-monitoring functions - hot/cold/flood and other conditions have a high correlation with power and internet outages.


(Chip) #13
a security device is useless if all the intruder has to do is flip your breaker before walking in
While I totally agree, I don't think the system was ever intended for "mission critical" applications.  As designed, I don't think it's a viable replacement for actual security or life safety systems, nor do I think it's supposed to be.  While I will likely be using smartthings for some security-related purposes, I won't be cancelling my ADT contract any time soon.  This is intended as a cheap convenience system, not a bulletproof security/alarming system.

(Gray) #14

And to extend what Chip said above, most of us don’t really have to worry about teams of invaders cutting electricity to our homes before entering while we sleep.  Those of us who do will obviously be relying on something more than SmartThings for security.

 

But for the rest of us sensors on doors and windows and some sirens and lights, all connected using SmartThings, will likely suffice.


(Velo Steve) #15

Gray - maybe I’m asking too much, but let’s be serious!  “Teams of invaders”?  Almost any home’s electricity cutoff is readily accessible - it has to be so firefighters can turn it off in an emergency.  It doesn’t take a team to flip a switch.

In any case, I only meant security as an example.  Constant reliable internet connectivity is a luxury that is not as widespread as people in the industry seem to think.  I started my internet days in Mountain View, CA.  Except on the day of the November 2, 1988 internet worm I was connected at work (NASA Ames) all day every day.  Before long, home connections were almost as good.  It is easy to feel that internet service is as standard as running water when you live in Silicon Valley or other highly developed areas.  Now that I live just 90 miles east, I have learned that a reliable connection is not to be taken for granted.

Steve


(Lucas) #16

You guys are funny :slight_smile: The Smartthings communinty is only going to get better and better! Invaders aside! I am sure the Smarthings cloud will be more than happy to tell you when the smartthings hub is down rather quickly. This is of course the team of Invaders happen to carry around a Faraday cage and bulldoze the cell tower.