Picking a hub

Here are my initial questions about picking a hub (I’m pretty sure there will be more):
Can I use a dongle until I expand the system, or do I still need a hub? Most of the documentation I can find for dongles says they also require a hub. If the dongle requires a hub, what’s the dongle for? So, do I need a hub with a dongle?
I have a few hubs in mind; I am considering an Aeotec hub and at least one more, but I’m open to suggestions. I understand I should be seeking a hub with several ecosystems(? not sure that’s the correct word, still learning the jargon, i.e. Z-Wave, Zigbee). The next step is to find a suitable hub that I can use our cell phones to operate these first few switches with. Which of course goes to the next step, find an app to use.
This should get me to the point where I can finish adding light control. When I have all the lights that I want to control done, of course I will be looking into scene control. After that I will be researching other things I can do with home automation. I know for sure I will be looking for a tablet or some type of touch screen, hopefully by next year.
Maybe down the road I will look into other smart devices to add. I’m not real big on talking devices or cameras, although I can’t rule out cameras if I ever install a security system and I don’t currently have an Alexa or any of those types of devices.
Hopefully this is enough information to help in planning and perhaps make it easier to offer suggestions knowing what I hope to do, thanks again everyone.

This forum is for people who are using the Samsung SmartThings ™ Home Automation platform. So all of the questions and answers are assumed to be in that context. It is a very busy community, so it often comes up near the top on general home automation searches, but it is not a general forum.

So I’m a little confused about what you’re asking. :thinking: are you asking us to recommend which smartthings/Aeotec model hub you should get in order to use it with the smartthings platform? Are you asking if you can use the smartthings platform without a hub (you certainly can, in fact, the vast majority of people do because they have a Samsung smart television or Samsung smart appliance)? Are you asking if the smartthings platform offers a dongle (used to, but it doesn’t anymore, but it may again in the future). Or are you asking about hubs of any brand, in which case you will probably be better off going to another forum.

The Reddit home automation forum covers all brands, so that might be a good place to ask your question if you aren’t trying for something smartthings – specific.

Now to back up a bit. You’re asking hardware questions before you really established what home automation problems you’d like to solve. That’s like asking about the best tires before you’ve decided whether you need a car, an SUV, or a pickup truck. First focus on what you want to do, and that will narrow the suggestions for how to do it.

DONGLES

From a network point of view there is zero difference between a dongle and a hub. That’s just a physical form factor. It’s like asking whether you should get a square hub or a round one; they’re both hubs. Dongles are used when you have a specific Device which allows you to add home automation features by adding a dongle, typically something like a raspberry pi or maybe even a smart television. But they don’t change what the home automation system does.

HUB VS NO HUB AND NETWORK PROTOCOLS

These days, you don’t need a hub at all to get very good home automation. you can use Wi-Fi, thread, and Bluetooth end devices. You need a hub (or a dongle, again the same thing from a network point of view) only if you are going to be using one of the mesh “protocols“ (that’s the term you were asking about, not “ecosystem,“ since a Home Automation ecosystem can include multiple protocols). In a Home Automation context these are usually zigbee, zwave, and some situations with thread and Bluetooth (but not all). The hub is in charge of keeping track of the network traffic for these kind of set ups. But if what you want is lights and sirens and sensors you can do all of that without a hub at all, but you have to use a protocol like Wi-Fi or possibly Bluetooth anchored to a tablet/phone.

One of the other things that a hub will do is give you Internet access for your home automation system. This will allow you to access it when you are away from home. Some people want that, some people don’t, it all comes down to the details of what you were trying to do.

So… You can get lighting control, schedules, scenes, a phone app, a tablet display, and a lot of other things in a home automation system without ever using a hub. (See, for example, Apple‘s HomeKit.)

PROS AND CONS OF WIFI VS MESH PROTOCOLS

The biggest advantage that the mesh networks, specifically Z wave and zigbee, have over plain Wi-Fi is much much lower power consumption for the individual devices (which means longer battery life for battery power devices like sensors, although Wi-Fi is improving in this area with its newer versions). and not having to use up slots on your regular Wi-Fi router. Some Wi-Fi routers for home use only allow for connecting up to 32 devices at a time, and if you have a houseful of lightbulbs, you can use that up pretty quick. :disappointed_relieved: The zwave protocol has a hard maximum of 232 devices Per network, and Zigbee can go into the thousands. But that doesn’t mean you will be able to use that many. Smartthings, for example, has its own maximum of 200 devices per location. But that’s still more than a lot of Wi-Fi systems can support. On the other hand, if you’re willing to pay for a more expensive WiFi router, you can usually add at least 150 Wi-Fi devices. which is typically enough for most residential homes under 2000 ft.², but again, it depends on exactly what you’re trying to do.

The biggest advantages that Wi-Fi has over the mesh networks is much longer range, stronger signal strength, and people are more familiar with it.

Both options are good, again, it comes down to the specifics of what you yourself are trying to do. At my house I use both Wi-Fi and zigbee, and I am starting to add thread. I also have a separate system that uses Zwave. But I was a network engineer before I had to retire early due to disability, and I’m comfortable having a bunch of different protocols. People who like to keep it simple may just want to stick with Wi-Fi.

NEXT STEPS

So… if you want us to help you figure out whether you would need a hub for a smartthings set up, and if so, which hub, we’ll be glad to do that here. If you want to talk about the pros and cons of hubs from other brands, there is a category in this forum where people do discuss some of those, but not usually into much detail and it’s often people who are going to run multiple systems, smartthings plus another one.

Other Hubs - SmartThings Community

If you just want to start from scratch and consider all possible brands including the possibility of not using smartthings at all, check out the Reddit link.

Good luck! Most people find a Home Automation an interesting hobby, if sometimes frustrating.

ONE MORE THOUGHT: PERSONAL PRIORITIES

Oh, and I should mention that the three big factors other than cost in selecting any ecosystem are reliability, flexibility, and support of rule complexity. Unfortunately, there isn’t any great system that offers all three of these. Most are doing tradeoffs. Smartthings is very flexible with excellent support of complexity, but it’s not the most reliable. Historically there has been at least one service impact glitch a month for over three years, although every glitch doesn’t affect every customer in every country. Other systems may be able to run for six months or even a year without any noticeable glitches, but to do so they may restrict the number of different devices you can connect or the complexity of rules that they support. So you need to ask yourself how much tinkering time you’re willing to tolerate, how many glitches a month you can handle, and how important it is to you to be able to work with many different brands of end devices. That’s something only you can answer.

Oh, and wherever you continue your research, you should let people know in your first post what country you are in. The device selection does vary considerably. :sunglasses:

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This post will explain in excruciating detail what I mean by supporting complex rules. :wink:. Also why smartthings is preferred by many people who want complex rule support over other systems. But again, a hub is not required for this feature. That’s a whole separate issue.

How to Get Started Creating Complex Rules in SmartThings

And here’s the list of questions I ask somebody who’s just getting started in home automation to help figure out what might be a good ecosystem for them. This is just my list, other people might have more questions or fewer questions or start from a different perspective. So this might be helpful or might just be really really boring. Here it is if you’re interested. :sunglasses:

Top Level Priorities Checklist: what to consider before you start selecting smart home devices (2019)

Wow, there really is a bunch of stuff I have to learn. Looks like I need a little more research, thanks for the tips on where to look. This is the very kind of info I’m looking for. For most of my career I programmed PLCs for machine control and integration and I’m used to playing with networks and communication problems since our controllers needed to ‘talk’ to the plant systems. Since I’ve retired I guess my organizational skills have deteriorated. You have asked some very good questions I need to seriously consider. At least now, in my mind, I’m starting to rethink this whole thing, not whether or not I want to do it, but I think I need to step back and do a little more planning and research. I want to thank you and this site for all the information you all have given.

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BTW, I know you already bought and installed some zwave switches without realizing that they needed a hub.

If you just want to buy an inexpensive simple Z wave hub so you can play around with those, have a phone app for them, and maybe start learning what’s most important to you in home automation, the EzLo Atom Gen 2 should cost less than $40, is available in multiple countries, has a simple rules engine and app, it works with the popular voice assistants if you do decide to add one, and it’s very easy to set up. There are significant limitations: it will only work with Zwave devices, and only up to 30 of those. But it will let you get started with the devices you already have and if you run into frustrations like feeling that you want to add other devices of other protocols or you do want more complex rule building support, well, that will help you focus your own research. So it can be a good pilot program for somebody in your situation.

Here’s an independent review:

And here’s a reliable retailer

You can also buy it at Amazon from third parties, but it typically costs about twice as much there.

If you do get it and have any questions, you can ask in the EzLo forums or, again, at Reddit. :sunglasses:

Or you may decide you don’t want Z wave at all, and return the switches you just installed in favor of some other ecosystem. Choice is good. :+1:

Note that because of the limitations, I do not recommend the Ezlo Atom for someone starting from scratch. But for someone who just has a few Z wave devices and their old hub broke or they moved into a house where there were Z wave switches but no hub, this is a decent solution either just for that limited use case or while you are figuring out what else you want to do long-term. It’s also a decent substitute for a Nexia hub for most people, which had similar limitations but now has a monthly subscription fee. Or for someone who just needed to automate a few devices in an outbuilding. And at least it will bring the devices into Alexa and a mobile app.

So I just thought it might be something that would be a possibility for your situation. I wouldn’t expect you to stay with it long-term, but at the price, it might be good for a pilot phase.

Thank you, this is the kind of info I am looking for

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