Smart Home Glossary

Hearing a lot of buzzwords around the smart home space? What’s a geofence? What’s a hub? What is IoT? Check out our glossary and find out what these terms and many more mean for smart devices. This list will grow over time so check back frequently. Use it to quickly catch up on the commonly used phrases and terms. If you have any questions or suggestions, send us an email! Thanks!



Automation is, simply, the ability for your home or devices to react without input from humans. For most smart homes, this is achieved by having multiple devices communicate with each other, including sensors, cameras, and other products, to achieve varying levels of automation.

Bluetooth LE/ Bluetooth Smart:

A wireless protocol that is popular among smart home devices. Compared to classic bluetooth, it is designed to use considerably less power while maintaining a similar range. BLE is not only aimed at the smart home, but also at fitness, healthcare, and security industries.


Many smart home products use cloud services for their core functionality. Although it is not ideal having your devices relying on an internet connection, it does sometimes allow for increased interoperability. Two devices in the same room might not be able to communicate directly. Instead, messages are sent back and forth through their respective cloud services over the internet. This is known as “cloud to cloud” and is becoming a popular way for hardware vendors to increase compatibility.


A virtual perimeter for the real world. Using your WiFi, Bluetooth, or GPS radios, your Smart Home software can trigger events based on your physical location. For example, you can use a geofence to automatically turn off your lights when you leave for the day.


When discussing Smart Homes, the hub is the central device that allows all the different products (lights, locks, thermostats) to work together. Most hubs will also act like a universal remote, as well as providing the tools necessary to automate your devices.


If This, Then That allows users to connect multiple devices by creating “recipes” for products that may not natively speak to each other. For instance, you can have your lights flash on and off when you need to leave work at 5pm if you find yourself often late to dinner.


A smart home protocol that was introduced in 2005. This protocol can run over the power lines in your home(similar to x10) or wirelessly, which leads to very reliable systems. Until recently, Insteon was also backwards compatible with x10, so it was often used to add wireless functionality to previously configured smart homes.


The ability for different smart home devices and services to reliably work together.

IoT (Internet of Things):

The Internet of Things is a broad term that refers to everyday devices like lights, thermostats, and locks that are able to connect to the Internet and to each other. These connected devices can exchange data and work together, automating tasks that used to be manually performed. By 2020, it is predicted that there will be anywhere between 26 billion 200 billion devices connected to the Internet. Be sure to check out our Internet of Things FAQ.


Internet Protocol. In the context of smart homes, IP means a device that can send information using a computer network or the internet. It is commonly used with security cameras.

Mesh Network:

Protocols that are designed using a mesh network means products can pass messages from device to device in a “hopping” fashion until the final destination is reached. Every device in your home acts as a range extender; the more devices you have, the more powerful/ reliable your network becomes.


Home Automation protocols are the hardware communication language that devices use to send commands to one another. Some popular smart home protocols have been around for decades (X10) while others are relatively new (Bluetooth Low Energy). There are a few that were designed with home automation in mind (Z-wave, ZigBee), and others that are being repurposed for this task (NFC,WiFi). It is important you research which protocols will fit your needs best prior to purchasing hardware to ensure your home has maximum interoperability.


In the context of smart homes, sensors offer a wide variety of information that can tell you not only about things going on in your home, but also be used for home automation. Presence sensors can detect if people are in a certain area, detect motion indoors and outdoors, gather indoor environmental quality factors, and report this information to other devices (using IFTTT, a smart home hub, or other protocols) to make things like lights, fans, and HVAC run. A great example of this is the Nest thermostat’s built in home/away function, which uses a sensor in the thermostat to detect motion and adjust HVAC usage to use less energy when nobody is home.

Smart Meter:

Smart Meters are a new generation of electric and gas meters that can digitally (and more accurately) transmit meter readings to your utility. Smart meters can also be paired with monitors or gateways to give consumers a better idea of their own energy usage in real time.

Thread Protocol:

Thread was announced in 2014 so it is one of the newer protocols designed for the smart home. It uses similar standards to the ones used by the ZigBee protocol, however Thread is a closed-documentation standard that requires a fee to obtain the documentation.

Voice Assistants:

Voice assistants, in the smart home context, are digital applications that use voice recognition to aid in the control of a smart home. Amazon’s Alexa, the Google Assistant, and Siri are all examples of voice assistants that are designed to control smart home devices.


WiFi is the most common protocol used in smart home devices. This is largely because many consumers already have a central hub (their WiFi router) for WiFi enabled devices. WiFi is able to provide high bandwidth for devices that send a lot of data (IP Cameras) but it uses too much power for most battery powered devices.


One of the oldest protocols still used in home and building automation. Developed in the in the 1970s, it uses the power lines in your home to allow communication between devices. This simple system is very reliable, but not as capable as modern protocols.


A wireless communications protocol designed for home automation. It is mainly used in the residential space to provide a simple yet reliable way to wirelessly control lighting, locks, HVAC, and window treatments. One of the main benefits of Z-wave is it runs on a type of network called a mesh network.


Similar to Z-Wave, ZigBee is a low-cost, low-power, wireless mesh network. It was designed to be used with devices or sensors that had very low power consumption and did not need to send large amounts of data.

updated January 2018