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Traditionally smart home lighting involves installing one or more smart light switches in place of a traditional switch. This light switch would use a technology like ZWave, Zigbee, UPB or X10 to offer the installer a method to automate the switch or dimmer. The switch would talk to a smart home hub which in turn was connected to the home's WiFi network to provide control from a web browser or app based control on a smart phone.
Smart home hubs provide very powerful automatation and integration but not every smart home needs a hub. Insteon for example can provide whole home lighting with scenes and keypad controls without requiring a hub. The hub is still required to enable smart phone control or scheduled lighting.
More recently, WiFi smart home devices have gained in popularity and one of their advantages is that they don't require a dedicated smart home hub. They use the home's existing WiFi to communicate. A cloud service will then take the place of an in-home hub to provide remote access and app control from a smart phone.
Since the cloud service is already part of the smart switch environment, most WiFi smart devices can also be integrated with Alexa or Google voice assistants. They can also become part of a larger ecosystem of devices through these integrations. The user can simply command their voice assistant to turn lights or groups of lights on and off.
Most WiFi Switches and Dimmers can be programmed to turn on and off at certain times of the day or based on sunrise/sunset. This scheduling is most often saved in the smart device so it will activate reliably even if the home's Internet connection fails.
While most WiFi smart devices provide app control, some brands are taking the technology a step further to provide additional enhancements. Leviton's Generation 2 WiFi switches and dimmers for example can be controlled by a Bluetooth enabled remote switch to create virtual 3 way lighting or easy remote control without using WiFi communication.
Leviton has also introduced WiFI multi-button scene control keypads to allow the user to control various Leviton smart switches from a single keypad location.
Leviton's dimmer with built-in Alexa voice assistant offers a unique form factor that lets the user have Alexa voice control without having a plug-in device on the counter.
If all of this is possible without a smart home hub, why would anyone want to install products that require a hub? There are a few cases where a hub is required. For example, most smart home hubs support multiple technologies or "radios" so they can work with ZWave or Zigbee devices. WiFi is great, but there is a much larger ecosystem of motion sensors, door/window sensors, light sensors, and so on that don't operate on WiFI. The smart home hub can bring multiple technologies together to create lighting triggers based on motion or doors opening for example. Or a ZWave water valve can close immediately in the case a water sensor detects a leak. These local integrations don't need to rely on a working Internet connection so they are fast and reliable. The hub can also add conditional if/then/else type logic that's difficult to replicate with a cloud service.
When using a smart home hub, the hub can typically be tied in to Google or Alexa smart home assistants, allowing control of the lights, scenes or other devices like door locks.
Smart home automation without a hub is a practical alternative to hub based systems where the intent is to create scene lighting or lighting schedules. It's also well suited to control by voice control assistants or app control of the home's lights.
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