Smart hub vs bridge vs gateway: what’s the difference? –

A smart home seems like a smart idea, but if you’re not sure what you need to make all of your  systems and devices communicate with one another, it can make you feel…well, less than smart.

If you’ve started looking into creating a connected home, or buying a specific smart appliance, you’ve probably come across the terms smart hub, gateway, and bridge. These pieces of  hardware all sound pretty similar, and sometimes they are even used interchangeably. But they do have distinct purposes — ones that may help you set up your smart home, and ones that may feel superfluous for your setup.

Which one is right for you? Here’s a succinct guide to understanding the difference between hubs, bridges and gateways.

What’s a hub?

A smart home hub is basically what it sounds like: The central, organizing point of your Wi-Fi network. Think of it as the home network’s HQ. You have all these devices that are connected to the internet, but they need to get their commands from somewhere. Your smart home hub gets them sending and receiving the same messages, and allows you to control them simultaneously — typically via a smartphone or tablet app.

Hubs unify all of your smart home devices and systems allow you to control and communicate with them. There are smart home hubs like the Samsung ​​SmartThings or the Aeotec Smart Home Hub, which are basically like routers specifically for your smart home devices.

Odds are you’ve most likely run into smart home hubs (and even own one) without fully realizing it. Smart speakers like Amazon Echo devices, Google Home devices and Apple HomePods are all smart hubs.  They allow you to connect and control your household devices and systems from a central location. They also have the added benefit of voice controls, which lets you do things like turn on and off lights by just saying the words. (Reminder: Hubs are the hardware that house the AI software that powers virtual assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant).

What’s a gateway?

Hubs are great for devices that already speak the same language and simply need to be on the same page. But not all smart home devices do speak the same language. Smart home devices communicate via wireless protocols, and there are a number of different ones that these internet-connected products and appliances can use. Along with various Wi-Fi networks, some common ones are Z-Wave and Zigbee.

A gateway is your translator. It takes these devices that are speaking different languages and converts those messages to a universal language that allows them to communicate with one another.

In other words, hubs connect devices of the same type on the same network. Gateways connect devices of different species that operate on different networks.

The good news is that many smart home hubs nowadays are also gateways. They are able to connect and communicate through a number of different popular wireless protocols, which means you likely will not need to purchase another device.

But if your smart hub isn’t a more universal gateway — or you don’t have a smart hub at all — you might need one when you get a new Internet of Things (IoT) toy, depending on what wireless language it speaks.



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