Tech Tips: Home Automation

Feb. 1, 2021
Manufacturers discuss the technologies and interconnectivity behind this growing market.

According to researcher Statistia, U.S. consumers spent about $27.6 billion on smart-home devices and services in 2020.

Meanwhile, according to, more than 500,000 burglaries per year are the result of homeowners who neglect or forget to lock doors and windows.

This helps to explain the massive marketing of home-automation locking and surveillance products and services. It also explains the interest expressed by locksmiths and security pros in the home-automation industry.

The term used to market home automation is DIY, but the open secret is it would be more accurate to call it DIYA (Do It Yourself … Almost).

A significant percentage of home-automation equipment buyers lack the skill to install and deploy home-automation devices successfully, so they resort to calling a pro. That’s good.

After a painful year, home automation might be the elixir for boosting locksmithing’s anemic bottom line.

Everyone knows the name Kwikset. Kwikset is a leader in the world of home-automation security. We interviewed Art Sesnovich, Kwikset spokesperson and principal of Bulldog Communications, about home-automation. Here’s what we told us:

Locksmith Ledger (LL): What is the state of automation, and where is it trending?

Sesnovich: Home automation, or homes in which nearly everything, such as lights, appliances, electrical outlets, heating and cooling systems, are hooked up to a remotely controllable network and managed through a smartphone or web-enabled device, is growing at a steady rate and is expected to continue well into the future. Transparency Research forecasts that the connected-home-device market will expand at a compounded annual rate of about 12 percent from 2019 to 2027, with total market value of $157 billion. Consumers are buying into the concept of home automation for a variety of reasons: safety, convenience and comfort.

LL: What are the primary technologies in use?

Sesnovich: Z-Wave and Zigbee are the predominant technology protocols. Z-Wave and Zigbee, both wireless, use what’s called a mesh network, in which commands hop from device to device. This ensures that all devices connected to the network become receivers and transmitters of data; consequently, the more devices in the network, the stronger the network becomes.

Z-Wave has the advantage of running on the 908- and 916-megahertz radio bands, which are less congested and create less interference than other options. Z-Wave networks can have 232 devices connected to them, which is plenty for most home-automation systems. Z-Wave and Zigbee also are low-power protocols. Zigbee doesn’t have the extended range of Z-Wave, and it operates at a higher frequency. As such, it’s more susceptible to interference from 2.4-gigahertz (GHz) Wi-Fi and other household devices. ZigBee and Wi-Fi channels exist in the 2.4-GHz band, so when deploying Wi-Fi and ZigBee in the same environments, you must make sure that they don’t interfere with each other. However, Zigbee is typically faster than Z-Wave and can support thousands of devices on a single network.

BLE [Bluetooth Low Energy] and Wi-Fi can be used as well, but they use different protocols and have certain limitations. To begin with, as a rule of thumb, Z-Wave and Zigbee networks and devices will operate without an internet connection, whereas Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices won’t. The main benefits of Wi-Fi are transmission speed, range and the overall availability of the technology. Most people already have a Wi-Fi router in their home, so they’re instantly set up for Wi-Fi use. Wi-Fi provides easy and fairly reliable access to the internet anywhere in your home, but it’s susceptible to interference, because so many devices are competing for bandwidth. The bands become even more congested as more devices are added. Another problem is the power consumption of Wi-Fi devices, because wide range and high speeds require a lot of power to operate. Also, with Z-Wave and Zigbee, virtually all smart devices can be connected to a single hub for ease of control. When working through Wi-Fi, a separate app generally is required for each device, which makes it much less convenient as a way to control an entire smart-home ecosystem.

Bluetooth wireless technology is popular in devices that will be controlled locally through a mobile app, such as door locks and lighting systems. It’s more energy-efficient than Wi-Fi, but its limited range means the user can’t control these devices remotely without the use of a hub. However, Bluetooth devices are easy to install, and like Wi-Fi, the technology can be found in nearly all mobile devices.

Ultimately, there is no one size that fits all when it comes to home-automation protocols. A comprehensive assessment of your customer’s home-automation needs, power requirements, physical structure limitations and more should be conducted before making a decision.

LL: Can devices that use different technologies be combined into a single system or app?

Sesnovich: Yes. For example, Halo Touch by Kwikset uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and can be controlled in a single app. From a hub perspective, the Samsung SmartThings Hub is a multiprotocol controller. It contains Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Z-Wave and Zigbee radios and will control many of the most widely used smart devices from companies, such as Ecobee, Honeywell, Kwikset, Philips Hue and Ring. It also can be controlled using Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands.

LL: Can a single system span multiple structures in different localities?

Sesnovich: It depends what you mean by “system,” but the short answer is yes. For example, a single Kwikset Halo account can manage multiple Halo Wi-Fi locks in different single-family homes across different geographies. That’s for a specific device. In terms of hubs, with the Apple HomeKit, the user can control devices in their primary home and vacation home. Better yet, the location that’s shown when you open the Home app will change to your physical location automatically when you’re there. With the SmartThings app, you can add multiple locations, all controlled from one app. The bottom line is a number of devices, hubs and apps will allow you to control multiple locations, while others won’t. If that’s an important purchasing factor, it behooves users to do their homework upfront.

LL: How about doorbell cameras?

Sesnovich: Doorbell cameras have proven to be extremely popular, providing consumers with an extra level of protection and security to complement the smart lock. The numbers tell the story: A report from Grandview Research pegs the global market size value in 2020 at $1.83 billion; the revenue forecast for 2025 is expected to reach $2.83 billion, with a compounded annual rate of 10.3 percent for 2019 to 2025. When used with a smart lock, like many of the ones available from Kwikset, the doorbell camera adds another layer of protection and security to the front (or back) door.

LL: What advice do you have for those who want to install an automated lock?

Sesnovich: The keyway can be the most vulnerable element of an automated lock. You could select a smart lock that has no keyway — for instance, the Kwikset Obsidian — eliminating the lock-picking worry entirely. There are also products to reduce bumping and picking your existing locks, such as anti-lock bumping devices and special security pins that can be inserted into the lock.

LL: The effect of COVID can’t be overestimated. What are some of the ways that smart-device makers, as well as locksmiths, can weather the COVID storm?

Sesnovich: Set up instructions on your website for contactless installations, whenever possible. In the case of an electronic lock that might require more expertise, set up a dedicated chatline to talk customers through the process, or prepare your existing customer-support line for additional calls. If you are doing any in-home installations, ensure your customers are aware of the safety procedures you are taking. This is a great time for you and your employees to engage in additional training — the kind of training you never seem to have time to do but which you now have the time for. Home automation would seem to be a good fit for that training.

A Second Opinion

We also spoke with Mark Jenner, director of Technology Alliances at Allegion, about the home-automation space.

Locksmith Ledger (LL): Which technologies dominate the home-automation market?

Jenner: Having a variety of technologies and vendors within the home-automation market is a challenge for all manufacturers. Some trends and activities emerging will help to overcome this challenge. 

First, there has been an increasing trend for Wi-Fi to be the primary means of communication for devices, such as the Schlage Encode Deadbolt. It also has become prevalent in line-powered devices in categories such as lighting controls, video cameras and video doorbells. The simplicity of setting up the products through Wi-Fi and increasing installation of home Wi-Fi networks and extenders is driving this trend. 

Second, the Zigbee Alliance announced Project Connected Home over IP this time last year. It includes major consumer electronics companies and has the goal to simplify device interoperability for consumers. As the name implies, it focuses on Internet Protocol communications as the standard technology for interoperability, including Wi-Fi and Thread. Allegion has been an active participant, and although significant work is necessary to bring this standard to market, the initial activities have been promising.

LL: What Allegion home-automation products might be of interest to the locksmith? 

Jenner: Our Schlage Residential Smart Lock portfolio provides a wide range of smart locks that connect to the Schlage Home app or leading home-automation apps and platforms. Learn more at           

LL: Does Allegion have any Bluetooth home-automation products? 

Jenner: The Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt is our featured Bluetooth solution that works with the Schlage Home app right out of the box for local smartphone access management via the app, or it can also be paired with the Apple Homekit. Pairing it with the Schlage Sense Wi-Fi adapter provides  remote access from anywhere and integration with voice assistants, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant-enabled devices.

Tim O’Leary is an experienced security consultant and a regular contributor to Locksmith Ledger.