Skip to main content

Know How Your Security Devices Communicate

Written by
Home Controls
Published on
March 18, 2022 at 2:24:12 PM PDT March 18, 2022 at 2:24:12 PM PDTth, March 18, 2022 at 2:24:12 PM PDT

Communication is important, especially so when it comes to assembling a smart home or smart security network. You need your devices to be able to communicate with each other, and so this blog is here to help you understand the different types of communication methods used throughout the automation and security industry.

Powerline (hardwired) connections including UPB and X10 use the existing power line wiring within a building to deliver simple commands and data from a controller to one or more receivers. Standard UPB and X10 devices are either transmitters or receivers, while more advanced units are able to function as both or respond by sending back device status signals. UPB and X10 devices do not require a central hub or controller to oversee all connections, as transmitter-receiver pairings are directly peer-to-peer.


Wi-Fi devices rely on an existing Wi-Fi connection and either a Wi-Fi compatible hub or internet connected controller (such as a Wi-Fi compatible controller, mobile app or web portal) in order to operate. Communications are directly between the transmitter and receiver whether using wired or wireless connections. Connection quality and speed depend upon multiple factors including router location, device placement, building layout, signal interference, and total bandwidth. Unlike with mesh networks where the greater number of devices improves the signal quality, having too many Wi-Fi devices on the same network lowers the overall bandwidth. 


Z-Wave and Zigbee both utilize wireless mesh networks which use multiple devices on the same network to transmit signals from one transmitting device to a receiver. As you add more devices to a Z-Wave or Zigbee network, the maximum range between any two devices and signal quality increases, resulting in consistent performance. Each compatible device in a Z-Wave or Zigbee network acts as either a transmitter (delivering commands or information), a receiver (receiving and responding to commands or information), or a node (passing along signals between a transmitting device and a receiving device). 

Both Z-Wave and Zigbee networks are controlled from a central smart hub or controller, which requires an Internet connection and is accessed from a mobile application or web portal. Certain Z-Wave or Zigbee smart hubs may have compatibility issues with specific devices from third party manufacturers, but these occurrences are uncommon.

Finally, there are certain manufacturers, including First Alert and Dakota Alert, that utilize a closed networking protocol or technology that simplifies installation and operation of their devices by ignoring compatibility with third-party brands to focus on reliable performance and connectivity between their own devices. 

First Alert uses the term “interconnect” to describe the way that certain alarms connect and communicate. First Alert alarms use “Interconnect Technology” which connects First Alert alarms via a mesh network that integrates multiple wireless or wired devices for better safety and response in an emergency. Similar to Z-Wave or Zigbee, the mesh network of alarms re-routes and resends emergency signals via other First Alert alarms, providing a greater chance all alarms will receive the signal without the need for a central hub or controller to manage the connections. Up to 18 total units can be interconnected, wireless or hardwired: with a maximum of 12 smoke alarms and 6 carbon monoxide alarms. 

Dakota Alert programs their radio transmitters, sensors, and receivers to work only with other devices across the same product lines, ensuring reliable performance and eliminating the hassle of configuring devices from other manufacturers. Dakota Alert devices from different product lines are unable to work together.

For more home security topics and questions, call us at 858-693-8887 (7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Pacific, Monday – Friday) for free tech support and product advice. You can also email us at or visit