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Does Nanoleaf Need a Bridge or Hub?

The modern smart home is continually getting upgraded with smarter, more advanced technology. Manufacturers are always developing technology that brings forth newer, more innovative, and even more decorative ways to enhance our smart homes.

Nanoleaf is no exception.

Since the early 2010’s, Nanoleaf has earned their place as being one of the most innovative when it comes to technology, as well as creating some of the most aesthetically pleasing smart home lights seen yet. With their ability to integrate with a variety of smart home hubs, and (as of recent) their added support for Thread, Nanoleaf has made it easy to be welcomed into the homes of many.

To that end, people may begin to have many questions about the use of Nanoleaf, including if it needs a bridge or a hub. First though, it’s important to take a look at what Nanoleaf is.

What is Nanoleaf?

Nanoleaf is a smart lighting system that works primarily with Wi-Fi. Their lights come in the most interesting and varied array of shapes, sizes, and even colors. 

They have two lines of lighting; Smarter Décor and Smarter Essentials. Each of these lines is equipped with some of the most intriguing lighting options for your smart home.

Smarter Décor

Various Nanoleaf shapes on bedroom feature wall with HomePod Mini
Various Nanoleaf shapes on bedroom feature wall with HomePod Mini

Nanoleaf’s line of Smarter Décor lights are lighted panels designed to be placed on the walls of your home. They come in different shapes and colors. This line of panels comes in four different variations; Shapes, Canvas, Lighting Panels, and their newest addition, Elements. Each comes with its own unique features.

The Shapes line is just as its name suggests – lighting panels that come in different shapes as well as colors, and sizes. In contrast, the Canvas panels come in squares, and the Lighting Panels come in triangles.

The most unique of them though, is Elements. These panels are designed to mimic the look and texture of wood and to be appealing to the eyes whether or not they’re illuminated.

Unlike other Nanoleaf panels which display a large variety of colors, the Elements panels light up in warm to cool variations of white only. Another unique feature is that they light up on all sides individually and independently, giving these panels the ability to beautifully simulate natural patterns such as cascading waterfalls.

All of the Smarter Décor panels are interlocking, and because they come in such a wide variety of shapes and sizes, they give you the ability to place them strategically across your walls in whatever design your heart desires.

Need design ideas? The Nanoleaf site, as well as their social media accounts have a plethora of design ideas to choose from. 

It’s to be noted, however, that the Elements panels can only be interlocked with Shapes – not with Canvas or Lighting Panels.

Much like many other smart home lighting systems, these lights can be configured to display a variety of colors whether you choose a more uniform look, or for each panel to display a different color.

They attach to your walls with the included double-sided 3M adhesive strips, and can even be customized so that they light up to the rhythm of music, movies, and gaming systems. If you connect them to your computer, they can even mimic the colors of your computer’s desktop.

Smarter Essentials

Nanoleaf also has a line of smart bulbs and light strips to even further customize the look and feel of your home.

Though the Essentials Bulbs come in the universal A19 size for easy placement in any of your existing light fixtures, they have a unique feature – their shape. These bulbs aren’t the typical round bulbs you’re used to seeing – they’re almost hexagonal in shape, and make an interesting addition to any fixture. 

The Essentials Lightstrips come in 40-inch and 80-inch varieties, and just like the lighting panels, and bulbs, they can display a wide array of color schemes to suit any mood, occasion, or time of day.

All Nanoleaf lighting options are compatible with a variety of smart home hubs such as Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, Samsung SmartThings, and Amazon’s Alexa, making them easy to use with whatever smart home hub you’re using. 

What technology does Nanoleaf use to communicate?

Unlike other popular lighting systems that may use Zigbee or Z-Wave, Nanoleaf is a primarily Wi-Fi-based system. However, it doesn’t support the 5 GHz band, so they can only connect to the 2.4 GHz band of Wi-Fi.

Each Nanoleaf panel has the ability to snap together via thin, USB-like connectors. These connectors easily slip into designated slots. These slots are located in various areas on the underside of the panels, enabling you to set up your panels in whatever pattern you so desire. Some connectors are even flexible, so you can connect them to adjacent walls at an angle:

Nanoleaf shapes with corner flex connectors
Nanoleaf shapes with corner flex connectors

After you’ve created your desired setup, you control it by connecting them to the main controller. This controller then communicates with the app via Wi-Fi. In this sense, they work much like strip lighting. As long as the panels remain in unison with their circuit, you can control them via their specific controller that plugs into the wall.

There is a limit to the number of panels you can control per included controller, and it varies depending on which light panel type you’re using.

For example, for the Elements, you can connect up to 22 panels, but with the Shapes mini-Triangles, you can control up to 77. After that, additional controllers will be needed.

Because they have to be in a circuit to be controlled, Nanoleaf panels cannot communicate with each other wirelessly. For example, if you have a set up in the living room plugged into one controller, and another setup upstairs in your bedroom – the only way they’ll be able to communicate with each other is via the Nanoleaf app, and any routines you set up via a smart home hub.

Besides Wi-Fi, one of the newest ways that Nanoleaf panels are now beginning to communicate, is with the use of a newer wireless communication protocol known as Thread.

What is Thread?

Screenshot of the Thread Group homepage
Screenshot of the Thread Group homepage

Thread is one of the newest wireless communication protocols to hit the scene. Much like Wi-Fi, it’s an IoT (Internet of Things) protocol for data transfer that’s been steadily growing in popularity – and with good reason! Thread offers features and capabilities that aren’t available with other connection protocols. 

For starters, Thread can create its own self-healing mesh network. Self-healing means that if one portion of the network isn’t working, Thread in a sense ‘repairs’ the network by re-routing communication via an alternate route. This in turn makes it more reliable and stable than Wi-Fi, and creates seamless operation that can’t be beat. 

Thread also has a longer potential range than Wi-Fi. Its mesh network can connect devices over longer distances in your home. The result is not only long-range control without the use of an extender, but a stronger signal as well. Processes that would normally have a delay when it comes to Wi-Fi, instead have a faster response time, reducing or even eliminating latency all together!

Another facet of Thread is its low power consumption. Because of this, devices that use Thread will use less power. This is especially convenient when it comes to devices that are battery-operated. Utilizing Thread will enable them to go longer between charges – and when it comes to devices with non-rechargeable batteries, these will also get more life out of their batteries – saving you money.

Apple was one of the first to introduce a Thread radio into its hub, the Home Pod Mini. They’ve also recently included Thread in the Apple TV 4K as well. Google has also decided to add Thread to some of their own devices, such as the Google Nest. 

One potential ‘downside’ of Thread, though, is that a home’s typical internet router doesn’t ‘speak’ Thread – only Wi-Fi. This means that a smart device talking Thread would need some form of hub/bridge to convert Thread traffic into Wi-Fi traffic. This is similar to how ZigBee and Z-Wave devices need a hub.

In Thread’s case, the hub/bridge is known as a “Thread Border Router” – it sits on the border of the Thread mesh network and it then converts and routes IPv6 traffic around the rest of the Wi-Fi/internet network.

Nanoleaf started integrating Thread radios into their Smart Essentials bulbs, and as of more recent, have added Thread Border Routers to their lighting panels as well.

How does Thread impact Nanoleaf?

So how does Thread affect Nanoleaf? 

In 2020, Nanoleaf made the decision to introduce support for Thread for their line of Essential smart bulbs – and more recently, they have added Thread support via Thread border routers to their line of smart lighting panels. This includes the newer Elements panels.

Because of its longer range, using Thread enables users to have a much wider range of connectivity throughout their homes. And because the overall connection is vastly superior as opposed to traditional Wi-Fi, the speed and responsiveness are much faster, bringing an end to spotty connections and dead zones. 

One of the best features of using Thread is that no hub is required. Nanoleaf has integrated Thread capabilities into its system by incorporating Thread border routers directly into the controller of each lighting panel unit. Because of this, no extra hardware or hub is required for Thread to work with Nanoleaf

These features, along with bank-level encryption for a secure connection, Thread is becoming the optimal and preferred way to control Nanoleaf panels.

Does a smart hub improve Nanoleaf’s features?

Another strong selling point for Nanoleaf is that they’re compatible with most of the leading smart home hubs on the market today. This includes Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Samsung Smart Things, and IFTTT. 

Echo Dot 3rd generation model, with a blue 'listening' ring after a voice command was issued.
Echo Dot 3rd generation model in listening mode

Because of their compatibility, and the fact that they use Wi-Fi, Nanoleaf doesn’t need a hub or bridge of any kind in order to be used with the various smart home hubs available.

Being they’re compatible with so many smart home hubs, setting up routines and automations is that much simpler, as you can control everything from one central location.

Since Apple has already introduced Thread capabilities into their Home Pod Mini, using Nanoleaf lights that are Thread-enabled with the Home Pod Mini could prove particularly convenient:

The fascinating nature of Nanoleaf’s designer panels combined with the exceptional features of Thread can make using your lights even easier.

Using smart home hubs to automate the different aspects of your smart home has always improved things, and using them with Nanoleaf is no exception.

Nanoleaf: The future of smart lighting

Nanoleaf is quickly gaining popularity as a worthwhile addition to the modern smart home. They offer the most creative and decorative options for smart home lighting than any other manufacturer currently. Add onto it that they now support the revolutionary wireless communication protocol, Thread, and it’s no wonder why.

With its faster speeds, strong, self-healing mesh network, and longer range, it’s no wonder Nanoleaf jumped on the bandwagon. Thread is quickly becoming the future of wireless communication protocols.  

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