What does a smart plug do

Radio-controlled sockets: intelligently switch devices in the house

Hans-Christian Dirscherl

Radio-controlled socket, switchable socket, adapter plug, smart plug or intelligent socket - all names mean the same thing: the easy start in the smart home. We show how you can make your home smarter and more comfortable for little money and how you can save money and present the best radio-controlled sockets.

EnlargeIntelligent sockets: remote switching made easy
© AVM, Fibaro, Elgato

The easiest entry into the world of the Smart Home are so-called adapter plugs, which are also known as intelligent sockets or switchable sockets and smart plugs. Radio-controlled sockets is another common term for this type of device.

This refers to sockets that are in turn plugged into a free socket that is already available in the apartment. The device to be switched is then connected to this adapter plug; for example a lamp, a coffee machine or a fan heater. Or a pond pump or a garden lantern, if it is an outdoor adapter.

Advantages of the intelligent radio-controlled sockets

* Lower electricity costs (if the switched devices are not always on)
* More convenience (for example, automatically warm coffee in the morning)
* More security (deter burglars, power-hungry devices are not constantly energized)
* More control (which device is running when and how much power it consumes)
* Greater flexibility

Difference: intelligent (radio) sockets - analog time switches

These intelligent sockets are the successors to the classic analog time switches. The latter are definitely justified when it comes to switching a device on and off at the same time. This avoids unnecessary idling and saves you money.

However, these analog time switches have significant disadvantages: They switch the connected device - such as a lamp - on and off at exactly the same time every day. This makes it easy for attentive observers to recognize that an apartment is actually uninhabited and that the light is only intended to simulate residents. These timers are therefore only suitable to a limited extent for protecting against burglars.

Sometimes these timers cause a quiet but still audible ticking. Some users may find this annoying, especially in the bedroom.

Above all, however, these time switches are inflexible. They cannot react to special events or they do not offer the user the possibility of changing the preset times remotely and thus reacting remotely to current events. In addition, the time switches cannot send messages to the user in the form of push emails, i.e. they cannot give him any feedback.

And finally, these simple time switches do not offer any additional functions such as measuring the power consumption of the connected electrical devices and they also do not have a built-in thermometer. But adapter plugs in the form of intelligent sockets or switchable sockets alias radio-controlled sockets make all of this possible.

Wireless sockets in the price comparison

Simple radio-controlled sockets

The simplest version of radio-controlled sockets can be found in every hardware store, as can the timers mentioned above. Such inexpensive radio-controlled sockets usually use the 433 MHz band. In some cases, the manufacturers also supply special remote controls for the adapter plugs. Such sets consist, for example, of several radio-controlled sockets including remote control and are not expensive, but are available for around 30 euros.

With such a remote control, however, there is another handheld device lying around in your apartment. In addition, these simple radio-controlled sockets can neither be operated while on the move nor linked to other devices in a smart home. So they are anything but smart and instead complete stand-alone solutions.

A more practical approach is to operate the adapter plugs from a smartphone or a landline phone, as is the case, for example, with the adapter plugs from AVM: These can be operated with a Fritz phone.

Flush-mounted, surface-mounted / surface-mounted, adapter plug

If you renovate your apartment or house, you can replace the usual non-smart wall sockets with intelligent sockets such as the Homematic wireless switching actuator 1-gang. But for the majority of users, switchable adapter plugs that are plugged into the existing socket are likely to be the most practical. Firstly, you can use these adapter plugs immediately and without structural measures. Second, they can be removed again without any problems - this is a great advantage in rental apartments. And thirdly, no manual skills are required and no dangerous electrical work is required.

In this article, we therefore concentrate on radio-controlled sockets / adapter plugs for use in an existing wall socket.

Tip: tinker with intelligent radio-controlled sockets with the Raspberry Pi

Different technologies

Practically every supplier of smart home devices has intelligent, switchable sockets alias adapter plugs on offer. The individual devices differ, however, in the type of integration or connection and in their range of functions.

There are models that are connected to the router via WLAN and can then be switched from a smartphone. A special base station is not required for this. One example is the TP-Link HS-110 smart home WiFi socket. This saves money on purchase (no base station required) and maintenance (no additional electricity costs from the base station) - ideal for users who only need an intelligent socket and do not want any additional functions.