TECHNOLOGY BASICS: What are Smart Plugs?

Technology Overview
Control when your appliances receive power

A smart plug is a power receptacle that plugs into a traditional electrical outlet, typically a wall outlet, and provides the ability to turn on and off the power supplied to the appliance plugged into it. Smart plugs connect to the Internet wirelessly and can be managed remotely via a web interface or a mobile application. The web interface or mobile application enables users to manage all the connected smart plugs at one site or even across multiple sites altogether through one interface.

Common functionalities of smart plugs include the abilities to:

  • Turn on/off power to the plugged appliance from anywhere over Internet
  • Create customized settings to control multiple smart plug devices
  • Program schedules that fit daily needs to turn on/off the appliance
  • Provide real-time and historical (hourly, daily, monthly, etc.) energy usage monitoring
  • Send an alert, through email or text message, and/or shut off supply power when the current drawn by the plugged appliance exceeds a specified threshold

Smart plugs may establish connectivity using Wi-Fi or other standardized or proprietary wireless communication protocols depending on the specific product model. Wi-Fi smart plugs can connect directly to the wireless routers or access points managed by an organization that are already in place for Internet connection. Smart plugs utilizing other wireless communication protocols, such as Zigbee, Z-Wave, etc., typically require a gateway. In this case, the smart plugs connect to the gateway and form a local network, and the gateway connects to the Internet, either via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, to provide Internet access to the smart plugs.