Home Automation Sucks 2

by Colin Berkshire

My continued rant on Home Automation. It is complicated, inflexible, and clunky.

I bring this up in a telecommunications-centric blog because I think the problems in home Automation are very much the same ones that have caused the entire Telecommunications industry to suffer a slow death.

Homes have WiFi. Every home that would like Home Automation has WiFi. That is, 100% of all homes where a customer could benefit through the use of smart modules, smart switches, and smart things like TVs and Satellite have WiFi. Am I clear here? WiFi is omnipresent in high-tech homes.

WiFi is designed to allow things to talk to each other, and to talk across the Internet. The TCP/IP protocol and WiFi make it very easy for anything to talk to anything in your home.

So if you were building a Home Automation System wouldn’t you just naturally assume that all of these smart switches and smart plugs and your TV and Satellite would all just talk to each other using a common protocol and via WiFi? Of course you would. Every light switch, every outlet, and certainly your stereo could be connected using WiFi and TCPIP. I know I am dwelling on his point, but read on…

The Home Automation industry first had the X-10 protocol. That died because, well, a protocol that can send 20 bits per second is stupid. Next came UPB. It was an improved protocol but was a little proprietary and well, it just died for many practical reasons.

After that there was Insteon. This was a real leap forward because it was reliable and fast and capable. For a while it was the clear winner, and from a technology standpoint it is still probably the best protocol out there. But it was proprietary and a closely held secret. The owners of Insteon wanted to have 100% of a very small pie. And, over time Insteon faded because only one manufacturer supported it.

Later, the automation industry got together to find some way to allow devices to talk with each other using a common protocol. They thought really, really hard. The best minds of companies like Leviton and GE got together to see if there was some possible way that devices could communicate. Oh, gosh, they thought very hard. How could it be done? What possible answer could be created to let things communicate…

And, then they invented Z-Wave! They actually invented an open protocol that uses a special frequency that only they could communicate over. And, this special frequency and protocol had a range of (wait for it) 30 feet under real-world conditions. Why, devices could talk to each other as long as they were THIRTY feet apart (so they naturally advertised a 100 foot range under ideal conditions…never mind your shed that is 101 feet away.)


Why didn’t they use the Internet? Why didn’t they use the WiFi that is already in everybody’s home? Are they brain dead? (Answer: No, they are Myopic).

If these vendors had gotten together and had the brilliant revelation that WiFi could be used, then all of their devices could talk. They could talk to themselves. They could talk to your computer. They could talk across the world. They could talk to service companies, security companies, or anywhere. You could have a light switch that when you turned it on would tell Amazon to order toilet paper (Amazon could track how many hours you had the bathroom light on and probably calculate when you needed toilet paper.)

Is it just beyond comprehension how amazing it would be if everything could communicate? A light switch could tell my stereo to turn on, and it could tell the TV to turn on, and that could close the drapes, and the satellite dish could be tuned. My satellite receiver could then communicate to my popcorn maker so that popcorn would be ready right in the middle of a movie…and my electric blanket could turn on so the bed was warm when the movie was over.

But no, these &*^$#*) engineers decided to come up with a new, incompatible, proprietary protocol called Z-Wave Plus that can’t talk to anything. And, it has a &*&^$ 30 foot range!

Boy does this sound like the telecom industry in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Proprietary everything, incompatible everything.