Home Automation Technologies

Home automation has really taken off in recent years because of the improvements in networking and wireless networking technologies. The arrival of broadband Internet, with its 'always on' network connection to your home has made so much more possible than could be acheived with a dial-up Internet connection too. The arrival of Super Fast Broadband (SFBB) is taking home automation to the next level.

Android@Home

This technology is the subject of a project but, it has still yet to become a public technology for use in home automation and entertainment.

Bluetooth

Covered in detail on a separate Bluetooth page.

Byron

Covered in detail on a separate Byron page.

Clipsal Cbus

Covered in detail on a separate C-Bus page.

Dallas 1-Wire

Covered in detail on a separate 1-Wire page.

Ethernet IO

These are Ethernet connected I/O boards that provide input and outputs that can be monitored and controlled remotely, via communication over the network. Typically they have a number of digital inputs and outputs. Some also suppport analogue inputs, relays for higher power switching, serial ports, 1-wire interfaces, etc. Some also support 'power over Ethernet' to avoid running a separate power supply to the device.

Infra-Red

Infra-red because it is an old and simple technology but this is not a reason to rule it out. It's also one of the cheapest and most reliable for line of sight control. Many of the remotes and universal remotes use this technology and controllers exist to integrate these remotes into your home automation designs.

LightwaveRF

Covered in detail on a separate LightwaveRF page.

Insteon

Covered in detail on a separate INSTEON page.

Powerline

Powerline technologies utilises the existing mains wiring in your home and use it to send communications messages. There are a few downsides with this technology. The first one is that it won't work in the event of a power cut. The second one is that your mains power network has all sorts of devices plugged into it that generate interference and can reduce the reliability of communications sent over the mains power network. A third issue is that your mains network is electrically connected to that of you neighbours and if they are using similar equipment, this can also interfere with your system. Different powerline technologies can also often not co-exist happily in the same home.

Powerline Ethernet technology allows you to network devices using adaptors plugged into mains power sockets. Speeds of up to 200Mbps are currently available and newer standards will enable speeds up to 380Mbps.

Structured Wiring

Structured wiring is a concept where all wires and cabling run from one single point in your home, to enable communications, entertainment and home automation. Structured wiring is the network for all of these services and is where you would typically install your home automation system. The approach allows flexible use of the installed networking cables and simply reconfiguration to support new services and requirements.

One of the main benefits of structured wiring is its inherent network capability. The frequency which the wires are capable of transmitting is often referred to as the bandwidth. Category 3 (Cat-3) cable is rated up to 16MHz. Category 5 (Cat-5) cable is more common in the UK and is rated to 100MHz. In a new build Category 6 (Cat-6) wiring is now most likely to be used, as it supports Gigabit Ethernet and bandwidths of over 500Mhz. It is ideal for people who wish to install large or complex home automation systems and transmit high-definition video around their home.

If you are considering home automation in a new house build, the question is not whether you should install structured wiring but one of how much and of what quality. The higher the quality of the cabling you use, the more superior your system will be and the more future-proof it will be. You may not need all of the capabilities that advanced cables can provide right away, but they might be just what you want in 5 years time. Because it is very expensive to upgrade your system retrospectively, your best bet is to think about your the future today.

You might want to read our section on cabling and ducting.

Wi-Fi

We don't really consider Wi-Fi as a serious home automation technology. It uses too much power and is not resilient and reliable enough for 'mission critical' control and automation. Many devices sometimes struggle to connect, even massively popular devices like iPhones and iPads. It is susceptible to many forms of interference and many sources of congestion. It has limited (and often unpredictable) range and is a point to point networking technology (though you can use repeaters).

Having said that, it is extremely useful for high bandwidth applications and casual control and is a ubiquitous technology found in pretty much every home. It is also worth noting that many devices switch off Wi-Fi radios to conserve power and this can include hubs and routers.

X10

Covered in detail on a separate X10 page.

ZigBee

ZigBee is more of a standard (802.15) than a brand name, which is why you won't find much when searching for 'Zigbee products'. There is an entire framework for development with the ZigBee Alliance, ZigBee PRO standard and ZigBee Home Automation application profile. The idea is that by making life simpler for product developers we will see a variety of competing brands offering every product the consumer could imagine. It has taken many years for the ZigBee concept to ratify itself into a standard.

One of the main companies using ZigBee technology is Control4, who sell a variety of lighting switches and controls. The main issue with their product set is that they are primarily sold through installers and not for a DIY solutions.

One of the key advantages of ZigBee is its very low power consumption, which made it ideal for battery operated devices and locations where wiring would be difficult. Another advantage is that ZigBee is an open standard, so in theory there is no dependency on a single manufacturer or supplier.

Z-Wave

Covered in detail on a separate Z-Wave page.

Further Reading

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