Insteon is real

by Gordon Meyer

I've previously written about Insteon, a new home automation technology from the folks at Smarthome, Inc. As I said nearly a year ago, it holds a lot of promise because it's the first technology that aims to supplant X10 by working with it, instead of replacing it. Personally, I think this is a good strategy since it allows established home automators to keep their investment in X10 going, while gently switching over to a more robust solution.

What makes Insteon appealing is that it's wireless. While X10 technology cleverly piggy-backs its signals on your AC electrical lines, doing that has always been problematic because certain devices are known to "pollute" the power line with electrical noise. (Yes, I'm looking at you, Mr. ThinkPad Power Supply.) By moving the control signals over-the-air, devices should be more responsive and less prone to error.

The Insteon Starter Kit sells for $99 and includes a remote control, two lamp modules, and two repeaters that bridge your power line signals, which will improve the reliability of your old X10 devices too. What's not included is a computer-to-Insteon interface, so at this point you're really just making it more convenient to control the lights and not really automating them, but the Insteon SDK and interface was also recently released, so things in the software world should improve soon.

Perhaps at the Smart Homes session at WWDC we'll have some more Insteon news to discuss. If you're already an Insteon user, come by the session and share your experiences. I should also have an update about how I'm making out with another wireless automation contender, Z-Wave.

Does Insteon have what it takes?


2005-05-19 15:08:32
I don’t know how I feel about making my home susceptible to remote control by any kid with a laptop and something like AirSnort. Are the risks we have to accept when we let electronics proliferate in yet another areas of our lives a reasonable trade-off for the conveniences we get in return? Maybe I’m a luddite, but to me, it just doesn’t feel that way.

See also a very apropos web comic.

Gordon Meyer
2005-12-05 09:54:51
Hi folks, the nice folks at Smarthome have let me know that INSTEON offers improved signal reliability, but it cannot improve the reliability of X10 signals. So, you only get the benefit when you're using the new protocol.
2005-12-13 02:07:09
Insteon is real, but not quite wireless...
You mention that Insteon is a wireless technology, unlike X10, and I believe you fell for the same media spin that I did. I currently have about 40 Insteon switches installed in my home and am very satisfied with them. However, Insteon only "couples over RF". The technology it uses to communicate from switch to switch or PowerLinc to switch, etc. is closer to using DSL modem technology over power line. The only time RF is used is when you need the Insteon power line signal to jump to the other phase of the power in your home. X10 used couplers to make this happen and Insteon uses RF.
2005-12-13 02:20:52
Insteon is real, but not quite wireless...
I should have added above that Insteon dimmer and relay switches do not have wireless transceivers in them and only communicate via powerline. To my knowledge, only the 2442 SignaLink ( does for the purpose of allowing Insteon to make the jump between power phases. In the future I'm sure there will be other wireless products (keychains, sensors, etc.) that communicate with the SignaLincs to allow access to the Insteon network.
Gordon Meyer
2005-12-13 07:53:53
Insteon is real, but not quite wireless...
Thanks very much for sharing your experiences and knowledge. I agree that in the last 6 months since Insteon shipped we've all learned more about it, but your usage is among the largest I've heard of (number of units) so I'm delighted to have you post about it. In your experience, is Insteon more robust when it comes to noise and signal problems? That is, are you finding that the powerline portion is any improvement?
2005-12-13 15:07:33
Insteon is real, but not quite wireless...
So far so good with the powerline portion. I don't have much to compare it to, however, I installed them into a new construction home so there was no existing X10 network to compare it to. I actually have somewhere between 5 and 10 more dimmers/relays to install. I did a weekends worth of testing with the Controlinc and didn't have any problems or areas of the house that were unreachable. My next big test for Insteon will be when the Insteon plugin is available for Homeseer. I use MainLobby SW running on Nobu in-wall and tablet PCs to interface to my home and once the HS plugin is done I should theoretically be able to control all of the lighting from there. I will keep you posted.
2005-12-26 19:30:53
Insteon is real, but not quite wireless...
I just ordered my first Insteon kit and am looking forward to getting a little more reliability. I am thinking about purchasing the 199.00 Media Center Software and controller. ANy experience out there on this one. I currently am using the HomeVision controller for my house and Home Theater.

My goal is to control the house with touch screens in each room. From what I am seeing, I don't really see one out there the meets my needs, so a custom system written in c or vb may be my answer.