Introduction to Wireless Home Automation

Woman controlling home utilities with digital tablet
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In the past, home automation was confronted with distance barriers in large homes and commercial buildings because the network was limited in how far the signals could travel. Differences in electrical wiring, called phases, required you to use phase couplers to bridge the signals from one electrical circuit to another. Large homes with longer wiring distances experienced weak signals and sporadic performance.

At times it seemed like you needed a degree in electrical engineering to make it all work.

Home automation enthusiasts have long reported to system designers that they wanted more features. Sure, turning on the lights with a remote control from across the room was great, but what about turning off the TV upstairs in the kids' room when it’s time for them to go to sleep?

Wireless Avoids Electrical Wiring Issues

Homeowners with large homes or powerline wiring issues have found wireless to be a new solution for building and expanding their home automation systems. With the use of wireless devices, electrical wiring issues become a problem of the past:

  • When using radio frequency (RF) wireless systems, wiring differences do not apply.
  • With using hybrid systems (involving RF and powerline wiring), plugging a “dual device” RF and powerline interface into each circuit bridges the different systems together effortlessly. Installation is as easy as simply plugging the right device into the right outlet.

    How Wireless Home Automation Increases Network Reach

    Wireless also overcomes distance barriers. Powerline systems like X10 have been notoriously susceptible to signal loss and outside interference. Simply put, the farther the signal travels, the more likely it is to degrade.

    Engineers recognized as they designed the new wireless specifications that by making each active device a repeater, the distance barrier was broken.

    Every active wireless home automation device repeats every signal it hears. While the methods to accomplish this vary with each manufacturer (INSTEON, ZigBee, or Z-Wave), the result is longer distances the signal can travel. (Note, however, that the reach is not infinite; wireless devices are designed to only repeat signals across a maximum of three devices before the signal dies.)

    Wireless Technology Beyond The Home

    Because of their physical size, most commercial buildings have been unable to take advantage of automation technologies until wireless came onto the scene. With wireless, new uses in retail stores, assisted living facilities, hotels, and office environments have become a reality. Just as in the home, using active wireless devices bridges electrical wiring differences in commercial buildings easily, and with built-in repeater capability, wireless automation devices increase system reliability over longer distances.