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|Zigbee vs Insteon – Home-Ready or Hype-Riddled?|
|Written by Peter|
There are a plethora of products out there that claim to be able to convert your home into the dream house you imagine it to be. Auto-closing curtains, lighting that adapts to your mood, you know the drill. For years, Zigbee has been working on refining its wireless, ‘self-organizing mesh network’ technologies outside of the scope of home automation, preferring to target the commercial groups and applications by providing kits for product developers rather than the end-user products themselves.
Zigbee has always been more of a standard (802.15) than a brand name, which is why you won’t find much when searching for ‘Zigbee products’ and they’ve created 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’s taken about 9 years for the Zigbee concept to ratify itself into a standard, but now that it’s there, who is using it and how does it stack up?
Who’s using it?
Arguably the most prominent company utilizing Zigbee technology behind its product offering is Control4, who makes a variety of lighting switches and controls. The difficulty with the Control4 product lineup (and most Zigbee products) is that they are primarily sold offline through installers who would like nothing more than to provide you with a $20,000 quote for your home automation needs. While there are some advantages to having a professional do your installation, the majority of people researching Zigbee for their home are looking for a DIY solution as installing a light-switch isn’t overly complicated for this crowd. This is where Zigbee falls short when comparing to other technologies in the arena.
How does it stack up?
Regarding the technology itself, Zigbee has always had a focus on ultra low power consumption which made it ideal for battery operated devices or locations where wiring would be difficult. Extending this methodology to the home isn’t a difficult stretch, many homeowners would love to be able to add light-switches to new locations without running wires, and Zigbee has an advantage for battery life over the other technologies in this arena. Another advantage is that Zigbee is an open standard, so a single manufacturer going out of business isn’t going to leave a bunch of unsupported devices in its wake, something that may be especially likely recently given our economic times.
The single biggest strike against Zigbee that I see is that the sheer quantity and availability of other competing devices in comparison makes Zigbee look like it has lost the fight. Delays in standardizing while other technologies like Insteon, Z-Wave and X10 brought products to market has left Control4 and other manufacturers to play catch-up. An example of this is lighting switches, of which Control4 offers a total of (ironically) four. Essentially you get your pick of a basic in-wall dimmable switch, a non-dimmable in-wall switch, or the two-corresponding plug-in devices (for lamps etc).
I’m a big fan of open standards, and I hope very much that 2009 is the year that Zigbee emerges from the shadows and begins to compete on the home automation stage in a big way, but it has a tremendous amount of catching up to do. Surveying the landscape, I would suggest that we’re going to see two camps emerge: Those companies who figure that home automation is too complicated for average people to install (and therefore will only sell to installers) – This market will continue to be dominated by the likes of Creston, AMX, HAI etc.