Wireless home automation is a relatively new concept when compared to the wired solutions that have been around for close to four decades. In what was really the first standards based approach to home control, X10, which uses a home’s existing electrical wiring to transmit commands, was an innovation in its time and is still widely supported. However, today’s wireless options are the answer to its inherent limitations.
As with all signals, X10’s become weaker as they travel further from the source and as a result functionality in large homes may suffer. In response to this dilemma, signal boosters are available, but determining precisely where one is necessary might require some investigating. This process can often require at least basic knowledge of the home’s wiring scheme as well as a signal strength meter. For installers, the equipment cost might make sense, but for a homeowner such a purchase is likely to be aggravating.
With wireless mesh networks, signal strength is more predictable. On Z-Wave networks, for example, a signal is more or less guaranteed within a range of about 30 meters, assuming no major obstructions. This range can be extended significantly with the introduction of additional devices into the network which act as repeaters. When obstructions do exist, mesh networks are able to determine the most efficient route to a particular device, ensuring connectivity throughout the home.
One of the most frequent concerns about wireless home solutions is that they will inevitably face interference from other devices occupying the airwaves. What’s interesting is that the performance of wired systems is considerably more likely to be impaired by interference.
This interference can come in the form of power line noise or signal attenuation by other electronic devices. In the case of the latter, devices such as computers, televisions, and even electric razors with built in power supplies may absorb signals before they ever reach their destination. Again, these problems owe to the technology’s design, which was intended for an error when home electronics hadn’t yet become entirely ubiquitous.
Of course, it is possible to address issues with noise and signal attenuation, but a proper fix will likely warrant the investment of time, effort, and cash for additional hardware (i.e., specially designed noise filters).
Wireless systems, on the other hand, are far less susceptible to interference than one might think. Take Z-Wave for example. Operating on the unlicensed 900 MHz band, interaction with cordless phones, mobile devices, and Wi-Fi routers virtually nonexistent.
What’s more, wireless signals are encrypted to avoid inadvertent (and sometimes intentional) interference with other users nearby.
There’s no doubt that X10 is a great example of making the most of what’s available. But because a home’s electrical system is designed to supply power, using it for home control can have unexpected consequences (We didn’t even mention how the system can behave differently depending on whether the stove is on or off). The wireless systems available today are designed to avoid these shortcomings. Mesh networks offer greater flexibility and range than wired systems at comparable prices. RF devices also do a great job of avoiding interference, despite some common misconceptions. For homeowners seeking an uncomplicated home networking solution, wireless provides the modern option.