One of the words that gets thrown around a lot in home automation, and many other electronic systems, is “wireless.”
There is no question that people want wireless technology. They associate “wires” with clutter, confusion and trip hazards. They think of wireless as cleaner, more up to date technology.
The problem is, wireless can mean a lot of different things, especially in home automation. It can mean a signal travelling by radio frequency or a signal travelling by infrared. It can mean a system that actually isn’t wireless at all, but hides the wires so you can’t see them. It can also mean a system that depends on a strong internet signal to function, or it could mean a system that operates completely independent of the internet.
There’s a reason you should care. The type of wireless system can have a major affect on the cost, performance and reliability of your home automation system.
How do you make wires disappear, and what is the best system for you? Time to learn a bit about the different ways to make the wires go away.
This is wireless in so far as you don’t see the wires, but they’re still there. A perfect example of this is in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. In almost every home automation system, they are wired, but you don’t see the cable. The reason they are wired is twofold. 1. It gets them a strong reliable signal. 2. If they weren’t wired, they would have to be powered somehow, and that would mean there would still be a wire running to them, but a much more expensive one. There are wireless rechargeable speakers, often used outdoors, that accept signal from a radio frequency transmitter or in some models, a bluetooth signal. (Bluetooth is simply a different form of radio frequency in the short wave band that needs no license. It is intended for Personal Area Networks – usually personal electronics at close distances.) But rechargeable speakers are not practical in your ceiling. Wired speakers will still be with us for the foreseeable future.
In some home automation systems, the video signals are also carried on hidden wires. Current technology allows huge amounts of data to travel on a single Cat6 or fibre optic cable. This is often the best way to carry many signals to a television. The small single cable is hidden in the wall.
Wall mounted touch screens may also be connected to a single cable to give them power and to send control signals, but once again the wires are hidden. It’s the same for powered shades. They require only a small low voltage cable to power and control them, and it’s easily hidden.
The oldest of the home wireless controls is infrared – which is simply light at a frequency too low to see. Since 1950, it has been wirelessly controlling home devices. It is cheap to make and virtually every home entertainment device from projectors to TV’s to Blu-ray players has an infrared sensor in it. While it may be inexpensive, it has its drawbacks. The major one is that is has to see the device its controlling. If you don’t have line of sight, you can’t use it. Think of the times the TV remote didn’t work, and you had to wave it around (and maybe slapped it a couple of times) before getting it to function. Oddly, the most popular work-around for this problem is to use a wire. The technician puts a wired InfraRed probe on the device you want to control, then patches it into a radio frequency system. Infrared will be with us for a long time, but it isn’t practical to base a whole-home control system on it.
This is still the go-to wireless technology for home automation. There are a couple of variations on this signal, and they each have their problems and benefits.
This is the method that turns your home into a completely independent broadcast and receiving system. Used by top-quality manufacturers like Crestron and AMX, it receives and broadcasts the signals on a frequency that is completely separate from cell phones, computers and your neighbour’s garage door opener. The advantage is the strong signal and the obvious fact that as long as you have electricity, you have control of the system.
There are some less expensive systems that leverage the wireless internet signal that many people already have in their homes. In some cases, this is contolled by a PC using software by companies like HAI Controls, or Thinking Home Software for Mac. The obvious advantage is the lower cost. The downside is that you are completely dependant on your Internet Service Provider to make your home function. If you’ve ever had an outage from your ISP, you know the risks involved in trusting the operation of your house to this technology
This is the next generation of wireless control. Crestron is one of the companies on the leading edge of this technology. They worked closely with Microsoft to find a way to make Kinect-style motion sensing system practical for home use. That means no remotes or touch panels at all. Simply gesture with your hand and control your home. Some people are a bit uneasy with this technology, but this year at Infocomm, expect to see hundreds of new devices that work with the wave of your hand.
When deciding on the right technology for your application, there is no substitute for expertise. When it comes time to automate, contact the experts at OneTouch Automation to make sure your wireless system, and every other part of your smarthome, is exactly what