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Home Automation Alliances
Systems Must Talk to Each Other
Home automation systems must talk to one another, but how they do it can vary from company to company and product to product. On the most basic level, communications are relayed via wiring or radio waves. Structured wiring is an option, as is powerline carrier (PLC) technology, which uses the home’s existing electrical wiring, or radio frequency (RF) technology.
RF and PLC manufacturers and providers are forming alliances in an attempt to become the standard within the home automation industry. Their goal is to convince consumers to buy into their technology and purchase their products. Since the RF side of home automation is still fairly young, their alliances are hoping to capture the market. Homeowners looking to automate their homes should understand alliances and how they affect products and services before deciding to purchase.
How Alliances Impact Homeowners
An alliance is a group of companies that have agreed to support a particular technology or standard with their services and products. The three big alliances in the home-automation industry are ZigBee, INSTEON, and Z-Wave. Each alliance features a particular technology or chip that functions as the common denominator for the RF- or PLC-enabled products they choose to offer. Just as computer software is compatible with other software that uses the same operating system, compatible alliance products are integrated into a home-automation system and can interface with one another. Lighting controls can talk to thermostat controls from another company because they all share the same operating system and language. This makes a total home-automation system possible.
Without a link to bind products together, an automated home would be a series of appliances, each needing its own programming. Z-Wave, a technology originally developed by the chip developer Zensys, has an alliance with 160 members all using the same interface. The benefits to the consumer are obvious: greater product selection and a guaranteed interface.
But homeowners should always verify that every product offered by an alliance member is compatible with their existing system and products from other member companies. Honeywell is part of the ZigBee Alliance, for example, but not all Honeywell products are compatible with those of the other alliance members. Compatibility is usually designated by an alliance logo on the product package or in the literature.
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