Before you automate, consider your Wi-Fi network. Do you get good signal strength drinking coffee on the patio?

Yesterday I left off my home automation series with the various protocols to consider. There are a number of things you have to evaluate as you walk down the path of automation. The links are to articles that cover in great depth the what and why of the specific protocols.

· Zigbe

· X-10


· Z-Wave

· Insteon

· Wi-Fi

· Smart Wi-Fi

clip_image002When I started in IT many years ago wireless communication was in its infancy. It was effectively packet radio (Mobius) and had a very small range. The advent of Wi-Fi changed the IT infrastructure radically. It also changed the home reality. First off I won’t bore you with the reality of transmission. Just remember the following simple rules:

· Walls stop signals

· Concrete blocks signals more than standard structural walls

· No matter what the signal only goes so far – even if the first two items aren’t blocking it

Back in the day we called it clear line of site. Not as required today but still something to think about. Before you start automating your home check the signal strength. The best way to do that is to take a laptop or tablet and go to parts of your house. Lay the device down and run one of the many Internet speed tests. Do this in every part of your house. You will find that there are parts of your house that are 5 by 5 or full strength Wi-Fi. Other areas will have decreased signal.

clip_image004You may choose with your automation project to include panels where you can access the features of the automation system anywhere in the house as well as from your computer or tablet. The devices used for input consume Wi-Fi and frankly if you don’t have a strong signal they won’t stay connected.

So before you start automation plan a network upgrade in your home. Not wiring every room with cat6 cable, but making sure you have solid Wi-Fi signals in the various rooms of the house. Game consoles, televisions, computers, tablets, cell phones and IoT devices mostly connect via one of the protocols listed above. Predominately Wi-Fi as it is more ubiquitous than the others in homes.

clip_image006The next thing to consider is which project you are going to start with. Knowing that you are going to need a bridge if you choose anything other than Wi-Fi. A bridge is a device you connect to your Wi-Fi that supports and translates other protocols. You could have a bridge that can translate most of the protocols on my list above. I have an Almond device in my house currently that does catch and convert most of the signals and protocols above. My smart hub or home automation system uses Zigbe as its primary protocol for device communication, but Wi-Fi for its primary presentation protocol (the control panels in the house and on various mobile devices). To have the strength required from the network we are using two apple airports in the house. They are connected to the wired network so as to be able to relay and increase the reliability of the Wi-Fi signal in the house.

The very first project to undertake is a Wireless network evaluation. How good is your Wi-Fi signal in the recesses and corners of your house? If you intend eventually to use the space and know you will have IoT devices, check your signal. If you drink coffee on your deck – make sure you have Wi-Fi there!


Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow.

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