Understanding the Wireless Home

There are many myths about wireless technology, with one myth being that it uses no wires. To some degree this is true. On the other hand, no matter what wireless device is used, it will always require power which demands wiring.

Fundamentally there are eight types of wireless communication available for home controls or some variation of personal devices, and they are explained below.

Infrared. We have been using infrared control with our TV and cable TV hand-held remote controls for years. Simply aim the remote control device directly toward the TV or other audio/video device which will result in complete control of all functions. It is a line-of-sight device and can only be used in short distances.

WiFi. This is a commonly used term in reference to laptop computers and how they communicate wirelessly. The “802.11” standard is available in various types based on radio frequency bands. Data speed rates is a standard with cable modem and broadband access in the home.

Zigbee. Since its ratification in December 2004 and release in June 2005, Zigbee is one of the newer routed radio standards for wireless home controls communication. It is a star network-type communication method which employs a cluster of devices that communicate on a unified basis creating a very robust wireless control network. It can be found in many devices and is a low-power-consumption concept that promotes long battery life.

Z-Wave. In some respects Z-Wave is similar to Zigbee. It is a routed radio-only network that was designed for home control applications. It generally runs on a smaller network of 20 to 200 nodes but is similar in that it is a variation on the star network topology. Z-Wave is a low power consumption concept as well.

Bluetooth. Designed for extremely low power, but limited in range, Bluetooth radio is used primarily in communication and hands-free devices. It is not necessarily a low-cost solution for home controls. It has limited range but is excellent for personal connectivity.

WiMax. WiMax is a licensed broadband wireless-access technology that is intended as an alternative for cable or telephone DSL service. It utilizes a fixed, fiber-connected base station and transmits data to antenna or receiver boxes within the residence. It is not used for home control devices.

UWB. Ultra Wide Band or UWB is a short-range, high-speed wireless technology well suited for streaming media and video. It is not used for home controls but provides exciting possibilities for the future of wireless high-definition video signal using the MPEG-2 format.

UHF. Ultra High Frequency or UHF is a long-standing standard for radio frequency signaling. It is used widely in security systems, lighting controllers, garage door openers, etc. It operates only intermittently and is a low-power technology with a limited range.

This is a basic overview but I hope it provides a simple understanding of what is currently in play for wireless control and connectivity for the home. Some of this technology has been around for a long time and some of it is new. Perhaps, if we are lucky, someday there will be a single standard. Until then plan on trusting your residential ESC partner to help guide you through your wireless needs. If you have the need for a partner but don’t yet have a solution, consult the CEDIA dealer member locator service at cedia.org.

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