Enter The Wireless World of Home Automation

Aug. 2, 2018
It takes less time to install a wireless system, which means your customer gets a fast security upgrade

For the past 100+ years, society has relied on the use of metallic cable for electricity, communication, security, environmental control, entertainment, access control, and many others. For electrical power, Romex continues to serve the home, THHN and other kinds of metallic cable are still used in commercial and industrial applications, but everything else is turning to wireless.

In the area of communications, metallic station and inside network wire, as well as fiber-optic cable, have long acted as a bi-directional conduit for two-way speech as well as data. Metallic shielded coaxial cable also has served its purpose well, providing a means of transport for entertainment and video surveillance in both commercial and residential settings.

For good or bad, use of all these cable types are coming to an eventual end as engineers and manufacturers seek to replace them with wireless technology. Many of them have already gone by the wayside as society at large run at breakneck speed toward an all-wireless world.

In this Locksmith Ledger article we’ll look at some of the most common wireless technologies in use today within what has affectionately come to be known as the “Smart Home.” We’ll also discuss the important aspects of what wireless technology has added to the process of automating today’s home.

Like most of the aforementioned, in-home electronic systems, short-range wireless intrusion detection technology entered the picture in the mid-to-late 1970s when a wireless door/window transmitter was released to the market. Although this was a good first effort, the tech was clunky and there was no way to isolate signals so you could quickly determine the exact transmitter that caused an alarm, In simple terms, it created a nightmare leading many veteran alarm installers to dismiss wireless as a viable option for many, many years, including the author.

In due time, the bugs were worked out of the product and through additional innovation it was possible to determine a transmitter’s identity using a unique transmitter ID (identification) number. Companies began to pop up here and there, such as Capricorn, ITI (Interactive Technologies Inc.) and Inovonics, Today, almost every security equipment manufacturer features wireless as an integral part of their product line.

For the locksmith, wireless is a godsend because it allows you to provide quality, professionally-installed systems without investing in all the equipment traditionally needed to install a house full of metallic cable. Not only that, but you’re spared from the learning curve usually associated with fishing all the walls in a home with wire.

It may be surprising to you, but from the customer’s point of view, the overall cost of a wireless system is usually about the same as that of a wired system. Where the cost of labor may be less than a wired system, the cost of the wireless equipment is higher than that of wired systems.

However, there are several advantages realized by installing wireless that your new clients will like and want. First, there are no unsightly wires to worry over. Second, there is hardly any cleanup to contend with because there are no sizable holes to drill. And third, it takes less time to install a wireless system, which means the customer gets what he wants quicker.

Using wireless also makes it easier to quote a system because the labor is more predictable. Last but not least, from a system take-over and upgrade vantage point, you can now take over almost any existing wireless system with very little additional effort.

There was a day when it was impossible for one manufacturer’s wireless system to work with another manufacturer’s wireless components. Not so today. For example, Alula of Hudson, WI, makes a device called a ‘Translator’ that can interpret the radio signals from one system’s wireless, converting them into a format you can use with the wireless system you use. A similar device can convert hardwired cable inputs into wireless signals, thus converting a previously wired alarm system into a fully wireless one.

Wireless Technology & SMB

Aside from the short-range wireless discussed in the previous section, there are a hand full of wireless technologies that you need to know about when choosing a wireless platform for home security and automation. One of the reasons that this is important involves the compatibility of the electromechanical (electronic) locks you use and that of the wireless technologies available to you with the wireless platform of choice.

There are six basic wireless technologies in place that the residential security and automation markets commonly employ for an assortment of purposes in and outside the home. They are:

  1. Bluetooth
  2. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
  3. Near Field Communication (NFC)
  4. Z-Wave
  5. ZigBee
  6. Wi-Fi

At the center of all these wireless technologies is a WAP (Wireless Access Point), which connects via hardwire to a centralized control system, most typically contained within the home, but it also can be part of a Cloud-based PaaS (Platform as a Service) offering. This type of system also increases your RMR (Recurring Monthly Revenue) opportunities in addition to the 24/7 monitoring that many homeowners want. In the case of Wi-Fi, the WAP is widely known as a “wireless router.” For more information on Wi-Fi, go to http://bit.ly/2KHmWjE.

PaaS precludes the need to purchase high-priced equipment at the head-end, but the client will still have to pay for the peripheral equipment, such as keypads, electronic locks, electric locking hardware, power supplies, etc. Installation of these devices is traditionally performed using common metallic cable. Today's systems, however, include a wireless means of sending access signals back and forth throughout the system.

Bluetooth/BLE and NFC

Most of us already know one thing or another about classic Bluetooth™. It’s commonly used to stream music and conversation from your smartphone to an earpiece. It will link a wireless keyboard and mouse to a laptop. In addition, Bluetooth™ Low Energy (BLE™) technology is commonly used to transfer information between a fitbit watch and a smartphone, or a home automation platform and a variety of sensors in the home. Together, they form what is known as a Personal Area Network (PAN).

Bluetooth™ and BLE™ are similar but different. For one, they are not compatible even though they both operate in the 2.4 GHz unlicensed ISM (Industrial, scientific, and medical) frequency band. Where traditional Bluetooth™ is used to stream relatively large amounts of information in a short period of time; music or email, typically at 100 ms; BLE is designed to transmit smaller amounts of data over a much shorter period of time, typically 1 or 2 ms. Data rates also vary--typically 125 kbit/s to 1 or 2 Mbit/s with BLE versus 1 to 3 Mbit/s with classic Bluetooth.

BLE, released to the market in 2011, is designed to save energy by remaining asleep while always on. It provides short-range M2M (Machine-to-Machine) and manual control signaling, as from a smartphone or a GUI (Graphic User Interface) inside the home or that of a smartphone. Examples of M2M include temperature and water-level sensors. Both flavors of Bluetooth uses Spread Spectrum frequency hopping -- 800 hops per second over 79 channels, each 1 MHz in bandwidth with classic Bluetooth versus 40 channels, each 2 MHz in bandwidth with BLE.

BLE is an ideal technology for electronic lock control not only in residential settings, but also for SMBs (Small to Mid-sized Businesses). Smartphones loaded with the right app can open and lock the door at the click of a soft button, they can turn lights on and off, view video cameras, and control alarm systems. And, using NFC, all the user need do is present his/her smartphone to the door lock (within 4 inches) and it, too, will automatically unlock the door.

Transmission distance of both is up to 330 feet, although a more practical distance is 30 to 100 feet may be realized, depending on the environment. BLE, however, exhibits a mesh-like capability, enabling signals sent by one device to be picked up and repeated by another, thus assuring that the messages get through.

For more information on classic Bluetooth™ and BLE, go to http://bit.ly/2oaIbyR and http://bit.ly/2z8gP6y respectively. Additional information on NFC can be found at http://bit.ly/2MHP1Ih.

ZigBee Vs. Z-Wave

Early need for ZigBee and Z-Wave was, and still is, based on the need to control electronic locks -- something that some of you, as a locksmith, already install and service. Alarm control panels, for instance, are programmed to communicate with various locks using pre-engineered protocols which are often specific to certain makes and model locks.

“Stand-alone [electronic] locks are the perfect application for security integration. The event history and real time notifications of when the locks are used, when the locks are tampered with and the ability to remotely lock or unlock is sometimes a life saver,” says Dennis Kobasuk, owner of D&D Lock Service located in Middleburg Hts., Ohio. “We now have the ability to allow access to our homes without releasing any codes. We can also provide a single use code, a code with an expiration [date/time], or we can simply remove the code at any point--all from our smart phone, tablet, or computer.”

ZigBee and Z-Wave are short-range transmission technologies used not only to control electronic locks, but also to monitor and control other aspects of the home. Either one commonly forms what is called a Home Area Network (HAN).

A quick comparison of the two reveals the fact that ZigBee operates over the same 2.4 GHz ISM frequency band that services Bluetooth™ and BLE™ while Z-Wave operates at 908.42 MHz. ZigBee also transmits data at a rate of 250 Mbits/s compared to Z-Wave’s 9.6 to 40 kbits/s. Transmission distances between two is perhaps the most striking--ZigBee moving data up to about 33 feet and Z-Wave up to approximately 98 feet. Of course, transmission distance will vary between environments based on what these signals have to pass through.

For more information on ZigBee and Z-Wave, go to http://bit.ly/2MFzM2A. You al so can contact the writer of this article by sending an email to [email protected].

 Wireless Home Automation/Security Platforms

 It’s imperative to have a wide selection of wireless home automation and security platforms in order to find the right one for your application. Please use the following list of manufacturers along with links to their websites.

2GiG (Nortek): Smart Home Control has been at the heart of all 2GIG panels since the very beginning. The new 2GIG GC3, the first Z-Wave Plus certified panel, makes working with smart home devices simpler than ever before. Programming new smart home devices is a snap with clear, step-by-step menus, saving time and money on every install. The security and automation chips have been built with a modular design, allowing for incorporation of other emerging solutions to stay current in the ever changing world of technology. For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/2KnaJVn.

Alarm.com: The leader in Smart Home Security, giving you solutions to monitor, protect and automate your clients’ homes. More than a smart app or a cool thermostat, Alarm.com seamlessly connects the key devices in the home on one platform — so they work together and work smarter. Each system is easily customized to a home’s unique configuration and your customer’s needs. Those that qualify become part of a network of Authorized Service Providers, able of selling the Alarm.com service platform thus increasing RMR. For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/2tM1EuH.

Alula (former ipdatatel and resolution products): Alula announced today the completion of advanced mobile app integrations that make security and automation simple and more intuitive. With the Alula app, security, smart devices, and video are seamlessly integrated creating a more engaging experience for consumers seeking more from their security solution. The Alula mobile applications will be available on iOS for the iPhone and iPad, and for Android phones, tablets and touchpads running version 4.1 and up. For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/2yZiiMF.

DMP: The DMP Virtual Keypad App for Apple TV Version 1.1 is now available in the App Store on 4th Generation and newer Apple TVs. The app is free to download and is included for current app users. The Apple TV App is a convenient way for current Virtual Keypad App users to monitor and control several system features from their TV screen. Simply download the App through the App Store on the Apple TV. For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/2MElM9q

DSC: Johnson Controls is pleased to announce that the DSC iotega wireless security and automation solution is adding support for Apple HomeKit, enabling consumers to manage not only their security system but also other home automation abilities using Apple’s Home app or Siri on their iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. The recently launched iotega system, from DSC, is an intuitive, completely wireless and fully secure system, using encrypted, long-range wireless PowerG sensors, which provides homeowners and small businesses the ultimate in reliable security and home control. For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/2KFUqlG.

Honeywell: Honeywell’s Tuxedo Touch functions as an advanced home security and automation controller, video camera/recorder and voice-enabled system. Your clients will enjoy easy, fingertip control of Z-Wave® enabled thermostats, lighting and locks—even view and record video—right at the magnificent, 7" full-color touchscreen. Tuxedo Touch can also respond to simple spoken commands— literally giving the home a voice and enabling convenient, hands-free operation. Your clients can even control their system on smartphones, tablets and other compatible devices. Tuxedo Touch makes a home more enjoyable—life easier—than anyone has ever dreamed possible. Welcome to the connected home! For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/2NlJl86.

Interlogix: The UltraSync system and mobile app give your client’s the flexibility and freedom to adjust security and home systems to match their unique lifestyle. UltraSync provides complete home protection from the inside out. The system easily incorporates additional security and home safety devices* for extra peace of mind. The UltraSync mobile app lets the client program and control their home’s lighting and heating schedule as required. The more efficiently your client’s home systems operate, the more money they will save. For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/2tTJtDN.

NAPCO: NAPCO Security Technologies, known for developing innovative technology and reliable security solutions, is pleased to announce the launch of their new, expanded Connected Home & Smart Business Authorized Dealer Program. Designed to provide traditional security dealers with everything needed to become Connected Home & Business Marketing & Technical Experts, this unique dealer program was created to help dealers take advantage of the rapidly growing, RMR-building, multibillion-dollar IoT connected home and business market. For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/2tWVPtL.

Qolsys: The award winning IQ Panel 2 is a 7” HD touchscreen with built-in 5MP camera and multiple wireless radios in a clean, elegant, modern user interface. The IQ Panel 2 keeps you connected to an entire ecosystem of smart devices giving you control over your entire home. Exciting new features like touchless disarming using Bluetooth and a built in glass break detector are enabled through powerful software that improves over time through regular software updates. For more information, go to: http://bit.ly/2MGWabQ