April 06, 2015

What makes INSTEON more reliable than other automation technologies (and what can make it fail)

Unlike some previous automation technologies, INSTEON communications will tolerate a fair amount of power line or RF noise interference and signal degradation.  The illustration below shows how INSTEON signals are communicated between INSTEON Power Line, RF, and Dual Band devices.

 Also, many (not all) INSTEON devices use both power line and Radio Frequency (RF) communication to provide a second, parallel path for communications to travel.  All other technologies use only RF or only power line communication.  The result is an automation network that is extremely robust and reliable under most circumstances.

The signals can take multiple paths and hop between multiple INSTEON devices to provide very reliable communications.  Every INSTEON device is also a repeater of INSTEON signals thereby, increasing the overall INSTEON signal level.

Think of it like trying to communicate with a friend across a large room at a noisy party.  Your friend can't hear you when you speak however, if everyone next to you repeats what you say in unison and everyone next to them repeats it again...well, you get the idea.  When your friend receives your message, he/she acknowledges and the acknowledgement is passed back in a similar fashion.  If you don't receive the acknowledgement for any reason, you simply try again.

There can still be some situations when the noise is too great for even the person standing next to you to hear.  Imagine jet aircraft taking off in the middle of the party.  Unlike the party scenario, you can't actually hear the power line noise with your ears, it's a much, much higher frequency so the only indication you have of its presence is when you experience problems with your INSTEON network.  I have seen this happen in the presence of a defective or poorly designed electrical appliances like a small, inexpensive, plug-in power supply used to recharge cell phones and other mobile devices, and power tools.  I have, also, noticed this happens with power supplies associated with cable TV set top boxes, cable and DSL modems.  Less common causes are routers, laptop computers, and printers.  I have even heard of faulty florescent lighting, dimmer switches, TVs, and even an occasional refrigerator creating  unacceptable levels of power line noise.

Isolating the source of the noise can sometimes be a little challenging, but there are some tips to make the task a little easier.  Look for a troubleshooting blog on "Finding power line noise."

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