The Nest thermostat received quite a bit of attention from the press for its sleek industrial design and features. It was the first such product to receive widespread press coverage. In addition to being a thermostat which can be controlled over Wi-Fi, it also maintains energy history and is advertised as a 'learning' thermostat. These type of value-add features justified the original introductory price of $250. The first generation Nest became very popular amongst consumers and the second generation version with updated hardware and compatibility was launched recently.

Nest, however, was far from the first device to enable thermostat control over Wi-Fi. As long as the 'smart learning' features are not needed, there are plenty of cheaper options available. Radio Thermostat's Wi-Fi enabled products (along with iPhone and Android apps) have been around since 2010. Radio Thermostat’s offerings can be accessed through well-documented APIs. This means that tech-savvy users can roll up their own control mechanism without being at the mercy of the iOS or Android app. Home Depot's 3M Filtrete 50 and the Homewerks CT-30 are rebadged versions of Radio Thermostat's offerings.

These units are cheaper than the Nest, though self-installation might be challenging for the average consumer. Other options for Wi-Fi / network enabled HVAC thermostats include the LockState Connect LS-60i WiFi Internet Programmable Thermostat. and the ecobee Smart Si / Smart Thermostat.

My colleague, Brian Klug, has been using the Nest thermostat for a number of months now, and he is a big fan of the device. GigaOM, while heaping praise on the device, does point out some issues with it in the context of a smart home. Being a standalone device, it can’t be controlled over the same interface as other HA components. While the review does recommend the Nest to people who currently have no HA system installed, I fear that the device would lead consumers down the path of a walled garden similar to what Apple has created in the computing landscape. To elaborate on this, consider the fact that the APIs for Radio Thermostat’s offerings are well documented. On the other hand, Nest refuses to provide similar details for their device. In fact, users have done some snooping to discover some of the bits and pieces. On the whole, the lack of official API documentation makes the whole scheme appear very complicated. In a larger sense, HA is about control as well as building a smarter and more efficient ecosystem. While Nest succeeds very well in the latter, we hope it will also integrate well with other HA devices.

Due to the closed nature of the Nest system, third-party developers may not find enough incentive to control it along with other Wi-Fi enabled HA components over a single interface. It is a pity that the lack of slick marketing and an attractive industrial design have relegated consumer-friendly devices such as Radio Thermostat’s offerings to a niche when compared to closed systems such as the Nest. Hopefully, as tech-savvy readers, we consider the bigger picture before choosing any HA device.

Coming back to the thermostats, we find that Radio Thermostat offers models with ZigBee or Z-Wave modules instead of Wi-Fi also. The thermostat itself is protocol-agnostic because of its support for U-SNAP bridges. Nest, on the other hand, went the non-standard route by integrating both Wi-Fi and ZigBee radios within the device itself. A look at the pricing of various U-SNAP modules online indicates that the Wi-Fi module costs around $10 more than the ZigBee and Z-Wave modules. However, Wi-Fi modules have the volume factor going in their favour. A downward movement in the pricing can be expected as multiple silicon vendors compete against each other in the same space, as outlined in the previous section.

Wi-Fi in Home Automation Power Switching with Wi-Fi: Belkin & Visible Energy
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  • Conficio - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    Wouldn't it be a smart idea that the devices only allow connections that are WPA secured?

    Just to make a point that the manufacturer did actually consider network security.
    Reply
  • lyeoh - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    WPA2/WPA PSK is crackable. And that's the best most WiFi networks support (they don't do WPA2 Enterprise - which requires username+password).
    See: http://www.aircrack-ng.org/doku.php?id=cracking_wp...

    The WiFi bunch have been producing crap security for years. They should have done something more like SSL/TLS.

    The reason why nobody hacks into your WPA2 PSK network is because it's not really worth doing it. But once home networks start to have more "goodies" on them it'll become more common.
    Reply
  • Friendly0Fire - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    http://xkcd.com/538/

    Nobody will crack your WPA2 network because it'll still be easier to just smash the window.
    Reply
  • ntspam - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Like I heard somewhere anyone crook with sophistication can easily pick the lock on your front door. I think it takes more talent to hack into your home automation system. Reply
  • Azethoth - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    "For that matter, they don't harden cell phones"

    This is wrong, even though someone wrote it on the internet.

    Here is the single counter example I need:
    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/fbi-andro...

    That still does not mean phones are secure, but claiming that companies do not try is silly.
    Reply
  • philosofool - Monday, October 08, 2012 - link

    Seriously, if I'm going to hack something, it's not going to be to turn up the heat in someone else's home. What a stupid waste of my time.

    Why is it that you people who are obsesively worried about security don't realize that all security is a matter of raising costs for would-be hackers to the point where the benefits aren't worth it. Messing with someone's lawn watering schedule is a pretty low benefit activity, so security demands just aren't that high.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    I can't find much on this standard; is it safe to assume that "sub 1ghz" means the 900mhz band? With every other wireless device abandoning it in favor of 2.4ghz; putting something new at 900mhz to keep it used sounds like an all around win. Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    Yes, the plan is for 802.11ah to operate in the 900 MHz band Reply
  • drwho9437 - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    There is also an ISM band at ~415 MHz., but mostly people do 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz because of antennas and PCB losses. Reply
  • aruisdante - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    I think a product that has the potential to be a real disrupter in the HA space is the Electric Imp. It's a MCU and Wifi module in an SD card form-factor with 8 GPI/O and a cloud server infrastructure that can run rules-based programs (in addition to hard-coding the MCU). And it's cheap... a development board is only $30 at retail. I'm actually kind of surprised it wasn't mentioned in this article. Reply

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