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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  • AshuJoshi - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    Hi Ganesh,

    Very extensive article and well covered. A few thoughts, and I think you or your readers have already touched upon this:

    1. Bluetooth LE / 4.0 - is pretty important as well. One because many medical devices have adopted BT, and not Zigbee or ZWave or WiFi.

    2. ZWave is very popular BUT my concern is that it is controlled by one company.

    3. SEP 2.0 is going to be a very important move forward especially because it will work with WiFi, HPAV, and Zigbee.

    4. Kickstarter - I noticed that you picked some projects. I think there are three segments to Home Automation - DIY, Luxury and NOW Managed (as provided by the likes of Comcast). Luxury traditionally belonged to the likes of Creston but Control4 is playing a major disruptor now. For the DIY segment - Kickstarter has changed the world. Here is my post on the # of projects on Kickstarter for HA - http://bit.ly/Q02Mk2

    5. Service Providers are getting very active in this space - Comcast, Rogers, AT&T, DT etc.
    Reply
  • AshuJoshi - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    WiFi appears to be a popular choice for powered appliances and as the article talks about Semiconductor providers such as Marvell are providing compelling solutions. The challenge is that every implementation especially if it is from a different semi partner - its implementation in SW is different. That is there is no standard or specification to discover devices on WiFi - each implementation could be different. I am contrasting this with Zigbee because Zigbee has a well-defined protocol on how devices are discovered and controlled by category (Zigbee has its own terminology for all of this). Reply
  • davegravy - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Lots of talk about hardware, and a bit of discussion about controllers and host software, but there isn't a lot of software out there that's provides a bridge between all the different protocols and the central brain/logic essential to the smart home.

    I've been using LinuxMCE (free, open-source) and have been following their development for the past while. Not yet for the technically faint of heart, but there ARE device templates for a large number of different protocols (Z-wave, Insteon, KNX, RS232, IR, X10, various ethernet devices, etc) allowing you to control pretty much any type of HA device. It also controls media and VOIP telecom in your house. The end result is a fully integrated solution between all devices in your home.

    Example: Someone rings the door bell. Your porch light turns on (if it is after sundown), your IP cam turns on, its video feed is forwarded to your mobile phone, and (if it knows you are home because your security system is not armed, or by other logic) to the various TVs around your house after powering them on. The video is also recorded to your server. If you were watching TV during this event, it pauses your feed and to show you the front door IP cam.

    The possibilities are truly endless with this software, and I have to give it a plug here.
    Reply
  • ntspam - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I was really hoping that google putting its software creating talent behind home automation was finally going to kick this market mainstream. What a disappointment. Reply
  • jed22281 - Sunday, October 07, 2012 - link

    These guys have been ahead of the curve in this area for 4yrs+ now:
    http://openremote.org/display/HOME/OpenRemote
    Truly open, ubiquitous, Home Automation solutions, shame they didn't get a mention.
    Reply
  • taltamir - Sunday, October 07, 2012 - link

    WiFi controlled lights, thermostat, and power... now your home can be hacked in ways that holliwood only dreamed of. Reply
  • geraldt - Friday, October 12, 2012 - link

    Nice article on one of my obsessions. I so want WiFi to be the household communications protocol (actually TcpIp with any mix of wireless, wired CAT5, powerline Ethernet etc. that may be appropriate depending on the devices and controllers).

    I want a ubiquitous open standard that is well understood. I want two-way comm. I want sufficient bandwidth for video. I want security. I want all my current and future smart devices (desktop, tablet, smart phone, Raspberry Pi, robots, etc.) to be able to participate. I want that common infrastructure so I can incrementally add devices from various manufacturers. I also want the option of writing my own code in smart controllers e.g. PC.

    One point the article kind of makes is that common comm protocol is not enough, you need a higher level API for each device that is well documented.

    p.s. I think the technology in the new Kindle Paperwhite (touch, front lit, very low power, wifi) could be packaged into a great HA and AV remote. No video is a drawback for some applications like answering the door but still pictures at 1 fps might be fine.  
    Reply
  • xSaintSinnerx - Wednesday, November 07, 2012 - link

    Maybe I'm mistaken but few years ago Microsoft was talking about getting involved in HA business. I believe Gates was talking about it too. MS could easily create standard for HA Wi-Fi and become leader on the market with hardware and software in Windows RT or 8 environment.

    can you imagine possibilities ... BSoD on your thermostat.
    Reply
  • Nomzam - Thursday, November 08, 2012 - link

    Yeah the idea and performance are best but there is a security risk of internet.
    <a href="http://www.squidoo.com/iport-launchport-inductive-... Automation</a>
    Reply
  • space31 - Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - link

    Some new web remonte power hère : http://www.wifipower.fr Reply

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