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2014 IEEE Innovative Smart Grid Technologies - Asia (ISGT ASIA)

A Comparison of the Popular Home Automation


Chathura Withanage*
Rahul Ashok
Chau Yuen
Kevin Otto
Engineering Product Development Pillar
Singapore University of Technology and Design

Abstract—Home automation systems represent the front-end of In the current home automation market, there are several
smart grids, where the energy monitoring and control popular technologies [6-7] competing for market share. This
operations are enabled through smart devices installed in includes X10[8], Z-Wave [6, 9], ZigBee [6], INSTEON [6,
households and residential buildings. There are many home 10], and EnOcean [11]. The result has been a plethora of
automation technologies available in the market, and the users choices to the potential consumer. However, any guidelines or
are left to select their choice of best technology. Proper comparisons are not available to support the user’s decision
guidelines to their selection currently remain low. Therefore, in making. Users are left to choose technologies they find
this paper, a comparison of popular home automation available or know about. Information to help users make cost
technologies is presented from user perspective to fill this void in
and performance based decisions are not available. Therefore,
the research literature, and to empower the users with more
using a testing facility, these technologies are evaluated to
details based on the current home automation market. X10, Z-
Wave, ZigBee, INSTEON, and EnOcean are the home provide indices as selection guidelines. We consider an
automation technologies compared in this paper. Two indices affordability index and a multi-factor performance index to
are developed as the outcome of this paper to represent the compare these technologies.
performance and affordability of these technologies, as a The Future Living Laboratory of Singapore University of
guideline to the potential users. We find these technologies fit Technology and Design is a test bed facility used to evaluate
out a tradeoff of higher performance and price (Z-Wave) down the operational requirements and performances of these home
to lower performance and price (X10). With this understanding,
automation systems, and develop new systems and
appropriate choices can be made.
applications. The Future Living Laboratory network
Index Terms--home automation; smart homes; sensor systems. architecture is shown in Fig. 1. Z-Wave and INSTEON
devices [9-10] are sharing the same network and there is a
I. INTRODUCTION separate network for the ZigBee devices [4] as shown in Fig.
In smart homes, automation systems are used to monitor
and control the energy usage of electrical appliances and a) ZigBee Network
equipment [1], and can be considered as the front-end of a
smart grid. These systems can be connected to utility meters to
form a smart grid or work as a standalone system. In addition
to energy monitoring and control devices [2], there are many
other devices that can be connected to the home automation
systems such as motion sensors, temperature sensors, etc. to
provide security, fire protection and various other benefits to
the users [3].
The smart home market is growing rapidly with the entry
of more players in consumer electronics such as Samsung and
LG [4], as well as IT companies such as Google to the already
blooming market. These companies have announced products
and services that could rapidly grow the smart home industry.

978-1-4799-1300-8/14/$31.00 ©2014 IEEE 600

2014 IEEE Innovative Smart Grid Technologies - Asia (ISGT ASIA)

b) Z-Wave and INSTEON Network sensor network to monitor environmental conditions [12].
TelosB motes are relatively inexpensive, can be used as a
transmitter and a receiver and useful for inexpensive custom

a) b)
Figure 2. Z-Wave motion detector and a ZigBee TelosB mote used in the
Future Living Lab
Figure 1. Network architecture of the Future Living Laboratory
C. X10
This paper consists of five sections. In Section II, brief X10 [7, 20-21] is one of the oldest available home
introductions are given about the functionality of these automation standards. The technology is still in the market
technologies. Evaluation is done in Section III and indices are despite tough competition from newer standards. There are
introduced in Section IV. The paper ends with conclusions and reportedly 10 million X10 devices in US alone.
future works given in Section V.
An advantage of X10 is that it can use either wired power
II. POPULAR HOME AUTOMATION TECHNOLOGIES line or wireless radio communication methods. However, the
A. Z-Wave transmission of messages occur one command at a time. This
is one of the biggest disadvantages of X10 because multiple,
Z-Wave [9, 16-17] is the most widely used technology in
concurrent X10 signals may lead to decoding issues resulting
home automation systems, and by far the most widely
lost commands [8]. Nevertheless, X10 is inexpensive and
accepted technology [15]. It offers good network reliability
many devices are available.
and stability (see Fig. 2a for a Z-Wave motion sensor). Z-
Wave is one of the oldest available home automation D. INSTEON
protocols. The best feature of Z-Wave devices is their cross- INSTEON [10] is designed to integrate power line system
compatibility among different branded systems [9]. Each Z- with wireless system, and was developed to replace the X10
Wave device has a unique network ID and each network has a standard. It is designed such that it enables devices, whether
unique identification thus making the system secure [16]. Z- sensors or switches to be used together using power line
Wave is a mesh protocol, and thus the devices can talk to one and/or radio frequency. Other than X10, this is the only
another. technology that communicates via both wireless and
Z-Wave operating frequency varies with the region; the powerline technologies [22].
frequency is 908.42 MHz in the US and 868.42 MHz in Another advantage of INSTEON [10] is its partial
Europe [9, 15]. Also, the signal range offered by Z-Wave is compatibility with X10 devices. INSTEON and X10
high, in the range of 30 meters, and it is possible to extend the commands are not similar, but the INSTEON driver chipset
range of devices by using them as repeaters. As the signal has the capability of responding to X10 messages [10] and
passes from one device to another, it gains a range of another therefore can communicate with X10 devices. The
30 meters. This process is called hopping, and it can be done transmission of data occurs at 1131.65 KHz for powerline
to extend the signal using a maximum of 4 devices. However, devices and 904 MHz for wireless devices [10, 22]. In an
beyond 4 devices, the Z-Wave protocol terminates the signal attempt to make interoperable INSTEON devices across
(Hop Kill) [9, 17]. different platforms, an alliance has been formed (similar to Z-
B. Zigbee Wave alliance) which includes many INSTEON product
development organizations and some Fortune 500 companies
ZigBee is an IEEE 802.15 standard used in home
automation technology and very closely resembles Bluetooth
and Wi-Fi standards [18-19]. Zigbee devices are attractive E. EnOcean
largely because of its low power consumption and open EnOcean [11] is one of the newest technologies in home
specifications which makes the devices ideal for battery automation, mainly aimed at zero energy consumption
operated uses. through energy harvesting. The unique beneficial feature of
Zigbee, like Z-Wave is a mesh protocol, where devices can EnOcean devices is their ability to work battery-less and still
talk to one another, and can act as repeaters [18]. Even though having the ability to communicate wirelessly. This is
with so many advantages, the technology has not gained a achieved by means of micro energy converters along with
large market share, mainly because of the incompatibility of ultra-low power electronics [22-24].
devices among many different vendors. However, Zigbee Early designs of EnOcean devices used piezo electric
proves useful in research, with many universities developing generators but were later replaced by electromagnetic energy
devices such as TelosB, from University of California sources [23]. Because the devices are self-powered, the
Berkeley (see Fig. 2b) that can be used as part of a wireless maintenance is minimal. Radio interference is also minimal

2014 IEEE Innovative Smart Grid Technologies - Asia (ISGT ASIA)


Z-Wave ZigBee X10 INSTEON EnOcean

Released (Year) 2001 2004 1975 2005 2008
Inventor ZenSys Corp. ZigBee Alliance Smartlabs Inc. EnOcean GmbH
Standardization Proprietary IEEE 802.15.4 Proprietary Proprietary Proprietary

Primary Research, Home Home Home

Home Automation Automation, Home
Markets Automation, Automation Automation
RF RF RF, Power Line RF, Power Line RF
Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Encryption 128-bit AES 128-bit AES No No ARC4/AES
Energy Usage High (1) Medium (2) High (1) High (1) Nil (3)
Data Rate ~ 40 kbps (3) >20 kbps (3) 20-200 bps (1) ~ 2000 bps (1) 125 kbps (3)
Yes (3) Yes (3) No (0) Yes (3) Yes (3)
Performance Factors

~120m (3) ~60m (2) ~30m(2) ~120m (3) > 20m (2)
High (3) Medium (2) Low (1) Medium (2) Medium (2)
Number of
>600 (3) <500 (2) >500 (3) <500 (2) >600 (3)
Certified Devices
Ability to work as
Yes (3) Yes (3) No (0) Yes (3) No (0)
Ease of
Easy (3) Medium (2) Difficult (1) Easy (3) Medium (2)
Performance Index 0.916 0.792 0.375 0.75 0.75
Affordability Index 0.34 0.212 1.00 0.362 0.46

as it operates in the less crowded 315 MHz band [11]. Affordability index is calculated based on the cost of a
According to EnOcean Alliance [11], their sensors have been system consisting of four smart switches, a gateway, two
installed in over 250,000 buildings, far less than X10 but occupancy sensors and a temperature sensor.
nonetheless growing and not inconsequential.
A. Energy Usage
One performance factor is the energy use of the devices.
III. THE EVALUATION EnOcean is the unanimous winner in this category, and
therefore assigned a value of 3. It does not require any
We compared these standards on several criteria related to
batteries and is mainly aimed at energy harvesting. It does
performance and affordability (see TABLE I). Several of the
this by making use of the minor changes in pressure, motion,
comparisons are based on the tests conducted at the Future
temperature and vibration to create electric power.
Living Laboratory in Singapore University of Technology
and Design (SUTD) as well as reviews from technology ZigBee is the next most efficient, with the devices
websites and research papers. employing a sleep mode when not in operation thus
minimizing the energy usage. ZigBee is thus given a rating of
The popular home automation websites and previous
2. ZigBee is developing a new feature called Green Power
publications [13-15] were used to help identify the key
which can make the devices self-powered similar to
performance factors listed. Each performance factor was
EnOcean. The other devices, namely Z-
given rating on a 0-3 scale as indicated in TABLE I. The
Wave/INSTEON/X10, are not as good in terms of energy
performance factors were then combined into an overall
usage. They are assigned ratings of 1 each.
performance index. In addition, an affordability index was
obtained using the retail prices of the home automation B. Data Rate
devices at various locations globally. More details about the A second performance factor is the data rate. ZigBee has a
performance factors, prices, performance index and maximum of 250 kbps using offset quadrature phase-shift
affordability index are given in the following subsections. keying, and exceeds other technologies by a wide margin.

2014 IEEE Innovative Smart Grid Technologies - Asia (ISGT ASIA)

However, the European version of ZigBee has a data rate of IV. PERFORMANCE AND AFFORDABILITY INDICES
around 20 kbps only [25].EnOcean has a data rate of A. Performance Index Calculation
approximately 125 kbps. Z-Wave has a data rate up to 40
kbps. The data rate for X10 is much lower in the order of 20 There are many factors related to a technology’s
to 200 bits/second thus confining the technology to ON/OFF performance. A single composite performance index is
operations. Powerline data rate for INSTEON is sought on a 0-1 scale. A perfect scale is 1 and rated best
approximately 2000 bits/second. However, the wireless performing on all factors.
communication occurs at more than 20 kbps. The performance of the technology was calculated based
Based on the above observations, ZigBee, EnOcean and on the rating points obtained from the previous section.
Z-Wave (all having data rate more than 20kbps) are given
ratings of 3 each. INSTEON and X10 are given ratings of 1 Σ
each. (1)

C. Two-way Communication
Another important performance factor is the ability to The maximum permissible rating point for each factor is
both send and receive data. X10 devices have no provision 3. Since there are 8 factors, the denominator of equation (1)
for two way communication. Therefore, there is no becomes 24. The numerator is a summation of all the rating
acknowledgement for the commands sent, and thus assigned points assigned to a technology as detailed in the previous
with 0 rating point. section. The calculated values are shown in TABLE I.
However, Z-Wave, ZigBee, EnOcean and INSTEON B. Affordability Index Calculation
devices provide two-way communication and commands sent
are acknowledged; and thus assigned with rating points of 3 A second composite index is sought based on
each. affordability. This index is calculated based on the cost
required to purchase a basic system (consisting of a
D. Transmission Range controller, four smart switches, two occupancy sensors and
Another important performance factor is the range of one temperature sensor). Since installation costs are the same
communication. INSTEON and Z-Wave outdid other for all technologies, labor costs are not included.
standards with 30 meters for a single hop. Further, each Z- X10 has been around for quite a long time, and therefore
Wave/INSTEON device can act as an RF repeater and the devices running on X10 technology are available for as low
commands can route through up to 4 devices before the as $25. X10 controllers are available for $30 and sensors are
protocol terminates the signal. This gives a maximum range available for prices ranging from $30 to $50. Therefore, the
of up to 120 meters. They are assigned with a rating point of total cost of a basic system would be approximately $170.
3 each.
Z-Wave smart plugs cost around $40, and their controllers
ZigBee has a transmission range of more than 10 meters. are available for $200. Sensors are available from $50. The
It allows hopping and has the capability to send the signal up total cost would thus be around $500.
to 6 nodes before the commands are lost. This allows for a
total of approximately 60 meters. EnOcean has a data range INSTEON hubs/controllers are available in the market for
of more than 20 meters. These two are given rating points of approximately 120$, and smart plugs are available for $50.
2 each. The prices of sensors start at $35. This makes the total cost
hover at around $470.
X10 is primarily a wired protocol, but there are wireless
devices available for 900MHz RF communication. These are EnOcean USB gateways are available for $30 and push
generally 30m transmitter/receivers. Based on the above button switches are available for $35. Motion sensors are
observation, X10 is assigned with a rating point of 2. slightly expensive at around $80, while the temperature
sensor can be bought for $30. The total cost would be
E. Miscallaneous Factors: approximately $370.
Other factors for performance index calculation include
ZigBee devices are slightly expensive compared to others.
ease of installation, ability to work as repeaters, inter-brand
Their controllers cost around 270$ and other devices are
operability and number of certified devices. Ease of
available in the range $40 to $100. The total cost would be
installation is one of the main factors as the ability to retrofit
around 800$. However, ZigBee TelosB motes for research
can ease the burden on the users. Especially, users living in
and development purposes are available at 60$.
rented or leased properties are greatly benefitted by the
wireless plug and play devices, which can be easily retrofitted The costs of the devices are approximate indicative values
without touching the building interior or exterior. The factors and vary depending on the market, vendor and country.
are assigned with values as given in TABLE I.
The Affordability Index is calculated using the formula
shown below.


2014 IEEE Innovative Smart Grid Technologies - Asia (ISGT ASIA)

The lowest total cost system is $170 for an X10 system. developing prototypes and so ZigBee is ideal for research
The calculated affordability index values are listed in TABLE related activities.
INSTEON holds good for users who are migrating from
C. Performance-Affordability Tradeoff the old X10 standard, as it allows integration of both RF and
Ideally, a technology with both high performance and power line technologies for networking. INSTEON network
affordability index would be preferred. This would fall on the operate in a mesh fashion and can work as repeaters,
top-right corner of the plot given in Figure 3. In reality, such increasing the overall transmission range. The installation of
a technology doesn’t exist and instead a price-performance INSTEON devices is slightly easier and the devices are
tradeoff is necessary. highly responsive. However, its major disadvantages are
limited number of vendors and certified devices available.
EnOcean scored well in the energy usage category, with
the devices being self-powered. However, its reliability is
low, and these devices neither work in a mesh network nor
ZigBee have the capability to work as repeaters. The technology is
Performance Index

X10 comparatively new and holds a promising future given the

0.6 INSTEON research activities underway to improve the system.X10 is the
cheapest among the considered, but the technology is
0.4 EnOcean
becoming obsolete. As costs come down on the new
0.2 technologies, the price advantage will dissipate.

As the home automation market expands, each of these
standards will undoubtedly maintain their market share.
0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 Therefore, hybrid networks consisting of different standards
Affordability Index are a likely future scenario.
This work was supported by a research grant sponsored
by the Energy Market Authority of Singapore, and from
Figure 3. Performance Vs Affordability
support from the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre
X10 is low cost, but lower performance. Z-Wave is (IDC) ( Any opinions, findings, or
expensive, but high performing. Z-Wave is better compared recommendations are those of the authors and do not
to ZigBee based on overall price- performance and might be necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors.
preferred. However, ZigBee has a unique feature of being
very open, and so might be preferred solely on that basis.

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2014 IEEE Innovative Smart Grid Technologies - Asia (ISGT ASIA)

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