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Insteon is a home automation technology that enables light switches, lights, thermostats, motion sensors, and other electrical devices to interoperate through power lines, radio frequency (RF) communications, or both.[1] It employs a dual-mesh networking topology[2] in which all devices are peers and each device autonomously transmits, receives, and repeats messages.[3]

Every message received by an Insteon compatible device undergoes error detection and correction and is then retransmitted to improve reliability of the network. All devices retransmit the same message at the same time so that message transmissions collide synchronously, thus preserving the integrity of the message. The power line AC frequency serves as the synchronization reference for message transmissions. The power line protocol uses phase-shift keying.

Insteon was invented by, and is a registered trademark of, Smartlabs, Inc. Like other home automation network protocols, it has been associated with the hyper-connected environment known as the Internet of Things.[4]


Insteon technology was created under the direction of home automation entrepreneur Joe Dada. In 1992, Dada founded Smarthome, a home automation product catalog company. Dada then acquired two product engineering firms to explore proprietary product development. In 2005, the company released Insteon’s patented, dual-band (RF and powerline) mesh networking technology. Dada later established Insteon as a separate company.[5] The company now markets over 200 different Insteon-enabled home automation products which are sold at national retail chains as well as online.[6]

Device categories[edit]

Most Insteon modules fall into one of three categories: Wire-in, plug-in, and battery powered.

Central controllers[edit]

Unlike other wireless control technologies, Insteon does not require a central controller.[citation needed] For example, a keypad can be configured locally to control switches throughout the home. However, there are features only available when central controllers are employed. These features include scheduling, events, conditional logic, advanced device properties and diagnostic tools.

An Insteon installation can be managed from iOS, Android, Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. The company has a series of "power line modems" that interface a computer to the Insteon network. In January 2015 Insteon announced a gateway to allow it to interconnect with Apple's HomeKit system [7]

Insteon markets its own brand of central controller: the Insteon Hub, a device to ontrol Insteon light bulbs, wall switches, outlets, and thermostats at home or remotely and receive email or text message alerts from disrupted sensors, as well as to schedule the operation of Insteon devices, such as turning lights on at sunset.

Plug-in devices[edit]

Insteon Plug-In modules make any plug-in lamp or appliance part of the connected home. Plug-in modules are the easiest Insteon module type to install, as their installation merely requires plugging in a lamp or appliance into the bottom of a unit that then plugs into a power outlet. Insteon has manufactured plug-in modules containing TRIAC dimmers, relays, and low-voltage controllers that offer a dry-contact relay. The Insteon product line has reused the plug-in module form factor to add support for smoke detectors and electronic door deadbolts. When remote controls aren't handy, Insteon has button modules to turn connected device on or off. Additionally, Insteon offers a ruggedized plug-in device, the Outdoor On/Off Module, equipped with a special, weather-resistant enclosure for all-year control.

Lights and LED bulbs[edit]

In 2012, the company introduced the first network-controlled light bulb.[8] As the bulb has no on-device controls and a lamp's built-in switch when turned off disables the bulb, such bulbs work best in more advanced automation systems with multiple Insteon devices or in systems that use a central controller that enables remote control (e.g., from a smartphone). Bulbs come in both traditional A19 size and a larger PAR38 size for recessed lights.

Wall switches[edit]

An Insteon wall switch replaces a conventional wall switch, thus enabling remote control of the switch's electric load. Depending on its intended purpose, an Insteon switch contains either a TRIAC-based dimmer or a relay. Insteon wall switches allows every wall switch to control every other wall switch without the addition of extra wires. Multiway switching can be done with a few taps of the set button. An Insteon rechargeable battery powered switch allows for a wall switch anywhere in the home. An Insteon Keypad allows for the control of other switches and devices.

Wall keypads[edit]

Wall keypads have multiple, programmable pushbuttons that are commonly used as "scene" selectors to recall preprogrammed control levels. For example, they may be used at building entry and egress points to program lights and thermostats to "occupied" or "unoccupied" states.

The Insteon Wall Keypad is a blend of wall switch and multi-button remote control. When a wall switch is replaced with an Insteon Keypad, the control of a light fixture remains while adding remote control of other Insteon devices. The On and Off buttons take the place of the original wall switch. Tapping the buttons controls the lights while the Dimmer Keypad brightens and dims lights by pressing and holding each button.

The scene buttons can be used to control individual devices like an LED Bulb or other Insteon wall switch, or groups of Insteon devices like every lighting fixture in a living room. The keypad can in turn be controlled by other devices.

Wall outlets[edit]

Wall outlets can be installed to add Insteon control of plug-in devices in areas where a plug-in module might be unsightly. An Insteon dimmer outlet has one of the two outlets of a duplex receptacle configured for Insteon control so that it can be activated remotely. The other outlet is labeled as "always on" and behaves like a normal outlet. Like the wall switches and keypads, a homeowner would replace their existing outlet with the Insteon outlet. The On/Off Outlet can remotely control both the upper and lower outlets independently.

In-line modules[edit]

In-line modules are designed to be mounted inside or behind a fixture or electrical junction box. Insteon in-line modules have been used to provide Insteon-enabled lighting circuits that didn't have a directly accessible wall switch (e.g., a home owner could wire a circuit of recessed ceiling lights with an in-line module and remotely activate them from an Insteon wall switch elsewhere in the house).

With the expansion of Insteon into international markets in Europe, Insteon produced a line of miniature in-line modules that include switch-sensing technology. Rather than replace a wall switch with an Insteon switch, a home owner can connect their existing wall switch to the micro module, tuck the module behind their wall switch plate and still have remote control to the load.

Plug-in modules[edit]

Plug-in modules are the easiest Insteon module type to install, as their installation merely requires plugging in a lamp or appliance into the bottom of a unit that then plugs into a power outlet. Insteon has manufactured plug-in modules containing TRIAC dimmers, relays, and low-voltage controllers that offer a dry-contact relay. Older Insteon plug-in modules featured a pass-through power outlet. Newer modules do not include such an outlet but do include a set of on-device buttons that let a homeowner turn a device on, off or adjust the brightness without needing another Insteon controller.

The Insteon product line has reused the plug-in module form factor to add support for smoke detectors and electronic door deadbolts.


Since the release of battery-powered Insteon devices, Insteon has offered motion sensors, contact-closure sensors, water leak sensors, and smoke detectors. Wired magnetic contact sensors can be added to an Insteon system using Insteon wireless open/close sensors. As battery- powered Insteon devices do not have a direct connection to the power line, their use with wired Insteon devices requires at least one Insteon device that can receive and rebroadcast RF messages.

Remote controls[edit]

Remote controls have been offered in two form factors. The original wireless remote offered was a large, black or silver six-button controller that included buttons for all-on and all-off. Most recently, Insteon released a much smaller remote that can fit inside of a decorator-style wall plate and borrows design cues from the line of Insteon wall switches. Several versions are manufactured that include a single-function switch, a "four scene" 8-button remote as well as an "eight scene" 8-button remote.

Other products[edit]

Other products offered by Insteon include a traditional programmable thermostat that works with 24 volt AC systems and also functions with a companion wireless thermostat that runs on AA batteries. The wireless thermostat does not directly control a heating or air-conditioning system but can send commands to the wired thermostat or less commonly, in-line modules that control a line-voltage heating system. Enterprising home owners have found methods of controlling most heating and cooling systems even when not officially supported by Insteon through the use of relays, in-line modules and low-voltage interfaces that even work with millivolt gas furnaces.

Network topology[edit]

Insteon is an integrated dual-mesh (formerly referred to as "dual-band") network that combines wireless radio frequency (RF) and the home's existing electrical wiring. This is intended to improve reliability by providing a backup system in case of wireless interference.[citation needed] As a peer-to-peer network, devices do not require network supervision, thus dispensing with the need for controllers and routing tables.


Insteon uses digital signal processing to encode and transmit messages, enabling rapid transmission of control data between Insteon devices. Individual Insteon messages can also carry up to 14 bytes of arbitrary user data to support home-control applications from developers. Each transmission contains a two-bit "hops" field that starts at 3 and is decremented each time a node in the network repeats a message. The repetition scheme is designed so that all of the nodes repeat the messages in precise synchrony with one another, so the repetitions collide by design and strengthen one another.


Insteon network security is maintained via linking control to ensure that users cannot create links that would allow them to control a neighbors’ INSTEON devices, and via encryption within extended Insteon messages for applications such as door locks and security systems that make use of extended messages to send sensitive data.[9]:53

Insteon enforces linking control by requiring users to have physical possession of devices in order to create links. Firmware in INSTEON devices prohibits them from identifying themselves to other devices unless a user physically presses a button on the device during the installation process. Linking to a device by sending INSTEON messages (e.g., from a computer or central controller) requires knowledge of the 3-byte address of the target INSTEON device. As these addresses are unique for each device and assigned at the factory (and displayed on a printed label attached to each device), users must have physical access to the device to read the device address from the label and manually enter it when prompted during installation by a computer program or controller.

Installation and programming[edit]

Insteon devices are set up using a "plug and tap" method. A homeowner performs a series of taps using each device's set button to form direct device-to-device control links; no central controller is required. While this procedure of linking Insteon devices can be done manually at the devices, a central controller or computer-enabled interface may be added for advanced home management. Some controllers are able to save and restore the configuration of individual devices on the network.

Each Insteon device has its own unique identifier code, similar to a MAC address. When devices are directly linked using the "plug and tap" method, the devices take care of managing device identifiers on their own. Adding a computer for control requires home control software but allows for very advanced configuration, including schedules, triggers, and conditional events.


Insteon driver chip sets manufactured by Smartlabs include the capability of transmitting, receiving, and responding to X10 power line messages in addition to Insteon messages. Homeowners with existing X10 networks can therefore migrate to an Insteon network without having to discard existing X10 devices. While Insteon devices repeat Insteon signals, they do not repeat X10 signals.

In 2014, Insteon teamed with Microsoft to release the first home automation system compatible with the touch-enabled Metro interface, with controlled devices appearing as "live tiles"[10] and later enabling voice-activated commands.[11][12] using Microsoft Cortana.

In 2015, Insteon announced an initiative to integrate the Google-owned Nest learning thermostat with Insteon.[13]


Data rate
  • Instantaneous (within a single packet): 13,165 bit/s
  • Sustained best case (over multiple packets): 2,880 bit/s
  • Sustained average case: 180 bit/s[14]
Message types
  • Standard: 10 bytes
  • Extended: 24 bytes
Message format/structure
  • Source Address: 3 bytes
  • Destination Address: 3 bytes
  • Flags: 1 byte
  • Command: 2 bytes
  • User Data: 14 bytes
  • Message Integrity: 1 byte
Devices supported
  • Unique IDs: 16,777,216
  • Device Types: 65,536
  • Commands: 65,536
  • Group Members: 256
Insteon engine memory requirements
Typical application (light switch, lamp dimmer) memory requirements
  • RAM: 256 bytes
  • EEPROM: 256 bytes
  • Flash: 7 kB
Power line physical layer
  • Frequency: 131.65 kHz
  • Modulation: Binary phase-shift keying (BPSK)
  • Min Transmit Level: 3.16 Vpp into 5 ohms
  • Min Receive Level: 10 mV
  • Phase Bridging: Insteon RF or hardware
RF physical layer
  • Frequency: 902 to 924 MHz
  • Modulation: FSK
  • Sensitivity: -103 dBm
  • Range: 150 ft unobstructed line-of-sight[9]:53

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "How to Control Your Home with your Cell Phone". Popular Mechanics. October 1, 2009. Retrieved August 19, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Refresh!: Insteon Technology". Electronic Design. Penton Media, Inc. April 5, 2006. Retrieved August 19, 2010. 
  3. ^ "What is Insteon?". Retrieved 2007-06-25. 
  4. ^ Patrick Thibodeau, "Can we talk? Internet of Things vendors face a communications 'mess'", Computerworld, April 18, 2014
  5. ^ "Jo Dada's Page". Wired. 12 June 2014. Retrieved 29 December 2014. 
  6. ^ Joseph Palenchar, "INSTEON Expands Best Buy Presence", TWICE Magazine, March 27, 2014
  7. ^ Ricker, Thomas; Kastrenakes, Jacob. "First HomeKit devices confirm Apple TV's limited role in home automation". The Verge. Retrieved 2 February 2015. 
  8. ^ Molly Oswaks, "Here it Is: The World's First Remote-Controlled (LED) Light Bulb", Gizmodo, June 20, 2012
  9. ^ a b "INSTEON The Details" (PDF). Insteon. 2013. 
  10. ^ Hachman, Mark (15 May 2014). "Microsoft teams with Insteon to sell connected-home kits". IDG Consumer & SMB. Retrieved 29 December 2014. 
  11. ^ Ochs, Susie (16 July 2014). "Insteon's Cortana integration will let Windows Phone users talk to their house". IDG Consumer & SMB. Retrieved 29 December 2014. 
  12. ^ Darryl Taft, "INSTEON Taps Microsoft Cortana for Windows Phone 8.1 Home Automation App", eWeek, July 16, 2014
  13. ^ Brown, Michael (5 January 2015). "‘Works with Nest’ program gains traction with 15 new smart device integrations". IDG Consumer & SMB. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  14. ^ Irwin et al. (2011). "Exploiting Home Automation Protocols For Load Monitoring In Smart Buildings". 

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