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

Every message received by an Insteon compatible device undergoes error detection and correction and is then repeated (retransmitted). All devices repeat 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 is also the name of the company that develops and markets Insteon technology and products.


Insteon technology was created under the direction of home automation entrepreneur Joe Dada. Several years after establishing Smarthome in 1992, a home automation product catalog company and current online retailer, Dada acquired two product engineering firms to explore proprietary product development. After several years of development efforts, the company released the Insteon technology in 2005. Dada later established Insteon as a separate company. [4]

In 2012, the company introduced the first network-controlled light bulb.[5] It currently markets over 200 different Insteon-enabled home automation products which are sold at national retail chains such as Best Buy, Costco and Home Depot as well as online.[6] In June 2014, Insteon became available at Microsoft stores across the country. In July 2014, Insteon announced it would incorporate Microsoft Cortana, the software maker’s voice-enabled personal intelligent assistant.[7]

Recently, Insteon, like other home automation network protocols, has been identified as part of the heralded hyper-connected environment known as the Internet of Things.[8]

Device categories[edit]

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

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.

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.

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 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.

In-line modules[edit]

In-line modules round out the Insteon wire-in product line and encompass a variety of different types. All in-line modules are designed to be mounted inside or behind a fixture or electrical junction box. Traditionally, Insteon in-line modules have been used to provide Insteon-enabled lighting circuits that didn't have a directly accessible wall switch. 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 recent expansion into international markets that do not use US decorator or toggle-style wall switches, Insteon produced a line of micro 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 micro module behind their wall switch plate and still have remote control to the load.

Plug-in modules[edit]

Plug-in modules are the most approachable Insteon module type, as their installing merely requires plugging in a lamp or appliance into the bottom of a unit that then plugs into an outlet, much like an electronic power adapter. Insteon has manufactured plug-in modules that contain TRIAC dimmers, relays, as well as low-voltage controllers that offer a dry-contact relay. Currently, the Insteon product line has reused the plug-in module form factor to add support for First Alert's OneLink line of smoke detectors and has similar products to communicate with Morning Industries door deadbolts. Many older Insteon plug-in modules featured a pass-through power outlet but newer modules do not include such an outlet. Newer modules are, however, including an expanded set of on-device buttons that let a homeowner turn a device on, off or adjust the brightness without needing another Insteon controller. While not a direct plug-in device, Insteon manufactures an LED light bulb that includes Insteon technology. The bulb is marketed as being easy to install and the world's first networked light bulb. As the bulb has no on-device controls and a lamp's built-in switch when turned off disables the bulb, the bulb works best in more advanced automation systems with multiple Insteon devices or in systems that use a central controller for smartphone control.


Sensors have been slowly added to the list of Insteon devices since the introduction of the technology. Initial implementations of Insteon were control-only and users had to bridge home control technologies to add sensory input to their home control system. With the release of battery-powered Insteon devices, Insteon began offering native motion and contact-closure sensors. The company recently expanded their sensor options, now including a water leak sensor, and the earlier mentioned Smoke Bridge. Users who wish to add traditional wired magnetic contact sensors to their Insteon system can do so using an Insteon wireless open/close sensor as the company provides a sensor screw terminal under the cover. As battery powered Insteon devices do not have a direct connection to the power line, they require at least one Insteon device that is dual-mesh. Traditionally, this role was provided by a phase-bridging access point system but as most Insteon products now ship as dual-mesh, almost all wire-in or plug-in Insteon devices 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.

Central controllers[edit]

Unlike other wireless control technologies, Insteon does not require a central controller. 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.

Programming Insteon devices[edit]

Insteon devices are set up using a method dubbed Tap-n-Tap linking. 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. Every Insteon device has its own unique identifier code, similar to a MAC address. When tap-tap linking is used, the devices take care of managing device identifiers on their own. Although a basic system can be deployed without a controller or personal computer, such a device may be added for advanced home management. Some devices are able to save and restore the configuration of individual devices on the network. Adding a computer for control requires home control software, but allows for very advanced configuration, including variables, triggers, conditional events and schedules.

Network topology[edit]

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

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 in harmony.


Insteon devices are set up using a "plug and tap" method. Each device has its own unique identifier code. The procedure to link two Insteon devices can be done manually at the devices. Although a basic system can be deployed without a controller or PC, such a device may be added for advanced home management. Some devices are able to save and restore the configuration of individual devices on the network.


On May 4 2014, Insteon teamed with Microsoft and released the first home automation system compatible with touch enabled modern interface, with controlled devices appearing as "live tiles" and later enabling voice command] using Cortana.


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.


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[9]
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[10]


  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. ^ Joe Dada, "Joe Dada's Page", Wired Innovation Insights, June 12, 2014
  5. ^ Molly Oswaks, "Here it Is: The World's First Remote-Controlled (LED) Light Bulb", Gizmodo, June 20, 2012
  6. ^ Joseph Palenchar, "INSTEON Expands Best Buy Presence", TWICE Magazine, March 27, 2014
  7. ^ Darryl Taft, "INSTEON Taps Microsoft Cortana for Windows Phone 8.1 Home Automation App", eWeek, July 16, 2014
  8. ^ Patrick Thibodeau, "Can we talk? Internet of Things vendors face a communications 'mess'", Computerworld, April 18,2014
  9. ^ Irwin et al. (2011). "Exploiting Home Automation Protocols For Load Monitoring In Smart Buildings". 
  10. ^ Darbee, Paul (August 11, 2005). "INSTEON The Details" (PDF). Smarthome Technology. Retrieved August 19, 2010. 

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