Insteon vs. Wi-Fi in The Smart Home

Today, we've got something for the tech enthusiast and even the newbies to home automation. We will discover the core differences between Insteon vs. Wi-Fi.

We like to mix things up here at Smarthome.

Some of our guides geared toward tech-fiends while others target complete beginners.

When you make that decision to start investing in some smart home devices, one of the first obstacles you might face concerns the communication protocol your tech uses.

We’ll be looking today specifically at Insteon and Wi-Fi.

What Is a Smart Home Communication Protocol?

For the smart products in your home to exchange information, they need to speak the same language. This language is what we refer to as a communication protocol.

A protocol is how signals are sent from one device to another to trigger an action, for example turning your lights on or off.

You should take the time to think about communication protocols before you launch it and start buying products indiscriminately. Each of these protocols has its advantages and drawbacks.

As with all elements of building out a connected home, there's not a right or wrong answer. The only thing that count is arriving at the right solution for you.

Protocols can be open like Z-Wave, proprietary and private like Insteon or licensed out like Zigbee.

If those names sound unfamiliar, here’s a glimpse at the main protocols before we dive down into Insteon and Wi-Fi.

Communication Protocols in Brief

Here's a summary of just some of the main protocols you might find in a connected home in 2019:

  • Insteon: Using a combination of wireless signals and the powerline in your home. Insteon is a dual-mesh network
  • Wi-Fi: Offering fast and dependable communication using radio wave, Wi-Fi has a range of roughly 75 feet
  • Zigbee: A wireless protocol operating in a mesh network, the signal is relayed to other devices while strengthening and expanding the network
  • Z-Wave: An open source mesh network, Z-Wave is much slower than Zigbee but needs far less energy
  • Bluetooth: A considerably shorter range wireless protocol reaching just 30 feet, Bluetooth detects existing signals with an adaptive frequency hopping system
  • Ethernet: Fast and reliable, a wired connection reaching ranges of up to 300 feet with very little interference
  • Infrared: Simple and reliable but most often used for one-way communication. Infrared is used in the smart home for remote controls.

For this essential guide, we'll leave out the older X10, Thread and KNX protocols.

If you want to learn more about Z-Wave VS Zigbee, we took a more in-depth look at those communication protocols.


Now you have an idea what communication protocols are and some of how they vary, it's time for the main event.

We’ll kick off with a quick look at Insteon, what it is and why you should care.

Insteon: The Basics

Insteon was founded way back in 2005, light years ago in terms of smart home technology.

Unlike some competing protocols like Wi-Fi, Insteon specifically has been used for the design of home automation. It's no surprise that this protocol works so effectively.

Insteon devices work in a dual-mesh network.

This type of networking topology allows signals to be sent in two ways:

  1. Through the Insteon network wirelessly
  2. Through the power lines in your home

You can network devices robustly using either or both of these methods.

With Insteon, signals can travel great distances with no interruption and minimal interference, both vital elements to protocols that work well in smart homes.

We'll highlight some of the leading advantages of Insteon so you can see if it makes a good fit for you.

10 Core Benefits of Insteon

  1. Installation is a Breeze: Communication works using the existing wiring in your home, so you won't need to call in an electrician. Each device comes with a unique ID code. All you need to do is power up the device, and it will automatically join the network
  2. Works Well in Larger Properties: Insteon is highly effective in larger homes. Devices act as repeaters so the more tools you add, the stronger the system becomes. Since messages can be transmitted using both wireless signals and also the powerline, you'll get dependability invaluable in larger properties
  3. Rapid Response Rate: With messages reaching their target destination in 0.05 seconds, the transmission comes with no perceptible delay. The data rate is 38Kbps
  4. Robust Security: Since each device has an ID code, there ’s almost no vulnerability and minimal risk of someone hijacking your devices. Messages are strongly encrypted
  5. Devices Act as Peers: All mains-powered Insteon devices act as peers and means that they can serve as a receiver, a repeater, or a controller. In other words, they can receive, relay, and send messages and improves the way the signal can route to the
  6. Inbuilt Redundancy: Since Insteon is a dual-mesh and peer network, you’ll get a redundancy not found in other single-band protocols
  7. Backward and Forwards Compatible: Whether you want to use older or newer Insteon devices, you won’t be locked out
  8. Diverse Choice of Control: If you wish to control your Insteon devices physically or with a controller, in-app on your smartphone or with voice commands, you’re truly spoiled for choice
  9. Not Susceptible To Much Interference: Unlike Wi-Fi, you won’t experience issues with interference using Insteon
  10. Benefits of an Established Protocol but Works With Modern Devices: Although you benefit strongly from an older protocol established with home automation and the IoT firmly in mind, Insteon works well with more modern devices for the double-win

Now you can see how Insteon works and what it does well, how about Wi-Fi?

Wi-Fi: The Basics

We won't be taking such an in-depth look at Wi-Fi for one straightforward reason.

Wi-Fi is a local area network (LAN) giving Internet access within a limited range.

A star network, there’s a central hub – your router – with all other devices connecting to this.

Wi-Fi is what you use for your home network, and it's also commonly used in coffee shops or other public places providing Internet access.

The high bandwidth of Wi-Fi means it’s ideal for streaming music or any other data-intensive tasks requiring high-speed Internet access.

How about Wi-Fi as a communication protocol for smart devices, though?

Well, this is where things take a bit of a nosedive but why?

Firstly, Wi-Fi is remarkably power-hungry. Think about your smartphone and the fact you likely need to charge it at least once a day. Devices tend to last no more than 10 hours before they need charging.

The severe drawback of Wi-Fi in the smart home concerns interference.

Most Wi-Fi-enabled devices use the same 2.4GHz frequency. With a bare handful of these devices, this is a non-issue. Start filling your home with them, though, and you'll start to notice some serious interference and manifests in sapped batteries, decreased throughput of devices and reduced response times.

While one solution to this interference is to consider a mesh Wi-Fi system – we examine that in depth right here - there is another option for you.

Invest in an Insteon ecosystem instead.

We'll round out this essential guide to protocols with five healthy reasons to roll with Insteon rather than Wi-Fi for home automation.

5 Reasons to Use The Insteon Protocol Rather Than Wi-Fi For Home Automation

We're not here to push you in the direction of any specific ecosystem. It's also entirely possible to mix and match.

There are a number of advantages you'll reap from the super-dependable dual-mesh Insteon network so what are they exactly?

1) You’ll Get No Interference with Your Home Wi-Fi Network

As mentioned, Wi-Fi devices operating on the 2.4GHz band tend to interfere with one another when your home is stuffed with them.

With your laptop and smartphone, tablet and online gaming consoles all hogging the limited resources of your home Wi-Fi network, connecting more Wi-Fi devices has a negative impact.

If you don’t want your download and upload speeds to plummet and you want to avoid the menace of interference, it’s not a wise bet to choose smart devices controlled using Wi-Fi.

Insteon uses a 915MHz radio frequency at some distance from Wi-Fi’s 2.4GHz (and, increasingly, 5GHz) so you’ll enjoy far less interference and no noticeable network degradation.

2) Enjoy a Mesh Network For More Robust Coverage

Maybe you’ve started to embrace the benefits of a mesh Wi-Fi system?

If so, you'll already have encountered one of the drawbacks of Wi-Fi: limited range and those infuriating dead spots.

This type of patchy coverage is merely an annoyance when you're talking about Netflix buffering. How about when you're considering the integrity of your home security system?

If you want to sidestep the expense of adding extenders or upgrading your router, Insteon devices give you both fantastic reach and complete reliability.

Firstly, the wireless signals sent on an Insteon network, as we mentioned, are at a frequency far removed from the congestion zone of Wi-Fi devices.

Beyond this, signals sent using the powerlines in your home allow messages to travel unimpeded to all corners of your house — walls and other materials that hamstring. Wi-Fi signals don't present a problem.

As a final inbuilt kicker, the fact Insteon devices, when plugged in, act as repeaters, means that everything works as you want it and when you want it. The more devices you add, the stronger the network becomes instead of getting snarled up.

3) Insteon Works When Wi-Fi Is Down

However reliable your ISP, Internet outages are still unavoidable from time to time. If this means you need to stop browsing Facebook for an hour or two, that's no biggie. How about when your smart devices stop functioning? It's a more serious issue that can entirely be avoided with Insteon.

Thanks to the peer-to-peer network, your smart lights and locks will still function seamlessly regardless of the state of your router or Internet service. Any keypads and remotes will also work without a hitch.

This safety angle is arguably the most powerful motivator for considering the Insteon ecosystem.

4) Ecosystem Easily Scalable

A regular home router is limited to roughly 250 devices.

When you start thinking about the needs of a large family each using multiple devices, that immediately makes inroads into the limit. Factor in a sprawling home packed with smart appliances and accessories and you might start to feel like this limit is a little restrictive.

With Insteon, you can scale your system with hundreds of devices and none of the congestion you’d expect when loading a Wi-Fi network to bursting point.

5) No Need To Update Passwords

Maybe you decide it’s time for a new router.

Perhaps you need to change your Wi-Fi password due to a suspected breach or as a matter of routine security.

Either way, you’ll be only too aware of the headache of updating passwords across all the devices in your home.

Imagine the hassle if that updating needed to extend to all your smart devices not just your phone and laptop.

Well, the Insteon hub hooks up directly to your router so you won’t experience any of this inconvenience or need the skills of a network administrator!

Final Word

We hope by now you have a firm grasp of some of the shortcomings of Wi-Fi as a communication protocol in your connected home. You should also have a clearer idea as to whether or not investing in an Insteon system makes sense for you.

If there’s anything specific you’d like our help with here at Smart Home, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Sign up for our email newsletter, and you'll get a remarkable 20% off your first order, so why are you waiting?

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