Home automation means different things to different people, but generally speaking it covers remote control and monitoring technologies that most of us don’t have, either because they’ve been too expensive or too complicated to install and use. That may be changing: Verizon is launching a $10-a-month (OK, $9.99) service that will support scores of devices, from webcams to thermostats.
The service, initially available only to Verizon’s 4.5 million FIOS subscribers, will empower customers to use mobile devices (such as cell phones and tablets), computers, and/or FIOS TV to monitor and manage equipment based on Sigma Designs’ Z-Wave technology. Z-Wave devices use wireless mesh network technology (not Wi-Fi) to communicate with a base station or gateway that interfaces with the outside world through a broadband network.
The technology has been around for a while (Schlage’s Link home automation system is based on Z-Wave), and you can find dozens of Z-Wave devices on Z-Wave’s web site, and at Amazon, Best Buy and other retailers. But to use Verizon’s service, you’ll need Verizon’s Z-Wave gateway, which the company includes in each of three different Verizon startup kits ranging in price from $70 to $220.
The $70 Home Monitoring Kit also provides a web cam and a lighting control module; the $170 Energy Control Kit includes a switch for controlling a 110-volt appliance, a thermostat control, an energy consumption reader, and a remote control that you can use inside the home. The $220 Home Monitoring and Control Kit (shown above) includes all the gear in the other two kits. Additionally, Verizon offers a bunch of other Z-Wave devices as add-ons, including door locks and door and window sensors.
To use the system, you will plug the gateway into a free Ethernet port on your broadband router, then connect the additional gear (the energy reader connects to an electrical breaker box, for example). Adding a device to the Z-Wave mesh network involves pressing buttons on the device and the gateway. During setup, Verizon will give you a password-protected web site to access the system remotely. (Verizon’s site doesn’t say which smartphones the service will support, and Verizon hasn’t responded to my e-mail queries.)
The Z-Wave network uses the 908mhz band, so it doesn’t interfere with Wi-Fi, which uses the 2.4ghz and 5ghz frequencies—but some cordless phones also operate in the 900mhz band. Sigma Designs says Z-Wave systems can support up to 200 devices.