Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Welcome to wireless: meeting Loxone Air.


When I was first introduced to Loxone's wireless smart home technology, 'Air', I have to say I was a little confused. Having just written several blogs extolling the virtues of wired smart houses, suddenly I was presented with a wireless alternative which claimed to be virtually identical in terms of its functionality.

Immediately I had several questions.

If smart-wiring is so good and I can't even trust wifi to consistently deliver the internet, why would I choose to use a wireless system for something as indispensable as my home electrics?

If in fact the wireless option does as it claims and keeps pace with the wired option, why would anyone bother with the extra time and effort of rewiring their house? Surely being able to fit devices without opening walls makes them much more appealing?

What are the costs of installing each system and if those costs differ, why is that the case?

Now, if I ever have queries about this stuff, I go to Darren. Not only does he spend his days discussing options with his clients and fitting these systems into real houses; he also uses both wired and wireless Loxone technology in his own home.

So I put my questions to him.

If smart-wiring is so good and I can't even trust wifi to consistently deliver the internet, why would I choose to use a wireless system for something as indispensable as my home electrics?


To answer this, Darren introduced me to two terms I'd never heard before: 'Bi-directionality' and 'Mesh technology'. I'll do my best to explain them here.

Simply put, Loxone developed their own wireless communication technology in-house and have ensured that each and every component of Loxone Air can both send and receive digital signals. Every individual part of a Loxone Air system communicates both ways with the other units in the installation. This 'bi-directional' capacity not only enables all the devices to feedback information to the Miniserver Go (the 'brain' of the system), but it also removes any problems that may be experienced when using other wireless technology. For example, when using wireless internet and a tablet, distance and obstructions (such as thick walls) can cause a breakdown in signal quality. With Loxone Air, this problem disappears.

As a result of each Air component being able to communicate bi-directionally with any others, the system forms a 'mesh' of signals. In the case of the internet router and tablet, the router sends a signal which must make its way across any distance and through any obstacle to reach the tablet. This obviously leads to differing signal strength in different areas of a building. With Loxone Air, information is sent around the system via the easiest possible route. A signal might 'hop' from the Miniserver Go to a light switch; from the light switch to a motion sensor; from the motion sensor to the electricity meter; and finally to a motor which opens the blinds in a bedroom on the other side of the house. By 'hopping' short distances between components, signals sent to and from the Miniserver Go avoid the problems of range and obstructions. Bi-directionality and Mesh technology ensure that signal strength is reliable and fast no matter how large the system becomes.


Mesh technology
Here are three Loxone Air components (A, B and C). Component A needs to send information to Component C and then receive a reply. A and C are right on the edge of each other's signal ranges (shown by the green circles). Instead of fighting to send information to the edge of its range, Component A simply sends the data to Component B, which is much closer. Component B (range shown by the yellow circle) is well within range of both A and C, so having received the signal from A, sends it on to C. C then responds, sending data to Component A via Component B. The 'bi-directionality' (ability to both send and receive signals) of the components is shown by the two-way arrows between them.
In reality a Loxone Air installation would have many more components, making the system even more reliable; however for simplicity only three are shown here. 

If in fact the wireless option does as it claims and keeps pace with the wired option, why would anyone bother with the extra time and effort of rewiring their house? Surely being able to fit devices without opening walls makes them much more appealing?


When I asked Darren this, he was very honest. He explained that no matter how dependable a wireless system is, there is always a greater inherent reliability with a wired installation purely because it carries information down specially designed pathways which are guaranteed to be clear.

However, he was also quick to mention that he uses Loxone Air in his own home and is yet to have even a hint of signal problems!

The main bulk of our discussion centred on the issue of power sources. A wired system obviously has access to as much power from the grid as it ever needs. A wireless system relies on batteries, and with that comes some differences in owner experience.

I personally don't think that any of these differences are deal-breakers, but nevertheless they are there.

Firstly, some of the Air versions of Loxone's smart kit have slightly reduced features to extend battery life. An example of this would be the touch switch used throughout Loxone-fitted homes. The wired version of the switch contains an LED which illuminates a small area around the switch, making it easier to find in the dark. With the Air touch switch, that LED has been removed to reduce power consumption.

Feedback from individual components is an essential part of a Loxone system. With a wired system, devices might send information back to the Miniserver every thirty seconds; for Loxone Air, the gaps between data transfers have been lengthened, again to extend battery life. All this means for a Loxone owner is that it might take a minute or two for them to be notified on the app of a window being left open for example, rather than receiving the alert immediately.

Finally, the fact that Loxone Air products are battery-powered means that they have an inherent need for maintenance: they need their batteries changed. However, Loxone have gone to such great lengths to save power and extend battery life that if you don't mind a visit from Darren once a year to swap in new batteries then this isn't really an issue at all.

What are the costs of installing each system and if those costs differ, why is that the case?


The simple answer to this question is that there is very little difference in price between wired and wireless systems. Loxone Air products are more expensive than their wired counterparts because they contain the additional technology needed to send and receive wireless transmissions. However, they cost much less to fit. Wired products are cheaper to buy but more costly to install because of the extra time, effort and materials needed to place wires into walls. For someone looking to transform their house into a smart home, Darren believes price differences are negligible, and only vary slightly depending on the requirements of a particular home.

All this means that customers are free to choose. If your dreams for your home suit a wired install, you are free to choose that option. If a retrofit of Loxone Air suits your plans, you are free to choose wireless. In fact if you want to pick and choose a mixture of wired and wireless tech, all Loxone products will work seamlessly together so you are free to choose a combination as well.

This is what Darren has done in his own home.

'I use a mix of standard Loxone products and Loxone Air because when making improvements to the house sometimes wired has been the best option; other times wireless has made more sense.'

Every system fitted by Intelligent Living Wales is bespoke. Darren and his team use their wealth of experience to advise homeowners as to where and when wired/wireless is best. They are there to help and answer any questions you may have.

Loxone Air just makes the plans for your smart home even more flexible.

Wired? Wireless? Both?

The choice is yours.

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