ISY Controller Users: Maybe It’s Time to Switch from INSTEON to Z-Wave

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Home Controls
Published on
October 27, 2021 at 10:00:00 AM PDT October 27, 2021 at 10:00:00 AM PDTth, October 27, 2021 at 10:00:00 AM PDT

UPDATE: INSTEON (Smartlabs) shut down their servers on April 16th, 2022, effectively discontinuing the use of the INSTEON protocol and nearly all of their devices.

Those plugged into the home automation and security industry know about the various networks and wireless protocols used to command your smart home devices, such as Z-Wave, Zigbee, Insteon, Wi-Fi, and others. The purpose of this guide is to highlight the features of Insteon and Z-Wave protocols for current and potential ISY Controller users and consider whether now is a good time to begin migrating from Insteon to Z-Wave for your home automation applications.

First let's quickly review the selling points of the POLISY Gateway Controller.

The POLISY Gateway Controller is a locally stored automation controller capable of supporting up to 1024 devices between all of its supported protocols, along with customized scenes, schedules, and programs, allowing it to operate advanced or expansive automation control or security systems. Remote configuration is carried out through web browsers or the Universal Devices mobile application, and all data is stored locally on the device. This ensures all programmed devices, scenes, and events can continue to operate even if the ISY’s ethernet connection is temporarily disconnected. 

Since the POLISY Controller is capable of supporting Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Insteon protocols, it makes a great jumping off point for users interested in testing automation applications with different devices or new users looking for a powerful system hub.

Now let's highlight the key strengths and weaknesses of Insteon and Z-Wave protocols.

Insteon Pros

Insteon utilizes a dual mesh network of wireless and powerline communications for continuous connectivity between devices, freeing up possible radio interference from other wireless devices and allowing for more reliable communication across various building sizes. All messages are fully encrypted and each device has a unique signal ID to deliver maximum security. Additionally, every wireless message is repeated by every mains-powered (plugged-in) device, which helps ensure successful communication and increases in strength as your network expands. Insteon uses AES encryption so you’ll have no worries about security being compromised. 

Insteon networks can potentially support hundreds of devices, as the dual mesh network simultaneously protects against signal interference and increased number of nodes for greater range and signal stability.

Controlling Insteon devices via a compatible smart hub is optional if you don’t plan on creating automated scenes or utilizing remote control. Simple On/Off and delayed activation commands can be issued from powerline modules or a computer with compatible software for local control. Voice commands are also available through Google Assistant or Apple Homekit.

Insteon Cons

While Insteon does manufacture devices that cover most areas in home automation, Insteon devices are limited to only working with other Insteon-brand devices. Only Insteon hubs or controllers feature any sort of connectivity with other brands, and are often limited in their third party functionality. INSTEON (Smartlabs) shut down their servers on April 16th, 2022, effectively discontinuing the use of the INSTEON protocol and nearly all of their devices. 

Older Insteon devices may not be compatible with newer devices or may require separate mobile apps or Insteon hubs in order to be able to function within the same network. Between limited choices in available devices and infrequent software or hardware updates, Insteon may not be a sustainable investment in future smart homes. 

Z-Wave Pros

Z-Wave technology uses a wireless mesh network based around low-power radios emitting signals at a max range of around 100m (328 ft) line of sight, or around 30m (100ft) factoring in obstructions. Z-Wave signals are sent as small data packets between devices, avoiding signal interference in most cases. 

Z-Wave devices are classified as either controllers, slaves, or routing slaves, with only controllers and routing slaves able to repeat messages. As a Z-Wave network increases in size, signal stability and potential maximum range increases as each node in the network is able to forward signals to their intended recipients. Z-Wave also features AES encryption so you’ll have no worries about security being compromised.

Z-Wave networks can support up to 232 devices, although depending on your system hub and building layout, you might encounter network performance issues when your number of devices reaches over 40. 

Unlike Insteon, the Z-Wave protocol has been improving steadily over the past few years. The 500 chip series, also known as Z-Wave Plus, added increased layers of security, faster inclusion into existing networks, and improved battery life for newer Z-Wave devices. Z-Wave Plus devices have become the standard for Z-Wave devices since their unveiling in 2013. 

In 2018, the 700 series (also known as Gen7 or Z-Wave Plus v2) was introduced and added further improvements to the wireless protocol and future compatible Z-Wave devices. SmartStart and S2 technology provide even greater signal encryption and faster network inclusion, improvements in both node-to-node and overall wireless range, up to 10 year battery life, and backward compatibility with all existing Z-Wave devices.

Z-Wave Cons

Z-Wave uses only wireless communications, unlike Insteon, and requires the system hub and Internet connection to stay active for the entire network to function. 

The speed of Z-Wave signals are greatly influenced by a number of environmental, hardware, and network factors, often producing noticeable lags between when commands are sent and received. These speed issues have been addressed with each new series of Z-Wave protocols. 

The wide variety of manufacturers, device types, and proprietary applications can also occasionally reveal incompatibility between certain brands or devices, and devices may not recognize commands sent from an incompatible brand.

Z-Wave is the most popular wireless protocol in the home automation market, used by hundreds of brands which have created over 2000 devices for thousands of users worldwide. The wireless protocol is continuously being improved, shared, and integrated across the home automation and security industries. Now is as good a time as ever to begin migrating your smart home over to Z-Wave.

For the latest Z-Wave devices and tips on improving your home network, visit