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Insteon vs WiFi | Difference between Insteon and WiFi

This page compares Insteon vs WiFi and mentions difference between Insteon and WiFi technologies.

What is Insteon ?

Insteon is a technology which uses existing electrical wiring for its communication using powerline frequency. In addition , it operates on RF waves. Insteon devices are designed to operate on RF, Powerline or both. It is created by SmartLabs which supports and encourage Insteon product developers. Typical Applications of Insteon are smart lighting, electrical control, sensors, electric cars for remote control of home appliances, thermostats, outlets and so on.

INSTEON network
Figure-1 : Insteon network

The figure depicts typical insteon network. Insteon devices are dual band operated and communicate in peer to peer mode due to its mesh network architecture. It does not require router unlike wifi for network setup. It requires router only when insteon devices are to be remotely controlled with the help of internet and specifically designed application (smartphone app). Insteon Hub is used to interface Insteon network and router. It is backward compatible with X10 technology. The following table mentions typical features of Insteon technology.

Features Insteon
Physical layers Powerline, i2/RF
Modulation/Frequency BPSK and 131.65 KHz (For Powerline)
FSK and 915MHz (For RF)
Message type for communication between devices Standard (10 Bytes), Extended (24 Bytes)
Message format From Address (3 bytes), To address (3 bytes), Flags (1 byte), Commands (2 bytes), User data (14 bytes, for extended message only), CRC (1 byte)
Refer Insteon Protocol Basics >> for more information.
Devices Parameters specific to Insteon Device Categories : 256, Unique IDs : 16,777,216 etc.
Security Physical device possession, Address masking and encrypted message payloads

Though Insteon has been in use since sometime for smart lighting and smart home automation, it has become popular recently due to its use in modern devices such as Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Tesla car and so on.

What is WiFi

WiFi is the short form of Wireless Fidelity. WiFi is wireless networking technology. The technical specifications of WiFi are mentioned in IEEE 802.11 series of standards. Based on data rate and coverage range there are different versions of WiFi viz. 802.11b, 11a, 11g, 11n, 11ac, 11ax and 11be. These standards are designated as WiFi-1 to WiFi-7 respectively.

WiFi connection can be established between client (i.e. Station) and router (i.e. Access Point or AP) and between two clients. WiFi makes it possible for more than one client devices to share same internet broadband connection. Hence everyone can access the internet using their smartphones, laptops and tablets at the same time. The consumer electronic devices such as TVs, DVDs and digital cameras are also designed to be WiFi compliant.

WiFi network
Figure-2 : WiFi network

WiFi is very simple to install. It just requires WiFi compliant router which connects with internet broadband line such as coaxial line or fiber optic line. The multiple client devices can access the same WiFi router using RF (Radio Frequency) waves.

Features 802.11n (WiFi 4) 802.11ac (WiFi 5) 802.11ax (WiFi 6)
Frequency Bands 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz Only 5 GHz 2.4GHz, 5 GHz, 6 GHz (in WiFi 6E)
Data Rate Up to 150 Mbps (Maximum) 433 Mbps (Using 80 MHz and 1 Spatial Stream), 6.933 Gbps (Using 160 MHz and 8 Spatial Stream) 9.6 Gbps (Maximum)
Channel Size or Channel Bandwidth 20 MHz or 40 MHz 20 MHz, 40 MHz, 80+80 MHz, 160 MHz 20 MHz, 40 MHz, 80 MHz, 80+80 MHz, 160 MHz
Maximum Modulation 64 QAM 256 QAM 1024 QAM
Coverage range 70 meters (Indoor), 250 meters (Outdoor) 80 meters (Using 3 antennas) Better than WiFi-5 routers due to beamforming feature

Refer Following links on WiFi for more insight into WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) technology.
Advantages and disadvantages of WiFi   Benefits of WiFi-7   Difference between 11a, 11b, 11g and 11n   Difference between WiFi-5 and WiFi-6   Difference between 802.11ac and 802.11ax   WiFi on Trains  

Difference between Insteon and WiFi

Following table summarizes comparative difference between Insteon and WiFi.

Parameters Insteon WiFi
Physical layer RF, Powerline or both RF
Operating frequency for communication 915 MHz (US), 131.65 KHz 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz , 6 GHz (supported by WiFi 6E/WiFi 7)
Network size Unlimited Max. 256 (supported by earlier versions), Higher due to use of 8x8 MU-MIMO in downlink/uplink
Data rate 13,165 bps(Instantaneous powerline), 2,880 bps(Sustained powerline), 38,400 bps(Instantaneous RF) 9.6 Gbps in WiFi 6/6E (as per IEEE 802.11ax) and 46 Gbps in WiFi 7 (as per IEEE 802.11be)
Security Unique addressing mechanism with unique ID code, AES-256 encryption for messages WPA 3
Modulation FSK in RF PHY layer, BPSK in Powerline PHY BPSK, 16-QAM, 64-QAM, 256-QAM, 1024QAM (max. supported in WiFi6) and 4096QAM (max. supported in WiFi7). OFDMA is also used in WiFi6 and WiFi7 versions of WLAN
RF Range 300 feet unobstructed LOS using half wave dipole antenna Difference coverages are supported by different wifi versions from wifi-1 to wifi-7. WiFi-4 devices as per IEEE 802.11n support 70 meters (indoor) and 250 meters (outdoor). WiFi6 and WiFi7 supports about 100 meters (indoor).
Router requirement for network No (for Home automation), Yes (For remote control of smart home devices using mobile app) Yes
Network configuration Full Mesh Star
Message Propagation Simulcast Routed

Conclusion :From the above difference between Insteon and WiFi, we can conclude following. Insteon is preferred for smart home automation and building applications where as WiFi is preferred for high data rate internet browsing using laptops, mobile phones and tablets. Both technologies Insteon and WiFi support wireless communication. In addition, Insteon supports wired communication over electrical powerlines unlike WiFi. Insteon supports low data rate monitoring and control applications where as WiFi is designed to support high data rate communication between WLAN compliant devices.

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