Insteon vs. UPB w/ Elk M1 Gold and Cell Phone Dial


Just getting into a new house here (got the keys on Friday the 13th, but won't be moving in until after the 21st) and going to setup the Elk M1 Gold with either Insteon or UPB.

But, need help/advice on the matter... If all goes well, my house may be used as a demo house for my work (well, the studio will be, until it's rented - mortgages in Southern California aren't cheap).

My original intention was to get the OmniPro II with UPB, however, after speaking with Steve and Dave? from Insteon at the recent NASBA Digital Home event, they convinced me to go with Elk... I still have to get back to them on organizing a training event a little closer to our area, but have other pressing matters...

Now, the question is:
UPB or Insteon?

I've been reading these forums for quite some time and read of the horror stories with Insteon... I've been playing around with UPB for well over a year now, and I know what it can/can't do.

But, my main concern (after functionality), is if it can accomplish some basic lighting controls in conjunction with the Elk M1 Gold.

I see that with UPB, I can setup links/scenes and whatnot, but it appears that with Insteon, I can only have 1 group - has that changed yet?

These questions apply to Insteon:
Can the group have lighting devices at various levels (i.e. a scene)?
Since I don't know about the Elk software releases (don't have a panel, can't register for the downloads), is there an update on the support of more than 1 group? Or is this limit an issue in programming the M1XSP (heard that PowerHome can be used to setup Insteon devices/groups within the M1XSP - does it allow setting up groups beyond "1"/device 193)? Is there a free alternative to the Powerhome product to program the M1XSP?

My overall goal would be the ability to initiate scenes (watch movie, etc...), but it appears that it can't be done through the Elk with Insteon at this time. I really don't want to have house controllers/keypadlincs or anything like that - just using the Elk keypad. However, if there is no side effect (i.e. Elk can still control lighting properly), then I wouldn't mind placing a couple controllers in strategic locations.

I don't really care about groups if I can have the Elk controller send various DIM commands out - is this possible at all with Insteon/UPB and the Elk? Can I, through a script, tell the Elk to set a light at a certain level/dim amount? If so, then I could care less about the scenes and just script everything (don't mind that - spend too much time scripting/coding anyway).

I have a self-imposed budget for this (can I afford it without getting yelled at), and will have to pass WAF...

The house specs:
2100 sqft (2 story)
34 total toggle switches (5 of with are paired to dimmers in a 3-way circuit, and 3 are in a 4-way circuit)
11 total dimmers
8 total lutron motion sensor light switches (in bathrooms)

In the end, I would like to replace as many (if not all) switches with either UPB or Insteon...

estimated cost of UPB switches at approximately $75/switch = $3975 (now that is definitely a bit excessive!)
estimated cost of Insteon switches at approximately $33/switch = $1749 (a little better!)

Budget-wish, Insteon is it because I don't really want to spend one month's house payment on UPB... I can get by with the Insteon price, but I want to make sure it can do everything I want it to, and not be a pain.

If anyone has an recommendations, please reply back - I am hoping to place a full order before this weekend.

Total equipment tally that's required:
ElkM1Gold (full system package)
M1XIN (qty unknown, need to tone/count runs)
M1DBHR (Retrofit because they ran 4-conductor home-runs to the keypad locations, instead of CAT5)
M1KP2 and/or M1KP (3 more in addition to unit included with system package)


Is there a way to hook up the Elk M1 Gold (or any other system for that matter) to a cell phone? We aren't getting any phone service, and would rather use a cell phone - which costs less than a landline! Even if it needs to hook up through a computer to the cell phone - no matter. I have a spare Blackberry 8700C - has USB, not sure if it's capable of being a "modem" or serial device, but I can probably find a different phone to use... I would just like to go through a cell phone instead of a landline... If it's not feasible, then I may need to get a VOIP account or something, but I would prefer to minimize monthly expenses.
Welcome to CT!

I believe NextAlarm supports cell based monitoring, and uControl is another company which will be offering it soon. Try the search function, there were a few active threads about it just recently.

Thanks for the welcome!

I did look into those companies, however, I was hoping to accomplish this (in regards to cell phone):

Connect cell phone to Elk to dial custom numbers (eventually monitoring contract, possibly the SmartHome cheap deal). The cell phone has free service, which is why I prefer to use that over getting a landline (which I will never use, and will be an added expense).

My idea was:
I know that you can dial out on cell phones using a computer, but I've never attempted to make the computer a "phone" itself for another device (which is also why I haven't got into VoIP implementation on my own)... If I take an FXO (or was it FXS?) PCI card and plug it into a computer, would there be a way to make the Elk dial over that? Basically, I would be making my own mini PBX/phone system that would have a cable coming from the Elk into the PC, and the PC would emulate a phone service, and dial out via the cell phone...
Not sure about the PBX solution, I am still researching this stuff myself. What about one of those cell phone docks, which turns your cell into a land line, so you can use the regular phone jacks in your house? Not sure if it would work tho.
Found this product:
"Dock-N-Talk" by Phone Labs - seems like it might do the job, however, has anyone ever tried it?

They take a cell phone (cabled/bluetooth) into their box, and then emulate phone service through a couple RJ-11 jacks... In theory, it should do what I want, but, the box w/Bluetooth is about $200, and I don't know how long my free service will last (been going since March, but don't know when they might discover it).

Anyway, I would still like to hear from people about the main issue here - Insteon vs. UPB for what I'd like to do (ultimately control everything via the Elk).

Thanks again for any input

electron - hey, looks like we were looking at the same product, hehe - just wondering if anyone's tried it out]
Now, the question is:
UPB or Insteon?

I went with Insteon. If you are going to use it in the whole house I think it makes sense. The reason that comes up is it seems in some cases with a smaller number of modules it may not be reliable. I know I had some issues early on, but they went away as I installed more.

I liked Insteon because:
1. Lower cost ($40 vs $100 (I think that is what UPB was))
2. Light bars are very cool
3. Virtual linking - I was able to put in light switches without ripping open walls to run travellers.
4. Works with the elk

I did not like UPB because:
1. I heard they buzz (WAF nono)
2. The delays on the taps (another WAF nono)
3. Much more expensive
4. No light bars

That being said, not everyone has had a good experience in regards to reliability. There were also the returns for defective items, but Smarthome has been very good about exchanging them, and I assumed there might be some of that buying such a new product/technology.

That being said, it is still relatively new. Software packages are relatively recent to allow management of the links (but can be set manually). The product line is not an old established one and many items have not yet been released.

Read the posts here and you will get a flavor of what people have seen, and what has been corrected/updated.

The price is a big factor as well as you have noticed. If you are going with an all Insteon setup, that sounds like a reasonable number of switches (I think that is higher than what I have by a few). I had two pairs of signallincs from early on, I never went back to test if I still need them.

EDIT: I saw that product as well, but I too have not tried it yet.

Thanks for the response... For the WAF, it will mainly be if it works fine or not - she can get irritated easily, hehe... Delays and buzzing aren't such an issue, it's reliability. I know she'll be very angry if the lights don't turn on.

However, for me - it's whether I can get my scene controls... Since it's just the two of us, the downstairs living room will be the main movie/tv room, while the family room becomes my game room (who says guys don't get to win?).

I setup a couple of UPB dimmers at my parent's house over a year ago. Their house is about 27 years old now, and the electricals haven't had any work done (other than the house being switched to cans a few years back - they got the house in 98 and we don't know it's prior history). I can't communicate with one of the switches that's on a different phase, but I know why... Other than that, it's been rock solid.

I guess I can go ahead with Insteon, and hope that Elk continues to develop support for it. I'd hate to invest in something that's going to be dead real quick. I know it's technology and it's a gamble, but this isn't a computer here, and I'm hoping that it has a long life cycle.


Seems like most people are working with PowerHome and the ElkInsteon addition to it, but are there any other alternatives that don't cost a thing? Any open source movement into working on this stuff ? I've seen the Software sections on this forum, but they don't seem to be really active
It is my guess that the feature set of Insteon with it's low cost will keep it alive, regardless of any interim issues that come up. X10 did not become X10 over night...

EDIT: Haven't seen much open source. It seems (haven't looked myself) it is difficult to implement the insteon protocol, so all we have seen is stuff by those who get paid to do it.
I can confirm your negatives:
  • yes, I noticed the buzzing immediately when I first played with UPB. But for the much better signal travel and reliability... it's an A-OK trade off for me.
  • delay.. it is there, although very slight. And the only reason is because the switch is waiting to see if you double tap, triple tap, or button hold. Shutting these features off (not setting them up to a link) will unfortunately not get rid of the delay (One of the first things I tried!). The delay is about half a second, and I've gotten so used to it I don't notice it anymore.
I've been very happy with USB. You should be able to get either HAI or SA UPB switches for $55-60 without a problem. There is a slight buzz, but its only noticable when very quiet. Not a big deal. Also, the slight doubleclick wait delay isn't a big deal. My wife never even noticed it.

As for the light bar on the side, all my X-10 switches had it, and I don't miss losing it a bit with UPB. You see the light dim, what purpose does that light bar really give you? With UPB, you can program how the LED acts, and even change its color. Thats more important to me.

Add a bridge, and it should be very stable. As for ELK vs. HAI, I have HAI, and definitly recommend just about everything they make. Yes, the ELK panel is a bit cheaper, but when you look at all the add-ons that a OmniPro II supports, there really isn't much to compare it to. The touch screens support whole-house music systems, video, and much more, and you don't have to upgrade to that right away. HAI is always adding features as well.

I've never used Insteon, but I'd always be careful of a technology like this only made by one company.
I think the reason UPB systems are so much more stable is that the UPB signal is 40volts +. It can travel over a mile of wire and still function. Insteon is only 4volts, (same as x 10) they rely on the repeating effect of all the devices to keep the signal strong. UPB is transmitted at a low frequency. There are very few things that can disturb the signal. The Upstart software is very friendly during programming and there are a wide variety of settings available for scene control. I really like that I can program a device and never go back to the device to change it's configuration or scene connections. On the other hand it is also nice to have the ability to easily walk around the house making lighting adjustments to the scene. It is so easy that I teach my customers to do it. My customers like simple and dependable, and that is what I give them.
Ryaske said:
I would just like to remind you that the company I work for (SmartHomeUSA) would most definitely extend a price break to you on a UPB order that large. Just give us a call, press 1 for customer service (Dawn) and ask her about it.

I will definitely call in and check on the quantity discount (have a dealer account) - I was thinking of placing an order for the Elk Kit w/Insteon and implementing Insteon, but if the pricing is right, I will probably continue forward with UPB...


However, I do have a question about the Elk stuff (again, I'm more familiar with Omni, and was going to use it originally):

Is it possible to send a certain dim/level command to specific lights (UPB or Insteon based) using the scripting/programming language? If I can get that level of control, then I can do exactly what I would want to do.

I do appreciate all the feedback and can see why a lot of people refer to CT in other places.
mjpcomp said:
But, need help/advice on the matter... If all goes well, my house may be used as a demo house for my work (well, the studio will be, until it's rented - mortgages in Southern California aren't cheap).
When you say demo house, are you saying you intend to get into HA professionally? If that's the case, Insteon should not even be a consideration. If you are doing this professionally you don't want the headaches that come with the state of Insteon now.

I have been using UPB for over a year and am very pleased with it. While it can still be improved, UPB support in the Elk is much better. And you can manage it all completely with UPStart for free. With Insteon, you almost need to get Powerhome just for a good link management system.

If you have used UPB already and the minor annoyances as stated are not an issue for you, then in my mind the decision to use UPB should be a no brainer. You can always get decent pricing on UPB, especially if you will be doing this professionally.

Insteon has alot of potential, but it is not near UPB yet. Of course this is all my personal opinion and will differ from others.
mjpcomp said:
Is it possible to send a certain dim/level command to specific lights (UPB or Insteon based) using the scripting/programming language? If I can get that level of control, then I can do exactly what I would want to do.
Absolutely. The rule would look something like:

WHENEVER (trigger)
THEN SET (whatever light) to XX% BRIGHT, FADE RATE = 0
Steve said:
When you say demo house, are you saying you intend to get into HA professionally? If that's the case, Insteon should not even be a consideration.
I work for a computer company, and I spend a lot of time getting us to move into other markets to expand... I started following home automation and control a few years back when Intel began to push it at us (yes, Intel - the chip company)... We have good ties with them, and they've helped us see other markets.

UPB was the first thing I tried as far as lighting control goes. I love it, works great, and I know it won't have trouble.

I would like to use the house for demonstration purposes when I can, but the company won't provide me with a budget for it (it's a catch-22 - I'll get a budget when we start selling, but can't start selling until I show it off). So this is a personal investment.

As I just found out from Ryaske that SH may be able to offer better pricing for a higher volume of UPB, so I think I will go ahead and call them after lunch and see what can be done...