Lutron RF Could Disrupt Z-Wave in Low-Cost Home Automation
Lutron’s new Smart Bridge Pro brings apps, Internet connectivity to low-cost ClearConnect dimmers, thermostats, motorized shades, new GE smart bulbs.
Julie Jacobson · April 7, 2014
Last year, Lutron introduced an entry-level line of ClearConnect wireless home automation products. Now that line has an IP bridge and apps to go with it.
The new Smart Bridge Pro ($200), introduced last week at ISC West 2014, allows users to operate their Caséta Wireless dimmers ($60 includes dimmer and Pico handheld remote), Serena motorized shades, Honeywell thermostat and future automation devices without the need for a third-party home control system. At ISC, Lutron had the system working with a GE smart bulb (launching later this year) that has the Lutron ClearConnect radio built in.
Previously, the only automation system compatible with the inexpensive Caséta line was the Staples Connect DIY system, which has a compatible ClearConnect radio built in.
In addition to app-enabling the growing line of affordable ClearConnect smart home products, the new bridge allows third-party home-control systems to integrate with the devices via an open API.
As demonstrated at ISC, Alarm.com already has incorporated the new solution into its cloud-based home automation service, which powers security systems from 2Gig by Linear, Interlogix, DSC and newcomer Qolsys.
Can Caséta Displace Z-Wave?
First, let’s clear up some confusion about “ClearConnect.”
Lutron uses that moniker for several RF product lines, but each line is distinct and not interoperable. As Lutron tells it, “ClearConnect” stands for reliable and robust RF, not any particular product line.
Unfortunately, when the company announces a new ClearConnect product, we are forced to ask: Which flavor?
So for purposes of this story, let’s call the new affordable ClearConnect ecosystem “Caséta” and the step-up version “Ra” for the Radio Ra2 ecosystem that uses that particular protocol.
Ra has had an IP bridge for several years, and Alarm.com already supports that ecosystem in its large portfolio of smart-home devices.
But the lighting controls, thermostats and motorized shades in the Ra line can cost three times as much as their Caséta counterparts, which can be prohibitive for the price-sensitive security industry.
A ‘Game Changer’
The incorporation of Caséta into the Alarm.com family opens wide the opportunity for Lutron peripherals in the home security market. Lutron has been courting that market for about three years, but with dimmers that start at about $150 each (plus required peripherals) – a price point that is palatable in the custom home integration arena, but not in the broader home security trade.
Home security dealers who do do home automation, overwhelmingly install affordable devices based on the dominant Z-Wave wireless protocol.
Z-Wave dimmers, also preferred by electricians and do-it-yourselfers, start at about $40 retail—on par with Caséta Wireless. (If a Caseta Wireless kit includes one dimmer and one handheld controller for $60 total, then the dimmer itself would probably carry a retail price of about $45.) And guess what? The Z-Wave camp really doesn’t have a DIY-friendly, affordable line of motorized window coverings like Lutron’s Serena shades in the Caséta line.
“It’s going to be a game changer for us,” says Lutron product manager Jeremy Kleinberg, who had this to say to security-only dealers: “This is sort of a no-excuse way to get into it.”
With the historically pricey Lutron control products achieving parity with their Z-Wave counterparts, Lutron could put a dent in the Z-Wave market, especially if the new GE bulbs have legs.
We wonder: Will Revolv and other RF-happy home automation systems incorporate the Caseta radio into their hubs?
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]
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