The continuing challenge of installing new technology into old homes may be old hat for most custom installers, but it isn’t stopping residential systems products manufacturers from devising ways of making the task a little easier.
Among these companies is Orem, Utah’s Vantage Controls, which recently introduced its latest offering–RadioLink–at the 2001 CEDIA EXPO. The event turned out to be especially exciting for those at Vantage, as CEDIA honored RadioLink with the Manufacturer’s Excellence Award for Best Home Networking Product.
Based on radio frequency (RF) technology, RadioLink is a “full-featured” integrated wireless control system that enables automation for lighting, audio/video systems, draperies, blinds, security systems and climate control systems. The product integrates into Vantage’s entire line of automated control and dimming systems, and can be used in conjunction with devices that are controlled by RS-232, infrared emitters, DMX, and high or low voltage, electronic or mechanical and variable voltage output. Users access the system through keypads that interconnect via RadioLink. RadioLink can be used in conjunction with the Vantage ScenePoint wall box dimmer stations, and the Vantage C-Box control unit.
Richard Brady, executive vice president at Vantage Controls (www.vantageinc.com) explained that the popularity of the company’s wired system–which works off of a non-polarized, 2-wire bus–led to the development of a wireless solution. “With the wired system, most of the installation is going to be done in a new construction, or in major renovation projects where walls are torn out and new wires can be put in easily,” he said. “People looked at the Vantage system and really like the feature set. That kind of [sentiment] inspired the creation of RadioLink. What’s revolutionary about RadioLink is that it makes all of the features of automation available in a wireless control product. This is a full-featured product.”
RadioLink is positioned at 900 MHz and operates on 25 channels. Vantage claims that by using digital spread spectrum technology and a frequency hopping technique–whereby the RF signal hops to another channel if interference is detected–RF interference is avoided. “RadioLink utilizes the 900 MHz digital technology, which is a proven and tried technology,” Brady noted. “Bluetooth and 802.11 are super technologies and are potentially the wave of the future, but practical application of those technologies today seems somewhat limited. What RadioLink does is it brings many of the benefits that those technologies are trying to achieve in a practical, useful, commercially viable and available product today.”
Formed in 1986, Vantage Controls is a daughter company of the TransEra Corp., which is comprised of Vantage and HTB International, a software developer. Brothers Ron and Ralph Wilson, who remain active in the day-to-day operation of Vantage Controls, as CEO and president, respectively, founded TransEra. The Wilson’s, who are both electrical engineers, acquired Vantage in 1992 after spending close to a decade developing technologies for it under the TransEra umbrella. The two brothers had always dabbled in lighting control and home automation, and saw Vantage Controls as the vehicle through which to direct their interests in this area.
As Brady sees it, Vantage is able to build upon its established reputation, allowing the company to release cutting edge products, like wireless control systems, that will be accepted by the marketplace. “Products that are best received in the industry are more evolutionary than revolutionary,” he explained. “Revolutionary products are products that change the standard, and they are slow to be accepted in the industry. Evolutionary products are those that take where we are today and make a significant jump ahead, and then allow for even greater steps ahead. Over time they become revolutionary, but it is more of an evolutionary process, which allows the consumer to have the confidence in the technology, and allows them to grow with the technology as it progresses. That’s the magic of the RadioLink system; it has taken tried and true technologies and combined them, allowing for a significant evolution in the capabilities of wireless automation.”
And, as wireless control catches on, Vantage will keep up, according to Brady. “Our system is software-centric, which means that we can upgrade our system as the industry changes,” he said. “Automation and control are becoming more and more prevalent in the industry. There is more demand for those features than there ever has been, and we see that there will be even greater demand. We see that there will be more and more wireless transfer of data. We see that there will be integration with other home systems. We see that there will be integration with businesses that connect to the outside world, to the Internet and other networks.”
The fact that wireless technology is so easy to install into existing construction enables custom installers to target a segment of the marketplace that has been difficult to address in the past, Brady noted. “If you look at lighting control and automation–particularly among the more substantive companies in the industry–collectively, we have been targeting upper end, new construction,” he said. “If you were to add up all of the major and minor players in automation and lighting control, we have only tapped a fraction of the potential in that upper end market. We’ve left behind many potential users.”
While there are only a certain number of new homes built each year, there is enormous potential for the installation of wireless control into existing residences, Brady continued. “The majority of those homes don’t have lighting control and automation,” he said. “Wireless allows us to go back and pick up all of those homes that we missed. It’s a very significant market for installers. Now they can go back to existing homes and offer full-featured automation. We believe that there is a huge market for automation and lighting control using wireless technology in all of these existing homes.”
–Carolyn Heinze works from her media services firm in Toronto, Canada.