Will KNX Home Automation Standard Make it in the U.S.? – CEPro

KNX, the prevailing home automation standard in Europe, has established KNX USA to push the protocol here for the first time. Such an effort makes sense—KNX is a real standard, meaning devices from disparate manufacturers do readily integrate with each other, unlike some other “standards” that may lack true interoperability.

But can KNX find favor among a smart-home community that already has Z-Wave, ZigBee and IP protocols for integration?

Formed in 1999 by Europe’s then-popular building-standards organizations (EIBA, EHSA, BatiBUS), the KNX Association today boasts 350 members and some 7,000 KNX-enabled products.

Some of those products will be on display at CEDIA Expo 2015 in October, where the newly incorporated KNX USA debuts.

“The U.S. is ready. KNX is going to explode,” says Frederic Chaussy, COO of DMC, the Beverly Hills-based company that runs KNX training for the U.S. and also serves as headquarters for KNX USA.

Not so fast.

While KNX looks good on paper and in the real world, the standard might not find a warm reception in the U.S.:

  • KNX-enabled products are significantly more expensive than their U.S. equivalents.
  • The KNX software platform ETS is considered by U.S. standards to be complex.
  • KNX has yet to deliver a viable wireless solution.
  • Today’s KNX products do not meet electrical, physical and certification requirements for the U.S.
  • Z-Wave, ZigBee and IP are serving U.S. home-control needs quite well.

On the other hand, the benefits of KNX are hard to ignore.

The U.S. has no equivalent hardwired standard for home automation. In a typical whole-house installation in the U.S., we see a tangle of modules and cables and a whole lot of programming to make disparate subsystems work together.

Marc-Antoine Micaelli, CEO of the KNX training company DMC and secretary of KNX USA, visited a showroom of a leading U.S. home automation company recently.

“I’m looking at wires everywhere,” he tells CE Pro. “There are 16 different gateways and insecure protocols. It can be hacked left and right.”

He adds, “There’s no flexibility for the future.”

And: “The product is ugly.”

RELATED: CEDIA 2015: KNX to Push Dominant European Home Automation Standard in the U.S.

It’s not that European products are simply better looking than their American counterparts (they are), but that the KNX standard allows so many options. Dozens of unrelated manufacturers can (and do) create scores of keypads, touchscreens, sensors and other devices knowing that they will work with any KNX-enabled control system.

Many of the most elegantly designed KNX products are quite expensive. Manufacturers can bear the cost because the market is so large, namely, any household that has a KNX-enabled automation system. That’s a lot of households.

In the U.S., we don’t have a critical mass of professionally installed systems that employ a single communications protocol; therefore, there’s no compelling case for a third-party manufacturer to make super-cool touchpads (for example) for universal use.

At CEDIA Expo 2015, check out some gorgeous KNX-enabled touchpads from EMEA manufacturers such as Basalte, Vitrea and ELKO (iNELS). You’ll find more KNX goodies at the first ever KNX USA booth at CEDIA.

What the Home Automation Pundits say about KNX USA

When KNX announced its U.S. initiative earlier this year, CE Pro reached out to several prominent manufacturers and standards organizations to gauge the chances of KNX in America. Most of the individuals asked not to be identified since they do offer KNX gateways and support KNX in other ways in the EMEA.

Here’s what they had to say (edited for grammar and clarity).

“I’m looking at wires everywhere. There are 16 different gateways and insecure protocols. It can be hacked left and right.”

– Marc-Antoine Micaelli, CEO of the KNX training company DMC and secretary of KNX USA, on a visit to the showroom of a U.S.-based home automation manufacturer.

Too little, too late
They have been trying for at least 20 years and haven’t gotten too far yet. Given all of the other technologies that are going to try and give it a go I put their chances of success in the residential market at a near zero without substantial changes to their offering. 

Wireless void
KNX is traditionally a wired standard, so it is difficult to retrofit. The RF devices that exist operate on the 868 Mhz frequency that is not allowed here in the States.

The old powerline version was not compatible with our power systems so it was a difficult transition.

Weak wireless, hard provisioning
The RF portion of the standard doesn’t work well and does not support any type of security.  The provisioning is very “technical” aimed at the German professional installer community. Basically it is a twisted wire professional solution that is far too expensive to deploy in the North American residential markets. 

‘Very technical’
We have an adapter that maps our internal lighting, temperature and other items to KNX equivalents in a configured KNX system. I agree that KNX provisioning is very technical and very granular. KNX is well understood in Europe, but there are better solutions, both wired and wireless, for North America.

U.S. requirements and critical mass
I think we have to go back to the early days before KNX was formed by EIB (European Installation Bus).

First it was mainly only lighting control, shutter control, heating, ventilation, air conditioning. Then energy management, metering, monitoring, alarm/intrusion systems were added. And only in the last few years household appliances and audio/video were added.

A typical EIB network was made of electrical components such as switches, electric motors, electro-valves, contactors, and sensors.

The founders of EIB (Gira, Jung, Berker, Merten and Siemens) only had European form factors and tech specs of these products (mounting/back boxes and 220V/50Hz versus 120V/60Hz).

This is not only a question of the viability to use these products in the USA but also one of certifications. The KNX world is, in general, extremely concerned about certifications – The U.S. has different regulations governing products than Europe does. So, from the manufacturers’ side, until KNX members can justify the costs and headaches associated with certifying things in both Canada and the U.S., you will not soon see a lot of KNX.

The force of KNX is in the diversity of products and solutions, and if you don’t have multiple manufacturers going to get UL certification on their KNX products simultaneously, it will not arrive in the U.S. anytime soon.

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JULIE JACOBSON
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