It isn't often that we write about products seeking crowd funding. We had written about ioSafe's Indiegogo campaign for the N2 NAS back in September 2012, and the review of that product went out yesterday. Unless a product has already been demonstrated in its full working state and is guaranteed to ship, we are hesitant to provide dedicated publicity and hype to ideas and concepts that may never reach the consumer.

We have also recently ramped up our coverage of home automation technologies. In one of the initial pieces, we were bullish on the upcoming 802.11ah Wi-Fi standard for the Internet of Things revolution happening right now. 802.11ah standardization and devices are a good 2 to 3 years away, and in the meanwhile, Z-Wave and ZigBee will extend their reach further into the home.

One of the primary roadblocks to adoption of home automation technologies is the need for consumers to invest in a dedicated controller (very much similar to investing in a wireless router for Wi-Fi, but only much costlier). Securifi, a consumer networking startup, aims to solve this problem by launching a Wi-Fi router with both Z-Wave and ZigBee radios. Securifi is no stranger to the router world. They launched the Almond touchscreen router last year and it has proved to be very popular on Amazon.

Securifi's Almond+ boasts of 802.11ac speeds with two spatial streams (867 Mbps of theoretical throughput). It will also have concurrent dual band 802.11n support (again, two spatial streams for 300 Mbps of theoretical throughput). The WAN port and four LAN ports are all gigabit. The unit is based on the Realtek 802.11ac reference platform (with the RTL8812 802.11ac + an radio). For Z-Wave, Sigma Designs ZM3102 is being used. The prototypes demonstrated at CES 2013 had Atmel ZigBee ICs, but Securifi expects to use ICs from Silicon Labs for this radio in production units. The beauty of the design is that all three radios are under the control of a single SoC running at 620 MHz with 128 MB of RAM.

Home automation components sold by companies like Comcast, Verizon and ADT bring with them monthly subscription fees. For tech-savvy folks, this is an irritant, as they want more control of the home automation services from outside without paying monthly fees. The Almond+ aims to cater to those types of users too by releasing the SDK for the router to the public. This should allow the open-source community as well as device vendors to quickly add support for various ZigBee / Z-Wave sensors in the Almond+. Securifi recently indicated that control of the Philips Hue using the Almond+ is already in the works.

A touchscreen on a router such as the Almond didn't get us excited. However, when bundled with a controller for home automation sensors, it begins to make a lot of sense. For $99, the set of features seems like a steal (given that  802.11ac routers have struggled to break the sub-$100 barrier). The Almond+ project has already reached its funding goals on Kickstarter. Our only minor quibble is that Securifi could have upped the price a bit in exchange for a larger touchscreen (2.8in touchscreens are definitely not $200). In any case, we are really excited about the Almond+ and can't wait to get it in our hands for evaluation in real-world scenarios. Availability is slated for mid-Q3 2013. Economical devices like these are encouraging signs for the IoT (Internet of Things) ecosystem.

Source: Kickstarter

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  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - link

    First, if no other manufacturer is selling AC routers for under $100, then just how good can this one, with all its other bells and whistles, actually be?

    Second question is answered by their website:
    "Can I use multiple Almond+'s in the same network?
    Yes, you can designate one of them as master and all the others will be secondary controllers"

    Good to know!

    I'm a bit confused that we're still dealing with WiFi protocols for home automation when PLN seems to be the perfect avenue for it. WiFi is crowded, wired ethernet isn't convenient, but every powered device is connected to an outlet or socket - can someone explain to me why PLN isn't leading the home automation trend? That's not a rhetorical question, I'd really like to know why. Thanks!
  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - link

    Sorry, I guess that was actually three questions. :P
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - link

    Realtek-based 802.11ac routers have been announced under the $80 price point. So, I think $100 for the whole combo can be achieved.

    As for PLC not being used for home automation, it is a combination of cost, reliability and reach. Some equipment like door knobs aren't connected to the mains, but they need to be endpoints for HA control. In addition, PLC's performance across modern circuit breakers is so-so. I will touch upon remaining aspects in one of the upcoming HA pieces. Btw, there is theoretically nothing preventing manufacturers from coming up with HA devices from using PLC.They can be controlled over the existing networking equipment with the consumer.
  • Celeus - Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - link

    I'm a network geek by trade, and play with lots of consumer as well as enterprise grade gear. I really don't care for PLN. I've never had good success with PLN gear, either in homes or in apartments. I've had better luck with Moca and 802.11 bridging on crowded RF domains than with PLN.

    Lots of lost connections, doesn't work through UPS's or some power strips, poor security implementations that don't work between vendors- it just gets worse the more you work with it.

    I really wanted it to work, but I can't stand it. I can only imagine what it would be like to try and support a consumer grade product running on it, particularly one that needs to work reliably.

    Besides, a lot of things that need to talk for home automation aren't plugged in to home power outlets, or may be downstream from an AC-DC adapter. Thermostats are (the Nest powering itself off of the furnace/AC line is awesome btw). Curtain controllers, projectors, some AV gear, garage doors, security systems, existing environmental detectors and who knows what else all may have existing serial or contact-closure methods of communicating state or accepting commands. This is ignoring all of the home-security applications of door/window/glass break/motion sensors that may be away from power outlets.

    I'd be fine with things that supported PLN as well as other protocols (Zigbee, Z-Wave, Insteon, 802.11, X10 all come to mind) but my preference would be Zigbee and Z-Wave.
  • bobbozzo - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - link

    PowerLine Networking is unreliable across more than one segment; e.g. in the US, you have 240V (2 120V lines out of phase) coming into the house, and then that gets split into 2 120V circuits.

    Also, surge suppressors interfere with the components, leaving them unprotected.

    Futhermore, thermostats don't run on A/C, so it'd be near impossible to use PLN to control one.
  • themelon - Friday, March 8, 2013 - link

    Actually household current in the US is not generally multi-phase. It's single phase with a split pole. You get 240v by running a hot-hot from 2 poles that are in-phase and 120v from a hot-neutral.
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - link

    ZWave and 802.11ah are 900mhz protocols, and Zigbee can operate at either 900mhz or 2.4ghz/ With cordless phones, etc moving from 900mhz to 2.4ghz, the 900mhz band is actually becoming less crowded.
  • Penti - Sunday, March 10, 2013 - link

    900MHz used by GSM-R, 2G/GSM, 3G/UMTS and 4G/LTE here in Europe in the country where I am, varying a bit depending on country. Plus all the other stuff which uses the 900-band. Zibgee is actually suppose to use 868MHz in Europe, however that might be crowded by other unlicensed stuff to. Like RFID. Should still be better though then 2.4 which is crowded by WiFi and bluetooth etc, and doesn't propagate well indoors.
  • Eleanor1 - Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - link

    First, if no other manufacturer is selling AC routers for under $100, then just how good can this one, with all its other bells and whistles, actually be?

    1) Just because other manufacturers are taking advantage of early AC adopters with marked up prices doesn't mean the actual cost of an AC radio is expensive. Almond manufacturer may be taking less profit than the major brands asking top dollar for a new technology.

    2) Their last router with only N and no zwave or zigbee was retailing for $120. The $99 price is only for early backers on kick starter. The actual price will be $130 - $150 when sold at retail on Amazon.

    3) As noted by another commenter, AC routers can be bought for as little as $80.

    4) when it comes to quality, I would trust the makers of the top rated router on Amazon - 4.5 stars by 660 customers. Only time will tell if they will produce another excellent product.

    To answer the rest... Yes multiple Almonds on one network. Although AC routers like the Almond+ should be able to cover a 5000sq ft house.

    PLN has numerous weaknesses as others have pointed out in comments. Plus not every powered device is plugged in. Many devices run off battery and are better with wireless such as sensors and cameras. Think about motion, proximity, door, water/flood sensors. Many door locks and thermostats use batteries. Use these sensors with powered devices like lights, blinds or A/V equipment and you can have a better automated house.
  • andrewaggb - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - link

    too bad it's sept availability

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