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Insteon Home Automation Controller Overview – ISY-99i

Bob Jackson
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by Bob Jackson

Insteon devices can be linked together to do basic home automation tasks like pressing a single button to dim the lights and turn on a TV. But if you want to run programs on a schedule, create advanced behaviors or access your devices from the Internet via a web browser, a home automation controller or software application is needed.

There are three basic options for home automation software and controllers:

  1. A desktop computer software application.
    For example, PowerHome2 or mControl. The user interfaces and features are very nice and powerful. The downside is you have to leave your computer on.
  2. A dedicated home automation controller like the ISY-99i by Universal Devices. The advantage is the ISY-99i is a computer, supports remote access via the web, and you can leave your desktop computer off. The disadvantage is it require some programming skill. If you can program in BASIC then you should be successful.
  3. SmartLinc – Insteon Central Controller. The SmartLinc enables remote web access to your Insteon devices, supports timers and schedules, and does not require a desktop computer. The limitation is it does not support custom programming.
Universal Devices ISY-99i Home Automation Controller
Universal Devices ISY-99i Home Automation Controller

Reasons for Choosing the ISY-99i Home Automation Controller

Of the three options, the ISY-99i met my criteria because it:

  1. Operates without a desktop computer – I didn’t want to leave my PC on all the time.
  2. Supports program logic – allowing me to create programs that respond to various event triggers like motion detectors, door open/close sensors, e-mail notifications, etc.
  3. Enables Internet access from any web browser to view and control the home automation network. I use my iPhone and laptop to access the ISY-99i web pages.
  4. Low cost – about $350.00 with the PowerLinc modem (PLM).
  5. Excellent online product support and extensive knowledge base.

ISY-99i Controller Overview

The ISY-99i is a small device that would easily fit into a structured wiring cabinet. The status LEDs are on the front.

ISY-99i Front
ISY-99i Front

The ISY-99i has four ports (left to right):

  1. RJ-45 Ethernet port to connect to the home router.
  2. DB-9 serial port
  3. RJ-45 serial port for connecting to the SmartLinc powerline modem (PLM).
  4. Barrel socket for DC power.

Of the four ports, the DB-9 port and DC power socket aren’t normally needed. This ISY-99i is powered via the serial port by the PLM.

ISY-99i - Interface Ports
ISY-99i – Interface Ports

The ISY-99i has an internal SD memory card for the file system.

SD Memory Card Slot
SD Memory Card Slot

The ISY-99i is shown here in the center with my other home networking equipment. Left to right: DSL modem, Linksys WRT-54G WiFi router, ISY-99i, NetGear FS-108P switch and NetGear WiFi Phone for Skype base unit.

ISY-99i and Home Network Equipment
ISY-99i and Home Network Equipment

Insteon PowerLinc Modem

A PowerLinc Power Line Modem (PLM) is required for the ISY-99i to communicate with Insteon devices over the home power wiring and radio frequency (RF) links. The PLM also powers the ISY-99i via the Ethernet cable.

PowerLinc Modem (PLM)
PowerLinc Modem (PLM)

The PowerLinc PLM plugs into a standard electrical outlet to communicate with the Insteon network. The Set button and status LED is on the side of the unit.

The interface port is an RJ-45 connector and uses a standard Cat5 Ethernet cable to connect to the ISY-99i. The communication protocol with the ISY99i is serial, not Ethernet, but this is automatic and transparent to the user.

RJ-45 Port for the Serial Interface to the ISY-99i
RJ-45 Port for the Serial Interface to the ISY-99i

The PowerLinc plugs into any electrical outlet. The Ethernet cable plugs into the bottom of the unit and the other end is plugged into the ISY-99i serial port. A pass-through electrical outlet on the front of the unit is provided so you don’t lose an outlet.

PowerLinc Power Line Modem
PowerLinc Power Line Modem

Universal Devices ISY-99i/994i iPhone Web Interface

The ISY-99i and newer ISY-994i home automation controllers include a FREE remote web management interface; there’s nothing to install on your computer or smart phone. I’ve setup my ISY-99i for remote access via my local WiFi LAN and any where in the world via my Internet WAN connection with a DDNS service. This is what the ISY-99i remote management interface looks like on my iPhone 4 using the Atomic Web Browser. The GUI will scroll with a finger swipe to show all of your devices, scenes and programs. I like the Atomic Web Browser much better than Safari because it supports full screen mode, tabbed browsing and will save your login information.

ISY-99i / ISY-994i iPhone Web Management Interface

Next up – working with an Insteon Wireless Motion Sensor and ToggleLinc light switches to automate my front porch lights.


Bob Jackson

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Bob Jackson
Bob Jackson
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