IoT biz Insteon goes silent, smart home gear plays dumb

CEO removes mention of company from LinkedIn profile

Internet-of-Things biz Insteon appears to have shut down its servers without notifying its customers, who are now wondering what they will do with various "smart" home accessories that are looking rather dumb.

Insteon, a subsidiary of Irvine-California-based Smartlabs, is a maker of smart home devices, including the Insteon Hub that controls assorted light switches, sensors, keypads, thermostats, remotes, and the like that can be automated via a proprietary mobile networking protocol.

Or at least they were – the company's internet presence has become unresponsive. Its press email address now bounces, various phone numbers either don't work or are always busy, and its web-hosted forum is gone. Nevertheless, Insteon's website reports that all is well and there's no need to panic – which is not the first time availability updates have failed to reflect reality.

What's more, as noted by IoT reporter Stacey Higginbotham, company CEO Rob Lilleness and other executives have removed any mention of Insteon from their LinkedIn profiles.

The Register left a message for Lilleness at Richmond Capital Partners, LLC, an investment firm that he appears to run and which owns Insteon parent Smartlabs. We've not heard back.

The silence of the servers doesn't prevent physical switches and buttons on Insteon accessories from operating, but it does mean there's no automation and scheduling available through the Insteon Hub mobile app. Just like a normal switch then, just much more expensive.

With the Insteon Hub app no longer working, Reddit users recommend alternative apps such as Home Assistant and OpenHAB that work with Insteon gear, at their own risk.

Insteon uses its own dual-mesh protocol that works via radio spectrum and powerline that isn't ZigBee, Wi-Fi, or Z-Wave. Insteon devices communicate directly with the Insteon Hub, so they should have relatively few dependencies on cloud services. Since the Insteon protocol has been reverse-engineered, technically savvy customers appear to have options for restoring lost functionality.

There's conflicting information about the risk of performing a factory reset on Insteon devices. The Home Assistant web page warns, "The Insteon company has shut down and turned off their cloud as of April 2022. Do not factory reset your device under any circumstances as it will not be recoverable."

However, a Reddit forum post that suggests recovery of a reset Hub may be possible.

The silent spring

Mike Richardson, owner of Redco Electric & Controls LLC and a professional Insteon installer, told The Register in an interview that his phone has been ringing like crazy since last Thursday with calls from confused customers. He said Insteon did not contact him to say anything about shutting down.

"I stopped doing Insteon installations about nine months ago," he said. "It was too hard to get parts."

Richardson, who does installation work in Arizona and California, said it became clear about a year ago that the company was having trouble. "It was a gradual disconnect," he said. "It wasn't overnight."

Insteon products started becoming harder to obtain, he explained. Items would be back ordered, would be available for a short time, and then would go out-of-stock again.

Richardson said there's a newer smart home hub made by a third-party firm called Universal Devices that has far more functionality than the basic Insteon hub. However, it requires an Insteon-brand modem to talk to powerline-connected devices. Two weeks ago, he said, you could get one for about $50. Now the prices on eBay have skyrocketed.

Customers discussing the situation on the /r/Insteon Reddit forum have been expressing their dismay, exploring alternative software and hardware options for their smart home setups, and mulling the possibility of a class action lawsuit.

Insteon could not be reached for comment. ®

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