Insteon Abruptly Shuts Down, Users Left Smart-Home-Less

In today’s “predictable things that happened before and definitely will happen again”, Insteon, a smart home company boasting the Insteon ecosystem of devices built around their proprietary communication standards, has shut down their servers without a warning. For almost two decades, Insteon used to offer products like smart light switches, dimmers, relays, various sensors, thermostats – the usual home automation offerings, all linked into a cozy system. Looking through the Insteon subreddit’s history, there were signs of the company’s decline for good half a year now, but things were mostly stable – until about a week ago, when users woke up and noticed that parts of their smart home network stopped working, the mobile app would no longer respond, and the company’s resources and infrastructure went down. What’s more – the C-rank management has scrubbed their LinkedIn profiles from mentioning Insteon and SmartLabs (Insteon’s parent company).

Screenshot of Insteon's 'service status' page, saying "All Services Online: There's currently no known issues affecting Insteon services"Instantly, the Insteon subreddit has livened up. People, rightfully angry about being literally left in the dark, were looking for answers – as if mocking them, Insteon’s homepage claimed that all services were operational. Others, having expected the shutdown to eventually happen, started collecting and rehosting rapidly disappearing documentation, helping each other keep their tech up in the meantime, and looking into alternative platforms. It turned out to be imperative that users don’t factory reset their Insteon hubs, since those have to communicate with the currently Inste-Gone servers as part of initial configuration, diligently verifying the SSL certificates. Sadly, quite a few users, unaware and going through the usual solutions to make their network function again, are now left with hubs that are essentially bricked, save for a few lucky ones.

screenshot of an eBay auction listing for an Insteon modem, going as high as $386
A modem capable of connecting an Insteon network to a Raspberry Pi – its original price being $80

A week after the services went down, Insteon released an update that surprised nobody and addressed nothing the users didn’t know already; blaming the pandemic for the company’s financial downfall, and not even offering any solutions for the people impacted the most. Proprietary parts of the ecosystem – code, certificates and documentation – are firmly stuck in the liquidation limbo, and it’s clear that there’s no foreseeable return to normal for people who relied on Insteon to keep their homes functioning.

The users have been moving on, and the smart home platforms, open and closed alike, have been welcoming the Inste-off refugees. HomeAssistant has made an intro putting users at ease and supporting them in their relocation to a different platform. They even currently have a dedicated developer working on improving documentation and software integrations for Insteon – and users are already sharing success stories with their HomeAssistant migration! Other platforms, like HOOBS, OpenHAB and HomeSeer, followed suit. The Raspberry Pi shortages don’t help, and the integrations aren’t perfect, but they appear to be miles ahead of what users expect, and lightyears away from the broken systems they’re stuck with. Of course, moving platforms is not the only problem to be figured out. Why do such things keep happening? Why do we keep returning to the proprietary-technology-backed smart home models?And what should we do differently, so that such scenarios are no longer possible in the future?

Every now and then, yet another smart home system’s infrastructure is shut down, leaving its users stranded, their stack of hardware rendered useless. Even large companies aren’t safe – we’ve seen it with Google-affiliated Revolv in 2016, Charter (known as Spectrum in USA) in 2020, and Samsung’s SmartThings in 2021. When Best Buy shuttered its smart home offerings on a short notice, we had an in-depth conversation about why that happens, and the lessons we are compelled to take away. After all, it’s not just the smart home systems that are prone to this – it’s even devices like prosthetic eyes.

We thank [Andrew] for sharing this with us!

87 thoughts on “Insteon Abruptly Shuts Down, Users Left Smart-Home-Less

  1. It seems that at least some people made effort to interface with Insteon stuff quite a few years ago: https://github.com/BigJBehr/Insteon-ESP8266-IoT
    Probably more are there to be found.

    This however is based on users already having their hubs up and running just fine.
    I could imagine that they do use some standard microcontrollers here and there that could be reprogrammed to serve their purpose with custom code. Don’t know if anybody worked on that already?

    At least some dev-guide is found in the cache of the Insteon site, so something could be interfaced to existing stuff..

    1. There are actually a bunch of really solid libraries out there for interfacing with both the Power Line Modems (the serial PLM modules) and both versions of their hubs. The Insteon documentation has always been kind of bad; but it was at least reasonably complete before they went all-in on the cloud stuff. The serial protocol is pretty well understood, but it’s very arcane.

      I wrote a library a while ago to interface with the devices in Go:
      https://github.com/swedishborgie/go-insteon

      and I based that library off the Insteon docs, and a really solid Python library here:
      https://github.com/TD22057/insteon-mqtt

  2. I have Insteon switches and remotes, but never bought one of their smart hubs. The switches work nicely without any network connection, though overpriced. The biggest issue I had with Insteon is the short lifetime of the modems which you need for a PC to control the system. Maybe it’s time to look more closely into Zwave or something.

    1. “wHy DoEs ThIs KeEp HaPpEnInG?!?1111”

      “sToP sAyInG tHe ClOuD iS jUsT sOmEoNe ElSeS cOmPuTeR!!”

      I think the answer to why this continues to happen is obvious, yet here we are.

    1. I liked my X10 system, easy to set up too.
      My youngest car is 1978 though.
      I wouldn’t touch a modern smart home system after watching a Max Headroom episode that showed what could go wrong (30 years ago)

      1. Also the premise for Almost Human episode 11 “Disrupt” (Feb 17 2014)

        It was still on my MythTV, so I rewatched it. Don’t bother with more than the first ten minutes or so unless you like cheesy cyberpunk tropes. I had to pause it multiple times from the cringe levels. (I still think it deserved a second season despite those cringey tropes.)

    2. Yeah I took a look at half a dozen smart home systems the other year… realised they were all pretty much cloud addicted, no weaning them off, (well unless you wanna start over from scratch, but you may as well do a ground up build with your own choice of everything, so meh.) so picked up a box of old x10 junk to play around with instead… haven’t really got to a “real” system stage yet, still looking for the right “Majel Roddenberry”

    3. Tere are many X10 issues (no feedback is huge) but eventually these X10 devices will succumb to the aging of power supplies such as a PC, a TV, a sound system or switching power supplies. You can fix these black holes with filters but it’s getting really tough to get them now. Insteon has a similar problem (on the PLM part)

  3. I’m using IKEA Tradfri. Cheap and cheerful. Works locally, although the devices get occasional firmware updates from the Cloud, and can be linked to other home automation software. Currently I’m using Domoticz.

    1. Considering that IKEA dropped their alkaline and rechargeable batteries a while back, I hope you haven’t jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

      1. Err, what? I can still get batteries from a number of fine alternative retailers. If IKEA stop selling Tradfri I can pay through the nose and get Philips Hue, which are compatible. And the existing bulbs and gateway will still work locally.

    2. I have used the Ikea bulbs and gateway for a couple of years now, and work flawlessly without the web, and the best part there are full integrations with Openhab and Home Assistant.
      I am however slowly switching to Z-Wave as that means a permanent mains installation that can work in complete dum mode too.

      I have actively avoided anything that is WiFi based as the risk of these stopping working one day is too high, just because someone just with a flick of a switch at corporate headquarters decides not support the old stuff anymore.

      1. Just find products that support flashing open source firmware and have support for your open source hun of choice, in I use HomeAssistant. Don’t be scared of wifi, be scared of not knowing what your devices have access to on your network because you didn’t put them all on a separate vlan and they can see all your devices and send back what you use without your permission. ;)

  4. Why anyone would use or buy a home automation system (or any system) that depends on some cloud server is entirely beyond me. I figure they simply get what they deserve when something like this happens.

    Could anyone have seen this coming? Indeed they could. It is not a matter of whether but when.

    1. > that depends on some cloud server is entirely beyond me
      :+1:
      I just truly do not get it either. I mean, I’m OK with the options of using one (and even that is iffy at best) but not as a mandatory requirement.

    2. Sadly, not only home systems… but commercial building systems too ranging from lighting, access control, parking, etc. I try repeatedly to inform the commercial decision makers, but it falls on deaf ears the farther one goes up the corporate ladder. It is truly amazing at the overall ignorance of these people. If you “really” want a cloud functionality then make it “in addition to” not a replacement.

    3. To a large extent we are all just as guilty of this, in more subtle ways – if you can manage to entirely get away from the scumbags at Google, Amazon, IBM, Facebook etc for all the services you rely on I’d be surprised. Even if you don’t knowingly have one of their clouds or remote data harvesting farms as a dependency for something you do use, I would be a little surprised if everything you use is truly free of them…

      And if any one of them pulled the plug on something its going to make waves, and its not like Google loves dumping services – cloud print for instance, for the longest time the only way to actually print off some android device…

      To some extent you can say the same about Visa and Mastercard, payment handling is rather tied to their systems at some point for almost every transaction.

      I do agree though if I bought any home automation stuff it would have to be stuff I can host my own server for, can interface with in other ways than the officially supported smartphone app etc…

      1. I lived in the bush for five years so I’m pretty sure I have got away from these corporate structures that have turned human beings into a commodity. Here’s a tip – in the bush you can live like a human but in the cities you will live like a stressed caged rat. Of course you will argue but that’s because you haven’t lived in the bush.

        For the last 20 years or more I have had my own online (shared) sever for all my internet needs including email etc.

        If I buy something that has internet dependence then it has to be able to run from my server so I have control over it so someone else can’t switch it off overnight as their company vanishes.

        There were actually some products you could do this with but then even those products did an online “upgrade” and all of a sudden they would only work with the original server. For some of them it wasn’t possible to “downgrade” them and remove the offending software as they started encrypting everything.

        Someone mentioned ring and that’s a good example of how these things effect people like us who are more away.

        From memory it was Ring that signed a paid agreement with law enforcement and intelligence to send a pic of anyone who presses the video doorbell button for location and biometric identification. So you may choose not to buy such products for privacy reasons but then you friends might unknowingly violate your privacy anyway. Most people have no idea how little information is needed about a particular person when you have that as part of big data and can process that with AI. You can conclude personal and group association paths that can be used to identify the communications networks of spy’s, the networks of bikie gangs, the trade and transport paths of drugs, shared interests, dietary habits, social hierarchy, medical conditions and abilities, sexual preference, sexual activity, sexual curiosities and fetishes, vulnerability to be influenced, non-declared cash flow, psychological traits, perception of privacy.

        There are so many thumbs in the pie now that privacy is a forgotten tradition that we can only dream about.

        1. Even living in the bush for the most part (even tech free while in the bush) I expect you are reliant on remote services sometimes – as they really get everywhere, from the Bus and train live timings, ordering a pizza, the repo you get updated software from – lots and lots of sometimes very hidden dependency on services provided that might not always be there, and many are no doubt spying on the users…

          This one really is apt for how things work now, and I would be willing to bet one of those most foundational layers in many things is some form of cloud/web service. At least if its remotely new software.

          https://xkcd.com/2347/

          I’ve not lived in The Bush, but then round here there really isn’t much nature you could live in, the UK is too long and densely developed that there isn’t much real wilds left, but still I’d not argue with you… I live in one of the nicer cities in the UK, still pretty big but rather less rat in a maze of concrete, glass, brick and stone than most, but visiting areas of London…

          1. Fuel was about it.

            I came back sometimes and bought 500 litres of fuel. I still had a phone service for voice mail, in online server for email and some other annual bills. But none of these services worked where I was.

            I live in Australia where just about all the population live in the coast and that’s where all the services are.

            Then there’s the outback where there aren’t many people but there are some services.

            I lived in the bush where there are no services like cell phone, internet, electricity, radio broadcast media, TV, or even other humans and now means of communicating.

            What there was, ants, flies, mosquitoes, spiders, snakes, dingos, crocodiles and all manner of things that want to partially or completely eat you.

            When I last came back the rest of the world was three months into a pandemic. At first I though it was a wave of gastro as there was no toilet paper. After going to several different towns and seeing the same thing I was told about the pandemic. Now I know the indicator of a pandemic is – no toilet paper.

            So yeah, I did keep services running but I had no dependence on them and I had no access to them until I returned.

            I had to come back as I was loosing strength and finding it hard to breath. It would not have been long before some creature got the upper hand and made a meal of me. It turns out that I had lung cancer. I’m recovering now and hoping to go back out bush before you all launch WWW III.

            I’ll probably see many flashes in the sky and that will be it, the sum total of many thousands of years of evolution.

          2. Fair enough, Fuel is a pretty big dependence in the importance to life, at least if you actually rely on it. And with my limited knowledge of Aus other than in Arnhem land I think you would have to be reliant on it or too close to civilization. Aus is not my idea of nice to live in the bush, too damn hot, give me above the arctic circle over that…

            Glad to hear you are recovering, and hope the very depressing state of affairs right now turns out better than WWW III. Wonder what you would really see in Aus (while hoping we never have to find out), I can’t imagine much being targeted or overflying it even in WW III, there are so many targets that would seem higher priority for every side than hitting Aus at all.

            I find the image of you arriving back in civilization to the pandemic as you described quite amusing.

    1. I recently started thinking about smart home stuff because I’m moving. This looks great, but it’s not ready and the certified platforms are all pretty much unavailable for now or super expensive. Maybe in time.

      1. I’m just doing OpenThread for now with some personal projects… but I may consider Matter eventually (> 2022-09 for sure) since, as you said, it is not ready at all yet (it got pushed back by a few months!).

        For now, the extra features that Matter offer don’t, well, *matter* for my use case so I’m sticking with just the basic features of OpenThread 1.2 (and, I suppose, 1.3 shortly).

  5. I know preaching to the crowd but all Cloud services will eventually shutdown. Very few cloud services last. Most are replaced or out-n-out drop dead.
    The best solution for home automation is self host (at home). The lights stay on when the internet is down.

    1. Yes I kind of like my wall switches that I can pick up at the hardware store for a few bucks. They’re quite reliable and won’t turn themselves off or on unless I’m there to do it.

      1. I like your way of thinking :) . Do I really need to turn on my lights with a computer command or my voice? Are we getting that lazy? Just get the lead out and go turn off the light manually….. click… light is off.

        At any rate, any home project that I will ever control anything will not involve the cloud. All local. Seems so obvious and logical from a security and privacy stand-point …but evidently not to a lot of other people.

        1. I’ve got no objections to having internet facing, as there are some clear uses for it (like being able to turn off the hotwater etc when out of the blue you are stuck away from home and didn’t plan it) as long as the home automation is controlled entirely locally and the remote connection is sufficiently secure – which ties into something many of us should probably consider setting up at home anyway – our own VPN server so we can use those roving data connections as if we were at home, and access our internal NAS etc…

          But the idea of putting stuff internet facing to me seems way way way more work to keep it safe and secure, so I probably wouldn’t ever actually put such things internet facing myself, I like not having to be quite that paranoid on if some stupid ‘smart’ device is effectively broadcasting if I am home or not…

      2. With a tiny bit of leverage added you can toggle them lying in bed with a Nerf gun (technically mine can actuate the light switch with a perfect shot but the target is damn small, so the extra leverage and little target is more reliable.)…

        1. When I was a youngster, I put screw hooks in my bedroom wall and used a string to allow me to shut off the overhead light when I was done reading.

          1. Dang, did you spy on me, I had that setup also. Mine went to a lever that swiped across the switch… I found I had enough travel on it, that I could counterweight it just so, pull hard on the string and let go and it would switch it on too. ( i.e. weight on the lever wasn’t enough to move the switch when the lever was resting on it, but if you dropped it from a few inches it flipped it… it was kinda held back by the weight of the “pull” I used on the other end too, which kept things in equilibrium when just dangling.)

  6. Rats, hit the wrong kkey combo … IMO, the best solution for folks that had the hub and Insteon. Get an ISY, they work great with Insteon. I think they also support ZigBee and ZWave but I don’t know to what extent.
    I got rid of my Insteon stuff a long time ago because it tended to die and replacing in-wall devices got to be annoying. Also my lab pretty much guaranteed I had too much noise to be reliable.

  7. I bought an IoT (supposed to be Bluetooth) electrical timer for my coffee pot about 8 years ago. Was suspicious that I needed a proprietary app and internet connection to function. Sure enough coupe years later the app became unsupported then quickly non-functioning all together. First and last smart device I’ve owned. Trying really hard to have sympathy but coming up short.
    Actually I bought a smart timer for my sprinklers because I thought it was a feature, not a requirement. Thought I could manually program it if I wanted to. Realized my error and promptly returned it and got an old style regular one that will keep working another 20 years.
    Also- I would say 95% of Ring doorbells I’ve encountered in wild have dead batteries and don’t work.
    I just don’t get it.

  8. The sad part about this fiasco is that it didn’t need to happen this way and they could have went out with some good will to the community. The Insteon Protocol predates IoT and the need to be online. Devices can be paired to each other or to the Hub without an internet connection. The devices still work with 3rd party systems like Isy.

    Technically speaking the Hubs work offline, schedules still run and the local API will control all device; it’s just that Alexa/Google support and the Apps require the Hubs connecting to the cloud.

    The Hubs do have a local API and the Apps could have been designed to use them when on the local network with the Hubs. At least when Insteon shutdown their servers, the Apps would have continued to work locally. Insteon could have announced their shutdown and explained this new behavior to users.

    But instead they just ghosted everyone.

    1. It leaves consumer demand in it’s wake. If these people want to get back where they were they have to go buy stuff and whoever made this decision will have a new company and new brand releasing products onto the market tomorrow as that’s the way they had it planned all along.

      I have never seen a company punished for doing this so of course it will keep happening. Not only that, it will get worse as they test to see what they can get away with.

      Already I am seeing about a dozen hardware companies shadowing behind “Grid Connect” for internet server dependence. When the market starts to saturate and not many are buying more product then “Grid Connect” who seemingly provide a service for free without support from these shadow companies will go bankrupt. Strangely the server will go off-line even before the ink has dried on the bankruptcy papers, the hardware companies will say sorry but not our fault, everyone will throw there devices in the bin and go buy new hardware from a different hardware company not realising that the new company also just purged all it’s hardware through the same “grid connect”.

      Kay sera sera

        1. Manufacturers are really good at making machines hit a price point and wear out at a specified life.

          GM was notorious for buying seven year old GM cars, taking them apart and demanding big price concessions from the suppliers of any parts not completely worn out.
          After decades of that effort, Benz just showed up and delivered a complete line of true warranty timer equipped cars (that continue to sell, 20 years on). VW et al can’t get theirs to last the warranty though.

          It’s difficult to retrofit quality and durability. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

          Is a soft landing for ‘disposable crap’ even possible? Current supply chain spasm going to make things better?

  9. You could think of it in terms of “product lifetime”. You know the cloud server will go away someday for some reason and that is “OK” as long as you get a few years out of it, then throw it away and start over. Of course I think this is utterly stupid and not anything I would buy into, but if you go down this road you should think like this.

    The other thought is that doing things “on the cloud” allows a company to sell a cheaper product (no need for some kind of home central hub). Or it allows them to sell a simpler product (no hub to configure, no service to install on some home computer, it “just works” (for now)).

    I want no part of any of this. But it is a story that will continue to repeat itself.

    A great quote I recently heard: “If we learn anything from history, it is that we don’t learn anything from history”.

    1. The original saying is that if we don’t learn anything from history then we are doomed to make the same mistakes.

      That is very true and history shows us that we are so far down the path of WWIII that there’s no turning back.

    2. The difference between what you have said and reality is that in reality they deliberately make it impossible for you to use your own (or at least independent) server resources so that you can continue using the hardware you paid for. And by “paid for” I mean you “PURCHASED” a product rather than enter a service agreement.

  10. When I started with Insteon equipment they didn’t even HAVE a hub… and the ISY was the only option available. Glad I did get that now.

    I see a lot of people touting HomeAssistant… But the best “features” require a cloud subscription. That’s a non-starter for me. There are other things about Home Assistant that creep me out too. Four containers on a raspberry pi to get minimum function?!

    I’m looking at openhab and anything that doesn’t need containers.

      1. “Homeassistant requires zero containers” – Tell that to the documentation. ;-)

        Homeassistant (HASS) now has the worst documentation because there’s old docs and new doc and 4 different ways to install it. Also I’ve seen way too many posts with RTFM. HASS is complex, the changes made it worse. The Documentation even worse and they don’t really have examples so someone just starting can do the simple things.

        I’m no beginner with HA (since 1978) and I’m and expert with Linux. The contradictions (Supervisor -> … oh wait, we changed that … oh wait you didn’t install it with that … RTFM) make everyone a bit nuts. There are lots of good videos that help but there are also a lot of bad or old one that make it worse.

  11. I’ve been burned on smart lights and plugs, so I’m leery of anything using wifi for connectivity- Notably, the Phillips ‘WiZ’ lights, and a handful of different brands of smart plugs. they all want to have an app on a tablet, and connectivity to a cloud server. After the fourth or fifth time of completely re-doing all my routines when the smart plugs and lights decided they didn’t want to internet anymore, I ripped the lot out and went zigbee and Hubitat, mainly because the Hubitat has a ‘paid with the device’ option to receive commands from the amazon echo devices, and via a third party open, send triggers to said devices.

    And as soon as I can build a handful of devices that can do multi-room audio from on-prem storage and on-prem voice command and control, the echo devices are getting junked as well. (unless there’s a way to root the things and make them useful without internet…)

  12. Let’s face it, there are way way too many separate smart home systems, all dividing what customer base is out there, and each one of these systems think that they can maintain support with such limited customers, and more sh systems keep popping up… Enough Already…we need Matter and HomeAssistant to isolate these separate systems into more open system… We need working components not isolating systems…what a waste of electronic trash…

  13. This issue will not go away, look at the smart phone industry. Only a matter of time before there are more links to click on in an article such as this one. The Samsung link gives insight to the future. Your mind is the cloud, press the button. If you want convienence it will come at the cost of the manufactures definition of ‘convienence’. You will have to just get used to that. Good article, thanks for gathering such information.

    1. Understand that stock holder corporations are only in it to make money. Not to provide you a service. Private companies generally also are in it to make money but they want to provide you a service.

      I’m not sure if Matter will help us or not. I do expect new ways of keeping us locked into the cloud. The DIY side of things are messy but gives us greater freedom. We can choose to use the cloud (for everything or some things). I’ve done a lot with Node-Red and I’m working to figure out Home Assistant (HASS). As long as I can use MQTT with HASS I can mix and match.

      HASS is not the only game in town, others have been mentioned above.

      1. I have no doubt that people who have the talents to build their own system, or modify an existing one will do so. The linked Samsung article pretty much says most of what needs to be said, in my opinion, which has trended towards the casual crowd. I think the casual crowd means the ‘masses’, I could be wrong though. This comes with some unfortunate side effects of the ‘plug and play’ venue. We are already used to perfectly good hardware becoming not useful through software, example smartphones and the items mentioned in this article. Problem isn’t necessarily one company here and there, issue is when you can’t avoid as most companies are doing such things. I think we are approaching that point. I do agree the talented people out there will still make due, just not the casual crowd. Beyond that it could be the more the casual crowd is pursued, the more difficult it could be for modification, repair ir repurpose.

  14. this is the problem of cloud connectivity. The business structure has 0 design for longevity, so they have none. Every single one of them will fail. This is even worse than the old version of ‘planned obsolescence’ because your hardware is just fine. Iy you bought an item yesterday you’re just as screwed as the guy that bought it 5 years ago, only more-so because you didn’t even get to rent some functional time.

    I’m not against home automation in and of itself. A lot of it is kind of neat. I have some ancient stuff I got handme downed from an older brother thats I think from the 90s. Works just great simply because it doesnt rely on phoning home for anything, its just lacking modern convenience for ease of programmability.

  15. This is exactly the reason why I do not rely on anything external to my own home, systems, and servers. It might be okay for things that don’t matter. But for everything else, make sure you have control over it all from end-to-end.

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