C by GE’s new hubless, no-neutral-wire-required smart switch: How did they do it?

We take a peek behind the technology of C by GE’s new, no-hub smart switches and dimmers, which don’t require neutral wiring to work.

c by ge smart switch without neutral wiring
Ben Patterson/IDG

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In the past, smart switch users in older homes that lack neutral wiring had to cough up the cash for a wireless hub to make their switches work, but C by GE recently announced new—and hubless—smart switches for junction boxes without a neutral wire.

Without neutral wiring, older two-wire junction boxes aren’t able to deliver power to a smart switch when the switch is off, hence the need—up until now, anyway—for a wireless hub when using a smart switch with legacy two-wire setups.

So, what’s C by GE’s trick with its new, hubless smart switches and dimmers, which will work without a neutral wire?

Tom Stimpac, C by GE’s chief innovation manager, told me at CES that the new hubless C by GE smart switches and dimmers have been designed to “steal” energy from the wire that goes through the switch to power (at a bare minimum level) the switch’s essential functions, namely Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

c by ge smart switch without neutral wiring detail Ben Patterson/IDG

To work in junction boxes without neutral wiring, C by GE’s new hubless smart switches and dimmers have been designed to “steal” energy from the wire that goes through the switch.

“As the electricity goes through the switch at different points we suck a certain amount of energy off, and we store it,” Stimpac said, who added that the power is stored in capacitors rather than in a battery. “So basically what happens is, when [the switch] is in its off state, we always maintain a minimum amount of energy to make sure that the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are still able to operate.”

Stimpac said that it  took a year for C by GE to pull off its hubless two-wire (not counting the ground wire) smart switch concept, in cooperation with Wi-Fi chip manufacturers such as Realtek. C by GE also has three patents pending on the technology.

Compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant, the new hubless C by GE smart switches and dimmers come in five configurations: a dimmer switch, a dimmer switch with a built-in motion sensor, an on-off button, an on-off paddle switch, and an on-off toggle switch.

The new switches and dimmers are set to arrive in “early” 2020, while pricing details are still up in the air.

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