Z-Wave: Integrators ride the wave
For 15 years, Z-Wave technology has been slowly gaining a strong foothold on the wireless device market around the world. Paul Skelton looks at what this means for the Internet of Things and a new program for integrators.
When the Z-Wave Alliance formed in 2005, there was very little interest in or awareness of the now-impending Internet of Things (IoT). But that didn’t stop Sigma Designs and a cohort of seven other companies coming together in an attempt to turn Z-Wave technology into the global standard for wireless home control products.
Now, the Alliance boasts a membership of more than 375 companies with over 1,500 certified Z-Wave products and 50 million units in the market. Most recently, the Alliance announced a new initiative to educate integrators on the benefits of the technology through the launch of an integrator membership category.
“Adding a membership level in the Alliance for integrators and dealers allows those closest to the smart home customer to collaborate with a diverse ecosystem of manufacturers dedicated to creating Z-Wave solutions,” Z-Wave Alliance executive director Mitchell Klein says.
“We want the Alliance to be a destination organisation for everyone – telcos, retailers, home security providers and the installer community – interested in capitalising on the growth of Z-Wave in IoT to push adoption even further.”
Mitch says membership benefits to integrators include access to forums and working groups, as well as technical resources for deployment, troubleshooting, design and testing of Z-Wave products.
Integrators who join at the new membership level will also receive access to the brand new Z-Wave Certified Installer Training for all of their employees at no additional charge. The training will provide installers with tools, best practices, protocols and rules for successful Z-Wave installations.
“This training was created to give installers the edge when it comes to designing, implementing and maintaining Z-Wave smart home solutions,” he says.
“We want to help save them time and money and boost customer satisfaction by giving them the best Z-Wave experience possible.”
“The Z-Wave product has been around for about 15 years. There are about 50 million Z-Wave devices already deployed around the world and we’re growing at a very fast clip,” Mitch says.
Z-Wave is a low-power RF two-way communications protocol, so it doesn’t require a local area network or internet connection to operate – it’s a standalone system and all Z-Wave products are fully interoperable.
“This means that if you have a light switch from one brand and a dimmer from another brand, then they will both operate on the same platform.
“Further, all future Z-Wave products must be backwards compatible. Z-Wave is constantly improving its chipsets but even if you have an older version, it will always be compatible with newer product.”
Digital Home Systems co-founder and director Jerzy Zywicki was recently appointed as Z-Wave evangelist for the A/NZ region.
Digital Home Systems was the first Australian member of the Alliance.
“My role is the official representative of Z-Wave in Australia, to provide support to current and future members,” Jerzy says.
“And I truly believe that Z-Wave will power the IoT in the Australian region. This technology was designed specifically for home automation and light commercial environments, like hospitality. All the features of this technology are fit for purpose; so, it enables easy and fast installation and full management of the network.
“Further, there are more than 50 million devices already installed worldwide and it’s a highly standardised product, so they’re all compatible with each other. This means there are a lot of suppliers working across a lot of categories to complete the product set.”
Z-Wave is an open standard that was ratified internationally in 2012 – ITU G.9959.
“Installers require technology that integrates with everything and Z-Wave offers this,” Jerzy says.
“All of the major security companies – DSC, Honeywell, etc – interface with Z-Wave too, which means clients can have home automation as well as security communicating over the same network.”
THE FUTURE OF THINGS
“The Australian market really isn’t too far behind the North American market when it comes to the demand for smart home technologies, especially around the IoT,” Mitch says.
“But we’ve been doing the IoT long before there was an IoT.
“Z-Wave has always been 100% focused on the smart home. Zigbee, Bluetooth and the like are all good standards and have their role to play in the market, which is why the Alliance is making sure that all of the standards communicate.
“These days, all of the new protocols being developed are typically built on some form of IP, which is why Z-Wave has ZIP (Z-Wave over IP). We are working closely with all of the IP-based standards groups to ensure Z-Wave compatibility over their IP transmission protocols. Our goal is for our ecosystem to establish full interoperability.
“So, not only is the Z-Wave product interoperable within itself, it will be compatible with these other standards that are battling it out in the media and retail stores.”
This is where the Z-Wave 500 Series chipset really comes to the fore, Jerzy says.
Also known as Z-Wave Plus, the introduction of the 500 Series resulted in shorter and easier installations, richer device profiles, improved self-healing and longer battery life.
“The 500 Series is full of features that installers were asking for, like over-the-air software updating, which makes it easy to maintain networks because you don’t have to replace hardware as often.
“Other new features include extremely well managed energy consumption – particularly for battery-powered devices. Sensors could potentially run for two years on battery power alone.”
ALL ABOUT THE INTEGRATOR
The new integrator membership category will be open to Australian and New Zealand installers at an annual fee of $US250.
“This will grant integrators access to a whole bunch of educational resources and open them up to potential business opportunities,” Mitch says.
“By mid-2016, we also plan to offer these members Sigma Design’s Installation and Maintenance Application (IMA), which is an installation tool that will enable an installer to determine the strength of a mesh network where perhaps a client would like to add a device, to increase the strength of the mesh or to troubleshoot.”
The Z-Wave IMA enables a technician to locally or remotely survey Z-Wave signal quality at every node in the system.
When service is needed, a technician can use this mesh network health information to diagnose and repair problems in a home or office, sometimes without any need for the technician to visit, saving time and money for the service provider or installer.
“Ten years ago, when people spoke about home automation it was all about luxury. The technology was only ever really installed in mansions for wealthy clients,” Jerzy says.
“This has changed. Very slowly, the technology became mainstream.
“Now, through the development of technologies like Z-Wave, average homes can have affordable technology installed.”