Will making Z-Wave an open-standard increase its worldwide adoption?

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How Z-Wave Works

We are experiencing a new era of the Internet of Things (IoT), where many electronic devices surrounding us are interconnected by a network. The emergence of IoT also sheds new light on the concept of a “smart home.”

IoT-enabled house equipment allows for a home to be more intelligent, remotely controllable, and interconnected. Many start-ups are also making efforts to join this growing market. The smart home has been drawing attention recently due to the IoT, but it is not a new concept.

A smart home refers to a residence equipped with a communication network, high-tech household devices, appliances, and sensors that can be remotely accessed, monitored, and controlled and that provide services responding to the residents’ needs.

Z-Wave

One system that is related to all this is the Z-Wave. Z-Wave is a wireless communications protocol used primarily for home automation. It is a mesh network using low-energy radio waves to communicate from appliance to appliance, allowing for wireless control of residential appliances and other devices, such as lighting control, security systems, thermostats, windows, locks, swimming pools, and garage door openers. 

An Open Standard Z-Wave

Although this competing smart home system has been criticized by rivals for a long time as not being an open standard despite outward appearances otherwise and it’s easy to imagine that’s why it was left out. However today the Z-Wave Alliance is making an announcement that would seem to fix that. It’s going to open up a part of the standard that’s long been locked down as a money-making scheme, theoretically turning Z-Wave into a fully open rival. With this, Silicon Labs is going to start letting other companies make Z-Wave radios, too.

Until now, a single company owning Z-Wave has been responsible for providing all of the chips for Z-Wave radios; which means there’s no competition driving down prices. And if Z-Wave were to ever become truly dominant, they would be in a position to make a whole lot of money. This also solves the biggest ongoing complaint with Z-Wave; i.e Silicon Labs (and Sigma Designs, which owned Z-Wave for years before it) effectively had control over the entire ecosystem. This news is totally trending in the market.

The purpose of doing all this is to turn Z-Wave into a completely open standard as demanded by most. Even the Z-Wave Alliance, an apparent standards body that seems to mostly be in charge of certifying device compatibility will be spun out into a fully independent organization in charge of developing Z-Wave, rather than existing as part of Silicon Labs. 

This would turn Silicon Labs into just one company among many that are trying to make money off of Z-Wave. That might seem like a strange decision just a couple of years after buying the Z-Wave business for $240 million. But, it’s a risk that makes somewhat more sense under Silicon Labs than it would have under prior owners.

To Sum Up

When Apple, Google, Amazon, and Zigbee announced that they were going to work together on a common smart home standard a few days ago, everyone talked about the missing name i.e. Z-Wave.

With the announcement from these big tech giants forming a group known as Connected Home over IP; Silicon Labs must have realized that Z-Wave was starting to get left behind. While that new group isn’t developing a competing radio communications standard that would replace Z-Wave; it is going to try to establish a system that smart home devices can use to connect with one another. 

If it works out, those devices, which will primarily rely on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi at first, are likely to take off among consumers, leaving less room for Z-Wave.

But ultimately, Silicon Labs just wants to sell radios. And the announcements are really about making smart home tech more accessible. The hope is that, by opening Z-Wave up, adoption will expand. 

If Z-Wave becomes more popular, more radios will be needed, and Silicon Labs will be best positioned to sell them.

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