When to use the Z-Wave standard for the smart home

• • Broadband, industry trends, Smart Home

Home owners and facility managers have a lot to think about when setting up Internet of Things (IoT) functionality for the smart home.

Some decisions are easy enough.  For example, the wiring enclosure is selected based on whether fiber optic or copper cable is used. And usually, the building owner or manager has a professional like you to make that decision for them.

When it comes to devices for the smart home, there are now thousands of options. But not all devices are interoperable, so choosing them is a careful process. The biggest factor in this decision is which standard each smart home product uses.

A standard with staying power

One standard that has been around for a long time and continues to build momentum is Z-Wave. It’s designed specifically for control, monitoring and status operations like those used in smart thermostats, lighting and alarm systems.

Z-Wave functions as a wireless mesh network without requiring a coordinator node.  Individual network nodes can communicate directly with one another but nodes that are not in range of each other can use another node as an intermediary.

In a wireless mesh network, if one node becomes inoperable, the network will reconfigure automatically. This structure lends the network of devices a stability that is very appealing for critical functions such as home security and lighting.

Z-Wave technology won’t interfere with or be affected by other devices in the building. Z-Wave uses radio frequency (RF) communications technology that operates in a sub 1GHz band, so it will not interfere with wireless internet signals, Bluetooth, Zigbee or cell phones, all of which use the 2.4GHz range or higher.

The Z-Wave standard allows all of this flexibility and stability to occur in a building control network that is made up of devices from different manufacturers. The standard was created so that all new products are backward-compatible and so, as the standard improves, new devices can still effectively communicate with older ones.

The Z-Wave Alliance

Unlike many protocols, Z-Wave is not open source. It’s owned by Sigma Designs, and the company licenses the standard out to OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). Despite being a proprietary standard, Z-Wave has been widely adopted.

The Z-Wave Alliance, a consortium of companies that uses the standard, is largely responsible for the growth of the standard. The Alliance was started in 2005 by a group of control manufacturers and today boasts a membership of 600 companies with over 2100 interoperable products. Included in the list of Z-Wave Alliance members are D-Link, Nexia Home Intelligence, Honeywell, GE, and Verizon.

In an effort to become the gold standard in smart home communications, the Z-Wave Alliance has added a new membership level for installers, integrators, security dealers, or service provider technicians. The Alliance also runs a certification program and promotes Z-Wave certified installers on their website.

Z-Wave and security

One of the challenges with security for the smart home has been that security is provided for each individual device rather than for the whole network. But, when all devices in a network speak to one another, a different approach is possible.

Z-Wave offers a new security framework called S2 that can be embedded into any device. The framework utilizes Advance Encryption Standard (AES) 128 and replaces a three-step authentication process with a single step one. This fast authentication means top grade security is attainable without causing latency or consuming additional energy.

The new S2 security framework also allows for the tunneling of all device data through a Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol for data integrity in the cloud. And the new security framework can be implemented with existing devices through a simple upgrade.

Z-Wave is not the only smart home standard available, and it may not be the best fit for your customer’s needs, but it is certainly one to keep on your list of options.