The darling child of home automation, Z-Wave technology has been at the forefront of the Internet of Things (IoT) movement for over a decade. Despite ever-increasing competition over the home automation sector, Z-Wave has managed to stay ahead of its competitors and currently has 70% of the smart home market. With its low frequency and energy use, quieter signal, long range and wide selection of interoperating devices, Z-Wave is the ideal operating protocol for the average homeowner.
Here is a breakdown of everything you need to know about Z-Wave technologies.
Z-Wave was developed by Zensys (hence the Z in Z-Wave) in 2001 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Initially used as smart technology primarily for lights, Z-Wave continued to expand until reaching the American market in 2005 with the founding of the Z-Wave Alliance.
The Z-Wave Alliance is a collection of companies that create Z-Wave compatible products. It was founded with six companies and quickly expanded from there. There are currently over 450 companies (including Z-Wave Zone!) that make up the alliance and over 2,100 products that are Z-Wave compatible. Some companies include ADT, LG, Honeywell, Panasonic, Logitech and Black and Decker.
The increase of Z-Wave compatible companies make it an even more attractive choice for consumers looking into home automation. Many products consumers own are already Z-Wave compatible, making the additional technology even easier to install.
In late 2016, Sigma Designs (who acquired Z-Wave from Zensys in 2008) sought to further the interoperable features of the Z-Wave system by opening up some of the Z-Wave technology to the public. This has allowed more companies and products to include Z-Wave technology and further expanded its reach.
How does Z-Wave Work?
Z-Wave technologies operate off of radio waves. The exact frequency varies from country to country, but the United States operates at 908.42 MHz. Because it operates at a radio frequency, it does not compete with the busier 2.4 GHz, which includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
The protocol works through a series of “nodes” that communicate with each other throughout the home. This mesh-network architecture allows the technology to work at a further range than most other systems in the same frequency. The series of nodes will transmit messages through each other to communicate with a node that is out of reach. It will also seek a different path should one node be inoperable at any point in order to reach the desired node.
When not in use, the Z-Wave chip stays in sleep mode in order to conserve energy. It can be controlled through a remote control, or mounted keypad. It can also be connected with Wi-Fi where it can be used through phone, computer or laptop. To do this, you will need a Z-Wave hub and specific Z-Wave devices.
Is Z-Wave Safe?
Although there has not been an instance on hacking Z-Wave devices directly, a weakness was found within the Z-Wave system that would allow a hacker to unlock doors remotely without notifying the owner. Furthermore, after a massive internet hack and resulting public outrage in October 2016, Z-Wave announced it would be rolling out new security measures.
In April 2017, Security 2, or S2, was implemented. It included separate security codes for each product purchased, instead of having one mass code that can then be personalized by owner. It also included new cloud communication safeguards in order to further secure the network. By increasing security measures, Sigma Designs made operating Z-Wave technologies safer than ever.
How Does Z-Wave Technologies Compare with Other Smart Systems?
By making certain parts of their code public and widening its security measures, Sigma Designs has continued to make Z-Wave technologies a popular choice in a competitive market.
The first edge that Z-Wave technology has on competitors is its signal range. With a signal range of 100 meters and the communication of nodes with each other, Z-Wave can easily be implemented in any normal-sized home. By comparison, ZigBee has a signal range of 10-20 meters and Insteon 45 meters.
Another advantage of Z-Wave technologies is its use of radio frequency. As mentioned above, the more common 2.4 GHz that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth use have a tendency to be overcrowded. It is possible that streaming a movie or surfing the internet can interfere with the signal and overcrowd the frequency.
Z-Wave, on the other hand, uses 900 MHz, which is far less used. It is possible that it can interfere with some cordless phones, but that problem has reduced significantly as the use of landline phones has declined. With little interference, Z-Wave technologies can operate efficiently while other technology is being used within the house.
Lastly, Z-Wave is much more energy efficient than Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Most Wi-Fi technology requires plugging into an outlet source because it uses energy so quickly. Z-Wave technologies, however, can operate by battery. With its power saving technology, it is possible to use the same battery for up to a year or longer.
How to Set Up Z-Wave in Your Home
As mentioned above, it is possible that you already have Z-Wave devices in your home. Check products for the Z-Wave insignia to see if it is compatible.
The primary piece of equipment that is needed to set up Z-Wave is a hub. There are variety of hubs that can be purchased depending on your budget and what your primary goal is for your smart home.
One of the strengths of Z-Wave technologies is their ability to be slowly expanded while being minimally invasive. Z-Wave can be installed without having to rewire any products and can simply tap into existing wirings in the house.
From there, you can add devices according to your budget and preferences. For example, if you are concerned about security, you can add locks and alarms to the Z-Wave system first, add lights and windows next, etc. If you tend to be busy, travel a lot, or are just forgetful, you can add lights, air conditioning, and blinds first, so that you can control them while you are away from home. The possibilities are endless and can be tailored to your specific needs.
Z-Wave: The Smart Home Technology of Choice
With its ease of use, energy efficiency, quiet volume, wide range and vast array of compatible product, it is easy to see why Z-Wave is so popular with producers and consumers looking for smart technology. Z-Wave has an established history while still being cutting edge in technology and security. Whether you are looking for ease of use, peace of mind, or bringing your home into the 21st century, Z-wave is right for you.