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Verizon boosts Z-Wave’s bid for smart home

Verizon Wireless has offered a major boost to Z-Wave, a smart home technology that rivals the broader standard ZigBee

By PETER WHITE

Published: 13 January, 2011

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Verizon Wireless has offered a major boost to Z-Wave, a smart home technology that rivals the broader standard ZigBee. Most projects to monitor energy and appliances in the home are based on ZigBee or Wi-Fi but Verizon’s pilot, unveiled last week at the CES show, will be influential on the US market as a whole.

Z-Wave is an ultra-low power, short range wireless network, similar in functionality to ZigBee, but it is proprietary. It was created by Zensys, which was later acquired by the only manufacturer of Z-Wave chips, Sigma Designs. This limited silicon supply base has limited the technology’s progress, even though the Z-Wave Alliance has some powerful members – including original Zensys backer Intel, and Nokia smart grid spin-off ThereGate, which is using the Z-Wave system. However, it has stolen a lead specifically in the home automation field, where it powers about 250 devices, compared to ZigBee’s 100, and so it has seen smart grid as a strong opportunity.

Sigma claims Z-Wave is more suited to smart grid and smart home applications than ZigBee because it is more specialized in those areas, and a dedicated chip can carry lower costs. ZigBee, it argues, has to cover a far broader range of functions and so will be more expensive and complex.

Verizon may have listened to these arguments – certainly it has confirmed to the GigaOM blog that it will use Z-Wave in its energy management platform, which will go commercial later this year. This will have an impact on the whole market as it is one of the first moves by a major US carrier to offer consumers a product for monitoring their energy usage.

Verizon’s smart home product has been jointly developed with its partner 4Home, which is now owned by Motorola Solutions. It will eventually integrate with broader Verizon home networking initiatives, including its LTE networks, so that the handset could become a controller for all the fixed and mobile media products and appliances in the home. Initially, the gadget will include a connected thermostat, smart plugs, appliance modules, sensors for windows and doors, and a service gateway, all enabled by Z-Wave. A connected security camera will rely on Wi-Fi.

Verizon told GigaOM that Z-Wave technology was currently “more readily available” than ZigBee in commercial consumer products, but that it would be happy to integrate ZigBee or other standards in future too. Japan’s NTT DoCoMo is also basing its smart energy strategy on Z-Wave, though the emerging breed of smart meters tend to use ZigBee.

And ZigBee could gain more ground in the next wave of products, as it gets closer to Wi-Fi. In March, the bodies supporting the two standards announced they would collaborate on wireless home area networks (HANs) for smart grid applications. The initial focus will be on ZigBee Smart Energy 2.0, an energy management protocol based on the existing Smart Energy Profile. The main difference from the original concept is that release 2.0 will run over Wi-Fi.

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