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Sigma opens up Z-Wave standard in smart home expansion

Sigma Designs has opened up its Z-Wave protocol to developers, allowing them free access to the Z-Wave Interoperability Specification and the Z-Wave Security Specification, which were previously only available to Z-Wave Alliance members under NDA. It’s a big move that looks likely to gain Sigma and Z-Wave a lot of momentum in the smart home space, ahead of what looks to be a busy holiday season if the expected Apple and Google smart home announcements arrive this month.
With the move, Sigma is significantly opening up its Z-Wave technology. With the move, both the hardware and protocol needed to create Z-Wave products have become much more accessible to developers looking to adopt a low-power mesh protocol for smart homes and buildings.
Sigma donated its radio design to the ITU four years ago (ITU G.9959), which means that the standard can be chosen by manufacturers and pushed into production without Sigma collecting a royalty on the design – something that we have admittedly not completely realized until recently. Raoul Wijgergangs, Sigma Design’s VP Z-Wave, noted that we weren’t the only ones, and that Sigma is looking for a volume play with Z-Wave.
Now with the opening up of the Z-Wave standard, manufacturers will also be able to freely use the standard on these devices – no longer requiring the NDA-bound membership of the Z-Wave Alliance itself. But the Z-Wave Alliance will continue to be the body that gives the stamp of approval to these Z-Wave devices, providing the certification and testing that assures compliance with the standard, as well as promoting better consumer clarity.
Wijgergangs said that Sigma estimates it has shipped 50m Z-Wave chips in smart home applications, accounting for around 70% of the total market to date – on the basis that while Bluetooth and ZigBee account for more volume, they are used in other tangential areas to the smart home itself, such as remote controls for set top boxes, or inside wearables.
With over 1,500 certified Z-Wave devices, and a presence in 12m homes (according to the Z-Wave Alliance), the protocol is currently being used by 375 smart home device manufacturers.
There’s no public number on comparable ZigBee devices, or a means of comparing device types and penetration in each section, but the smart home has always been a battleground between Z-Wave and ZigBee. As time goes on, and consumer interest and adoption increases, the two standards will continue to vie for first place.
Wijgergangs noted that Z-Wave’s Interoperability Layer would allow it to be easily adopted by the likes of the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) and the AllSeen Alliance, which are working on software frameworks (IoTivity and AllJoyn, respectively) that allow devices to discover other devices in proximity and communicate with them. In these instances, Z-Wave plugins would be built to bridge Z-Wave to AllJoyn, and then on to what ever other protocol is being used in the smart home ecosystem, be it WiFi, Bluetooth, or another mesh protocol.
Wijgergans thinks that Bluetooth’s upcoming mesh implementation will face the same kind of uphill battle that Z-Wave and ZigBee have faced for many years, and that while Bluetooth and WiFi are great technologies for linking smartphones with smart home gateways, mesh technologies are definitely the future of the smart home devices themselves.
A couple of weeks ago, we spoke to Mitchell Klein, the Z-Wave Alliance’s Executive Director, to discuss the security provisions of Z-Wave, who also mentioned that a large announcement was due soon. As for Z-Wave’s security record, Klein couldn’t recall a single successful hack of the protocol, but noted that white-hat attackers had managed to crack an uncertified device.
Klein certainly wasn’t declaring that Z-Wave was unhackable, but he did stress the importance of certification to ensure protocol compliance, and that he was very confident in the security of properly certified devices. As security is such a key requirement for retaining consumer confidence, this is likely the prime reason that the Z-Wave Alliance is so keen to retain control over the certification process.
In terms of large-scale deployments, the Wynn Hotel project uses over 60,000 Z-Wave devices (not in one mesh, however, due to Z-Wave’s limit of 232 devices per mesh), and Klein notes that it hasn’t reported any issues with the deployment. With the Z-Wave Security Specification now being in the public domain, Sigma hopes that public scrutiny will also help improve its performance.
Mesh rival Thread has also made moves this week, with the Thread Group announcing a liaison agreement with the EEBus Initiative, to collaborate on smart home interoperability, in a deal that follows other similar agreements with the OCF and ZigBee Alliance.

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