Z-Wave Alliance Announcement


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The direct reference to Matter, and by implication Thread made me quietly chuckle! :smirk:

To see SilLabs / ZWA offering a combined “multi-protocol software development kit, the Unify SDK” is an interesting turn - support Matter (or Thread?) and Z-Wave on a single software stack?

Z-Wave needs SilLabs hardware, and guess what Naba Casa Yellow / SkyConnect uses for the radio / Coordinator? Yup - a SilLabs device!

The SkyConnect chip will eventually provide Zigbee + Thread, but could a multi-chip + single software stack with one API be the SilLabs offering here giving Zigbee/ Thread/ Z-Wave?
(Zigbee/Thread IEEE 802.15.4 uses different frequencies from Z-Wave so one chip is unlikely.)

I’ve been using Z-Wave for many years and have several tens of devices in production so the idea of keeping the proprietary protocol alive is good. The Z-Wave Alliance have been producing a reference implementation of the protocol stack for many years, and projects like openHAB and likely HASS occasionally look at their code and the terms. I’ve not seen a movement from their own native language (Java or Python) FOSS implementations to the ZWA version.

The issue here is market economics:

  • Z-Wave devices originally could only use one proprietary radio chip, and the product had to pass certification testing. This increased the device costs, reduced battery life, and on the whole only slightly increased device compatibility (Fibaro, with their refusal to release firmware fixing their mistakes being my favourite target). Battery devices still use CR123A, which are expensive. The upside is the centrally managed radio mesh works well, and many device bugs get worked around in FOSS quirk files.

  • Zigbee came along with an open RF standard (IEEE 802.15.4) and looser certification. Devices were created by many vendors, with different interpretations of the standard, especially for different device types. The resulting hardware is cheap, uses cheap batteries (e.g. CR2032), and has many quirks (such as IKEA direct control). Again, the device managed radio mesh just about works, and many device bugs get worked around in FOSS quirk files.

The issue with both of these products is the need for ONE central hub or router. Philips Hue, IKEA Tradfri, or Apple HomeKit are the best known examples, but outside of FOSS projects, consumers need an extra device purchase. The vendor typically also needs a cloud service to link these hubs, which increased their ongoing costs (and has caused several hubs to be abandoned and bricked).

Even Z-Wave had a go with a Z-Wave PoE to IP-based radio which was designed for hotels to control room automation from a remote central server. Sadly, the protocols were never released so FOSS couldn’t try to support the hardware.

Matter is the industry fix to remove the costs of up-front hubs and ongoing cloud services. It also removed the need to keep rewriting (n * (n-1)) interfaces to Apple/ Google/ Amazon/ etc. Matter is too big for battery devices, so Thread is the equivalent fix for Zigbee with better resilience and support for multiple control devices (so HomeKit and Alexa both work locally at the same time).

At the moment we have multiple low-power battery device protocols all looking for market share:

  • Z-Wave - proprietary mesh radio hardware, central certification, expensive
  • Zigbee - mesh radio, IEEE 802.15.4, loose certification, cheap
  • Zigbee 3.0 - mesh radio, IEEE 802.15.4, more central certification?, less cheap?
  • Thread - mesh radio, IEEE 802.15.4, central certification, needs a recent micro for hardware crypto.
  • Bluetooth Low Energy - low range, uncertified, very cheap.

Currently, we don’t know the comparative costs of devices (e.g. a Fibaro door sensor in Z-Wave / HomeKit / Thread versions) as Thread hasn’t reached the market. Guessing from the tighter licensing and standardisation, Thread will probably be cheaper than Z-Wave but more expensive than Zigbee eventually.

My guess is it will take 2-3 years for the development costs of Thread hardware and software to move from early adopters to volume mass market, at which point the per device costs will start to edge out older protocols. If one protocol can really control all ecosystems, the higher volumes could give even lower prices.

Thankfully, Zigbee kit is so cheap that if it doesn’t co-exist well with Thread, it should be less painful to replace completely. Z-Wave might hang on for a few more years if the SilLabs hardware and software development costs are low enough - but that’s not been the history of Z-Wave.

Personally, I’m keeping a Fibaro Home Centre Lite in the cupboard just in case a Z-Wave firmware update arrives for my many existing devices. :slight_smile:

If this helps, :heart: this post!