Sigma Designs

Technology Briefs

The Internet of Things Starts at Home

In the not too distant future, we can expect that we’ll live in a connected universe of smart cities, smart transportation, smart homes, and more—where not only our refrigerators, but the stores we buy our food from, and the trucks that deliver that food are all connected. For the here and now, however, the smart home represents the most tangible aspect of the Internet of Things (IoT) vision.

At the cutting edge of IoT, today’s smart home market is growing rapidly. IHS Technology forecasts that the smart home market will grow by 56% per year for the next three years. Furthermore, by 2018 some 224 million homes will have at least one type of smart home system installed, according to Strategy Analytics.

The notion of an Internet of Things is fairly recent, but the underlying technology for IoT has actually been around for over a decade, in the form of communications protocols that enable devices, or “things,” to speak to each other wirelessly, inexpensively and using very little power. However, not all protocols are created equal, as we will discuss later.

Today’s IoT: Powered by Z-Wave

The Z-Wave protocol meets all the criteria mentioned above—it’s wireless, inexpensive, and low power—which makes it a reliable and realistic technology for the IoT, and also is why approximately 80% of smart home communications today utilize Z-Wave.

In total, there are some 50 million deployed Z-Wave devices today, each of which constitutes an IoT end point. The IoT exists today primarily in the form of smart home and home automation and security, as well as business automation and security, and the types of applications and devices that make up the IoT will continue to grow over time.

Battery-driven security devices such as door/window sensors, door locks and motion sensors can operate for a year or more before needing battery replacement. Home automation devices such as thermostats and smart home safety devices such as smoke/CO detectors can also run for a year or more between battery changes with Z-Wave. And, all of the major home security service providers use Z-Wave, underscoring the benefits of Z-Wave technology.

There are some 50 million deployed Z-Wave devices today…over 1500 products currently available from over 375 manufacturers.

The Z-Wave Advantage

Some might assume Wi-Fi should be the natural protocol for IoT, but Wi-Fi does not meet two of the three criteria mentioned above: it is comparatively expensive, and it is a power hog that makes battery operation impractical for more than a day or two. Another technology similar to Z-Wave in many respects, ZigBee, is hampered by a lack of standardization and interoperability, with many different flavors offered by different manufacturers. Bluetooth is also sometimes discussed as an IoT communications protocol because of its wide deployment for device communications including phones, computers and speakers, as well as for a new generation of smart fitness and health devices that wirelessly connect with smartphones. However, Bluetooth is a one-to-one peripheral device connection technology, not a network connectivity mechanism.

The Z-Wave distributed intelligence mesh-networking technology enables the devices themselves to create a network, with built-in repeater technology and secure communications for door locks and other security-sensitive devices.

One of the challenges in the IoT is creating ecosystems that work together seamlessly. Here too, Z-Wave is unique in their single-minded focus on interoperability at the application level. Interoperability is perhaps Z-Wave’s biggest advantage, with over 1500 devices currently available from over 375 manufacturers, all of which work with each other. These devices include security sensors, light dimmers and switches, thermostats, door locks, central controllers and more.

Industry Validation

The Z-Wave protocol is set by the Z-Wave Alliance, an open alliance of over 375 members dedicated to maintaining robust interoperability. The protocol includes device types and parameters, thus facilitating predictability whenever another device joins the network.

Sigma Designs is the world’s largest manufacturer of Z-Wave radio components, and Mitsumi also makes Z-Wave ICs. Working closely with the Z-Wave Alliance to implement the protocol, Sigma Designs is well situated at the crossroads of the IoT revolution, both for today and the future.

Learn more about Z-Wave

Filed under: Internet of Things, Technology Briefs