Automated homes have crept to the top of the list of what homeowners want; the next step beyond basic home automation is the inclusion of wireless. These systems, such as Z-Wave, allow for low-powered, low-bandwidth devices to operate in harmony with one another to create a true wireless home automation solution.

The Danish company Zensys is responsible for the Z-Wave protocol and has been pushing the residential wireless networking envelope since the company first launched its radio frequency (RF)-based technology. Z-Wave has been dubbed the low-cost control and monitoring system, ideal for the creation of intelligent homes.

With the Z-Wave Alliance boasting more than 160 members, many of whom are power players in their fields, it is no wonder that Z-Wave was destined for success.

Zensys has been adding to and improving capability. Dubbed Z/IP, there are two elements at play in terms of the new advances. The first is the move to converge Z-Wave with TCP/IP, and the second encompasses opening up licensing for Z-Wave products to additional chip manufacturers.

Convergence is key

The convergence of Z-Wave with TCP/Internet protocol effectively extends the reach of the Internet into low-cost, low-power home control networks. It allows for the home to be controlled over the Internet and is, therefore, accessible through just about any Internet device in a fully standard-compliant way. In contrast to other approaches, there is no application dependency. This means new types of home control devices with different functionality can be added at any time without upgrading or even switching the gateway device. In essence, Z-Wave closely resembles the philosophy of the Internet.

According to a Z-Wave Alliance press release issued in May 2007, “A primary benefit of TCP/IP convergence with Z-Wave will be the transparent use of home-control applications from any location using any device, gateway or network. Given the findings from the Z-Wave Alliance/Kelton Research study conducted earlier this year that 72 percent of Americans want to monitor their home while away, there is obviously a real demand for simplifying wireless home control and automation applications.”

Furthermore, low-cost devices in the home are able to directly access services anywhere in the Internet through standard TCP/IP protocols and applications. For example, a wall display in a Z-Wave network can download the latest weather forecast using HTTP/HTML.

This move piggybacks on the growing move toward residential networks that are adopting Internet protocol. Prior to the IP movement, most home-based networks were stand alone, and most were proprietary based, which meant interoperability.Therefore, convergence of multiple systems was either difficult or unachievable.

Opening up

One key development, according to Lew Brown, vice president of marketing, Zensys, is that this move allows for open standards, which broaden opportunities.

“Open standards open up the possibility to developers. This means that they will be able to develop new applications,” Brown said.

With no set standard, anyone who wants to truly use Z-Wave for things, such as remote monitoring, is tied to using only certain devices. Once new applications and devices fall in to the mix, one could use essentially any PC, cell phone, PDA or any other Web-enabled device. This takes the management and control functionality to new levels.

Brown said the development community already is in the process of creating new applications, but the standardization piece is the key. Once that is fully completed, the world of Z-Wave should really take off.

These changes, according to Brown, will make things easier for installers since they will then be required to configure only one node to deploy the system. This will be a benefit to contractors working on residential accounts in productivity, as more homeowners will start to find renewed interest in Z-Wave in light of all of these proposed advances.

Only after the developers really get moving on what they will be able to come up with will the true power and promise of this convergence be known. With these developments, Z-Wave probably will get more people interested in wireless home networking and automation.          EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.