Home Automation Standards

Over the past few years home automation has gone from a techie hobby to the mainstream.  Thanks in large part to products like the NestThermostat and major players including Time Warner Cable, ADT, Lowes, Staples and Nexia.  Controller lights, door locks, motion sensors, thermostats, leak sensors, garage doors and other household devices via an app in now possible.  The kits and products are relatively easy to install and configure for the average do-it-yourselfer.  To control each of these devices requires a hub or bridge that can translate ethernet signals into a different communications protocol.  This is where the real challenge rests.  Currently there are multiple protocols for various devices ranging from ultra low power Bluetooth®, wifi, Zigbee, Z-wave, Insteon, etc.  As a result of the mixed protocols the hub makers have either chosen to go with one protocol such as Nexia and Lowes Iris which run on the Z-wave protocol or to include multiple radios within the hub.  Revolv, a home automation startup has 7 radios in their unit, promising to support all existing protocols.

So which protocol will win out?  To answer that question, we first need to consider the requirements for the devices.  For wall switches and any device plugged into a power outlet the number of options is much greater because the units do not need to rely on battery power.  For devices such as door locks that must run on batteries, the choices are much more limited.  At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2014) in Las Vegas the Z-wave alliance had a large booth with kiosks for more than 20 affiliated companies.  Z-wave appears to have the most traction today as the standard for home automation especially in cases where battery power is required.  

Currently 9 out of the top 10 security companies in the USA use Z-wave technology.  There are over 20 million Z-wave devices deployed worldwide and the Z-wave Alliance includes over 250 manufacturers.  With this kind of scale Z-wave is in the lead and well positioned to be the home automation standard.  Sigma Designs is the sole chip manufacturer for Z-wave chips.  This is both a good and bad thing.  On the positive side Sigma can control the quality and the standards for all Z-wave devices.  The downside is that the cost of each device is impacted by the fact that a license fee must be paid to Sigma Designs for each device sold.  With the Internet of Things (IOT) taking off in 2014, I expect to see more and more household products being built with Sigma's Z-wave chip embedded.  From refrigerators and washing machines to toasters and coffee makers, your home will soon be ready for the future.

While I see wifi and Bluetooth® expanding further into connected devices, my bet is on Z-wave to become the dominant standard for home automation in the coming years.

What protocol do you think will be the winner in the home automation space?