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Has Home Automation Standard Finally Arrived? ZigBee Pro with Control4 as ‘Anchor’

When Control4 switches to ZigBee Pro in 6 weeks, some 1 million installed ZigBee products (dimmers, thermostats, more) could interoperate with third-party devices; LG, Black & Decker on board


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ZigBee Pro’s Home Automation profile, based on Control4 protocols, is an open standard with commitments from LG, Black & Decker, Mechoshade and others

ZigBee aims to win the home automation-standards race, and the initial surge is about six weeks away, according to Eric Smith, CTO of Control4.

Control4 is a home-control manufacturer that claims roughly 1 million installed ZigBee nodes, including light dimmers, keypads, thermostats, controllers and universal remotes.

ZigBee is a low-rate RF (2.4 GHz) mesh-networking protocol developed for industrial and residential automation. It is based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard that defines low-power radios.

So when I talk about ZigBee not being a "standard," the folks at Control4 cringe.

Most recently, in an article on ElectronicHouse.com, I compared ZigBee with its main competitor Z-Wave:

Z-Wave has the benefit of being a real “standard,” meaning Z-Wave products from one manufacturer are interoperable with those from other vendors (with a few exceptions).

ZigBee is trying to get there, but currently you cannot mix-and-match ZigBee products from multiple vendors.

For that reason, I normally conclude that Z-Wave (900 MHz), which also uses mesh-networking technology, is winning the residential battle for two-way RF communications. Currently, several hundred Z-Wave products – dimmers, thermostats, motorized shades, garage door openers and more -- are available from myriad manufacturers and they all interoperate (with a few exceptions).

Not so for members of the ZigBee Alliance, most of which currently employ their own version of the so-called standard.

"If what you define as 'standard' is being interoperable, then Z-Wave is leading," says Control4's Smith. "If you define it as open to everyone, an IEEE spec, where anyone can build on it, then ZigBee is the standard."

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The one-time Control4 Partner Pavilion could become the ZigBee Pro Pavilion

He notes that Sigma Designs, the company that bought Z-Wave developer Zensys last year, is the only manufacturer of Z-Wave chipsets, compared to about a dozen for ZigBee.

In our business, however, it's all about interoperability. Who cares about ZigBee otherwise? It's just a nice RF technology implemented in proprietary control systems.

ZigBee Interop Based on Control4 Platform


In October 2007, the ZigBee Alliance ratified ZigBee Pro, which makes mandatory certain elements of the once-optional ZigBee stack. Under ZigBee Pro, the alliance began to create profiles for specific applications including home automation.

The ZigBee Pro Home Automation profiles are already defined for these device classes: remote controls, lighting, contact closure, HVAC and intruder alarm systems. Door locks and window coverings should be wrapped up in a couple of weeks.

It looks like Control4 will be the first to implement some of the Pro specs for automation.

That's no surprise, really, because Control4's ZigBee implementation -- heretofore proprietary -- has pretty much become the de facto ZigBee standard for home automation. CardAccess, manufacturer of various sensors and access control products, has used Control4's version of ZigBee for at least a year, meaning of course that its devices only work with Control4. Soon, however, they will be compatible with any device that is ZigBee Pro-compatible.

For the most part, Control4's version of the ZigBee HA profile has been adopted.

"We proposed our solutions," says Smith. "That became ZigBee Pro."





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Article Topics

News · Product News · Home Automation and Control · Control Systems · Home Automation · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

14 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Ex c4  on  05/26  at  03:01 AM

Control4 is in financial distress, the marketing is good, but they have failed to do any measurable business for the over 100 Million invested. I know many people in the company and all are nervous. They just settled a lawsuit with lutron and have two more major lawsuits pending. Zigbee remains largely unproven and seems that the CISCO IPSO strategy is to move zigbee to wifi to leverage the network.

Posted by JiveTurkey  on  05/26  at  06:15 AM

ZigBee is gaining momentum with stable manufacturers like HAI.  According to their catalog, their new Zigbee thermostats, lamp modules, etc. will be released this summer.  The coolest part is that their systems will support the home automation profile and the utility profile.

Posted by Smarthomes Chattanooga  on  05/26  at  09:07 AM

The idea that Zigbee is largely unproven is a ridiculous statement. I have had hands on daily experience with Zigbee systems for the past 5 years they work well. There are hundreds of thousands of nodes working everyday in the real world. What more proof do you want?

Zigbee and WIFI are different standards designed to do different things. I am not sure I would want a couple hundred nodes (ex. lighting) on my data network or heavy downloads to effect my control network.

Posted by soundinsights  on  05/26  at  09:12 AM

I only have one word…..

PHAST

Posted by YaHerdMe  on  05/26  at  10:34 AM

Smarthomes Chattanooga:

No one said that ZigBee was unproven as a technology but as a standard. There is has been very little interoperability between manufacturers up to this point becuase the profiles to do so did not exist.

The fact that Control 4 is on shakey footing doesn’t help Julie’s case that they are somehow in the driver seat here.

Posted by Current C4  on  05/26  at  10:56 AM

Control4 is NOT in financial distress, and is in fact growing quite nicely in these tough times.  Is selling 1,000,000 devices failing “to do any measurable business”?

Posted by Smarthomes Chattanooga  on  05/26  at  11:03 AM

Ex C4 posted the unproven thing as well as the financial issues (of which I have not heard anything reputable).

Interoperability issues come with the territory during the early stages of any new spec. There are generally a few flavors until one standard becomes dominant.

While Control4 has been the driver to date, with other major manufacturers coming onboard (Panasonic, Philips, Samsung and Sony with RF4CE and many others), it seems to me that Zigbee may of hit critical mass and that we might finally have a open common control protocol.

Posted by Ember Doesn't Get It.  on  05/26  at  01:13 PM

Ember doesn’t even get the interoperablilty issues that exist.

While ZigBee might have the utility side of things, we belive Z Wave will win the HAN side of things.

Typical media, tearing up the shreads.

What’s next? Julie reporting that Ice Cube Trays are the next big innovation? Come on!

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  05/26  at  01:25 PM

The interoperability thing is still new to zigbee and will take time to iron out. z-Wave isn’t going anywhere. It’s the only one with critical (interoperable) mass for Resi. HAI will continue to make both (see new zigbee story). As with today, there will be bridges for everything.

Ice cube trays? Genius!

Posted by Ember gets it  on  05/26  at  02:41 PM

Ember chips work with TI and others now that the Smart Energy Profile is implimented. 

Z-Wave is not one of the standards that were adopted for HAN utility services by the US gov’t, so I think that it will be largely phased out.  Why would you want a thermostat that talks only to the utility company or only to your home automation system, but not to both.  Only ZigBee offers connectivity to both networks.

Posted by nmsmartone  on  05/26  at  09:57 PM

Zigbee probably makes sense as this years newest industry standard wannabe, however, it is still all about the user interface and related experience.

Common language or not - industry standards don’t grow markets, consumers do and we aren’t rushing out to BB to buy our HA products now that the industry appears to have finally rallied around a decent means to interoperate.

Posted by Standard?  on  05/28  at  06:41 PM

So the ‘standard’ will be created after the reported 1 million nodes out there are flashed?  Who exactly is going to do that?  Will Crestron, Centralite and others follow suite with a simple ‘flash update?’ If I am a consumer I would expect every Zigbee device in existance to have a basic set of interoperability if I see the Zigbee logo.  Clearly that is NOT the case so why introduce the term ‘standard.’  Perhaps market Zigbee Pro as a standard but then don’t throw around statements about the million nodes in existance.  This is classic marketing spin wanting it both ways.

At least with Z-wave every node node in existance can be placed on a network, play a role in the mesh, and provide standard control commands.  To me, that is the definition of a standard.  When Zigbee Pro can talk about multiple lighting systems, window treatment motors, thermostats, stand alone touch screens, remote controls, garage door openers, IP enabled home controlers, and door locks all seamlessly working together as a stystem an article about a ‘standard war’ makes sense.  Right now there is a ‘technology’ battle and only one standard: Z-Wave.

Posted by des  on  05/28  at  07:36 PM

Standard?,
  You have valid points, but the article stated control4 by itself has 1 million nodes.  All of the nodes at a site are updated automatically went a single C4 controller is updated. When sites have 100+ nodes a-pop it can add up in a hurry.  There can potentially be near 1 mil Pro nodes in a short amount of time.  But in the end, all Zigbee vendors do need to update to Pro for it to be a true standard.

The point of Zigbee Pro is just what you ask for: lighting systems, door locks, remotes… all working together.  A few vendors already do all of those very things on zigbee(non-pro).

While Z-Wave may have better interoperability among various vendors (all using the same chip) it is not perfect.  Even Z-Wave themselves don’t claim every node. - http://www.z-wave.com/modules/interoperable/

Like it or not, for now, Zigbee has more heavy-weights behind it. And the changes to Zigbee Pro will only encourage more.

Posted by DistinctAV  on  02/14  at  12:32 PM

I’ve had a successful career using standards to promote better results at lower costs.  Manufacturers do nothing to help this.  BACNET was an industry standard in the Building Management Systems industry.  Every manufacturer hopped on board but all of them focused all their effort in the tiny section of the standard that was extensible—meaning they all had their own incompatible protocols in that tiny packet section.

The good news is that you could do the basics of getting readings and setting values between systems so it’s not a complete failure.

And just because a few large players adopt a standard does not mean CE pros will have an easier time.  You’ll be able to install their products just fine together until they start selling them at WM and erode your margins to that of the PC realm.

Consumers will be forced to live with the limitations and true Systems Integrators will have a harder time finding devices with open standards that they can integrate into truly custom solutions.

Vote with your wallet, avoid proprietary products and manufacturers that don’t support open interfaces or plan your exit strategy wisely.

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