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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


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


  About the Author

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. Email Julie at [email protected]

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