Control & Automation

Amazon’s Decision on ZigBee vs. Z-Wave Makes No Sense

Julie Jacobson and Avi Rosenthal wonder why Amazon chose ZigBee for Echo Plus home-automation hub, when Z-Wave is more interoperable, secure, supportable, and ubiquitous.

Amazon’s Decision on ZigBee vs. Z-Wave Makes No Sense
Why did Amazon choose ZigBee for Echo Plus, when Z-Wave makes more technological and economic sense? Z-Wave has thousands of interoperable devices on the market today (compared to ZigBee's hundreds), so the protocol would easily generate more e-commerce sales for Amazon.

Julie Jacobson · October 17, 2017

"There I was enjoying the Z-Wave Summit in Oklahoma City, with more than 100 member companies represented," says IoT consultant Avi Rosenthal, "when Amazon announced it was adopting ZigBee for the new Echo Plus smart-home hub."

Huh? While he and other Z-Wave types were reveling in their vast collective, Amazon announced a partnership with a group that has far fewer revelers.

First, Rosenthal and I both congratulate Amazon for releasing a slew of exciting products, continuing its streak of leadership in the voice-controlled connected home.

"I have a house full of Alexa devices," Rosenthal says, "and will probably buy at least one of every new device they ship. The company certainly has set the bar for the holiday shopping season."

There had been plenty of rumors about a new Echo device doubling as a home automation hub. Other "smart speaker" manufacturers had announced more smart-home connectivity, so the smart-home industry waited nervously to see which protocol Amazon would pick for local connectivity (as opposed to cloud-to-cloud integration).

"Unfortunately, Amazon picked the wrong horse with ZigBee," Rosenthal says.

ZigBee's Not So Bad, But ...

What's so wrong with ZigBee? It’s been around for a while. It's a very robust home-automation protocol, trusted by the utility industry, which has deployed it in 10s of millions of smart meters. It is arguably the preferred protocol for commercial building controls. Like Z-Wave, it offers efficient two-way communications, low-latency, and provisions to optimize battery life.

Also, utilizing 802.15.4 radios and operating at 2.4 GHz, ZigBee can more readily share silicon with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Thread and other home-automation technologies. By the way, 2.4 GHz spectrum is mostly available worldwide for home technology, whereas Z-Wave operates at 900 MHz in the U.S., requiring a separate 2.4 GHz SKU for other parts of the world.

But ZigBee has a few issues that limit its appeal to the smart-home market.

Related: Ring is First to Implement Z-Wave SmartStart for Instant Connectivity

"First, not all ZigBee products interoperate with every other ZigBee device," Rosenthal says. "Echo Plus customers won't just be able to go out and buy any ol' ZigBee device."

The result will be a heavily curated group of devices that work with Echo Plus. Not that there’s anything wrong with curation. It has many benefits. Even Comcast vets and curates the ZigBee devices approved for Xfinity Home.

For a mass-market DIY product like Echo Plus, however, a lack of interoperability could easily confuse consumers ... as if they weren't confused enough about smart-home integration.

So far, some 2,100 Z-Wave devices from 700 manufacturers are certified for interoperability, but thousands more are, in fact, interoperable across 70 million products deployed since 2001.

Paucity of ZigBee Products

"Amazon was very proud to announce 'more than a hundred compatible devices.' Wouldn’t it have been cooler to boast thousands of compatible devices instead?"
— IoT Consultant Avi Rosenthal

The second issue of Amazon picking the "wrong" home-automation protocol is the relative paucity of generic ZigBee products on the market.

Rosenthal's quick search on amazon.com revealed hundreds of ZigBee products compared to thousands of Z-Wave.

Of note, virtually all of those thousands of Z-Wave devices are interoperable out-of-the-box. On the other hand, Echo Plus only works with about 75 products from just 11 manufacturers right now.

"In the press release announcing the new Echo products," Rosenthal points out, "Amazon was very proud to announce 'more than a hundred compatible devices' Wouldn’t it have been cooler to boast thousands of compatible devices instead?"

Besides the sheer volume of interoperable products, Z-Wave offers some significant features that ZigBee does not.

First is security. Today Z-Wave, with its S2 security framework, is the only mesh-networking protocol UL-approved for life-safety applications. (ZigBee is approved for point-to-point, not mesh, and we assume the same for Thread + Weave, implemented in Nest Secure.) There are numerous benefits for using UL-certified mesh-networking communications for security. 

(CORRECTION: A UL spokesperson confirms that Thread + Weave is UL-approved for life-safety applications using a mesh topology.)

The second thing is SmartStart, a new feature for "pre-configuring devices in the cloud so they can 'just connect' at the customer premises," Rosenthal explains. "No other protocol can enable that feature out of the box."

Having said that, Echo Plus seems to offer a similar feature for the handful of "Simple Setup" devices it supports. Amazon says these products can be enrolled into the system simply by saying, “Alexa, discover my devices.”

That's a sweet feature, but presumably one that places a burden on device manufacturers to comply, as in the case of Apple's MFi/Homekit program. (Z-Wave manufacturers also face a "burden" with SmartStart, but the feature isn't required.)

"Even assuming ZigBee offered all the great features of Z-Wave," Rosenthal says, "Amazon’s decision simply defies business logic."

Amazon is a retail business. It makes money by selling lots of things. Z-Wave has more interoperable things to sell than ZigBee ... by an order of magnitude.

Ergo, Amazon should adopt Z-Wave for Echo Plus in order to drive more sales through amazon.com.

And if Amazon Wants a Network of Certified Pros ... 

In September, Amazon was at CEDIA, the trade show for home-technology installers, with a giant booth, keynote presentationnew service to highlight CEDIA dealers on amazon.com, and sponsorship of all CEDIA training.

The previous year, at CEDIA 2016, Alexa Smart Home leader Charlie Kindel explained why Amazon had such a large presence at that show, including an Alexa smart home on the show floor, and the opening keynote.

"Clearly, there is a lot of usage in the DIY space," he told CE Pro. "But the big opportunity is where there is more of a total home solution, where customers would rather a pro come in to help with some of the more mundane configurations."

Truly Amazon believes the population of smart-home DIYs is just not that big right now, and in any case they pose a major tech-support burden.


NEXT: Amazon Courts CEDIA Pros with New 'Custom Home Services'


"They are practically begging our industry to become a part of their world." Rosenthal says. "And I really think there's a growing number of dealers -- not to mention manufacturers and the CEDIA organization itself -- that are eager to take a closer look."

Unfortunately, when it comes to the pro channel, "Amazon took a big step backwards," Rosenthal says.

Z-Wave is today, and always has been, the leading home-automation protocol among smart-home pros.

ZigBee has never been a part of CEDIA, either in mindshare or in physical presence. The CEDIA community sees only proprietary versions of ZigBee deployed in higher-end systems like Control4 and Crestron. There has never been a push for professional installers to adopt ZigBee-enabled hubs or end devices.

On the other hand, Z-Wave has exhibited at CEDIA for many years with large pavilions featuring dozens of partners. Also, Z-Wave-compatible systems can be found in tens of partner booths throughout the show.

The Z-Wave Alliance provides standing-room-only training for home-technology pros, and offers the award-winning Z-Wave ToolBox for remotely diagnosing and monitoring Z-Wave mesh networks.

If Amazon wants the smart-home pros, they should look to Z-Wave. More importantly, if Amazon wants to sell more things, they should push Z-Wave.

Confused Much?

Google, Nest, Amazon, Apple Homekit, Thread, Weave, Z-Wave, ZigBee, SmartStart, Simple Setup ...

All the confusion is a great thing for smart-home pros.

Amazon and Google are both leaning on the pro-install channel -- Amazon with its new Custom Home Services for CEDIA dealers, and Google with the Nest Pro program and general outreach.

As Nest product lead Mike Soucie tells CE Pro, "[T]here is still a level of complexity that only integrators and partners can really solve.”

Postscript: Google, Nest, Thread, Weave

For even less interoperability, look to sister companies Google and Nest, which require the cloud for almost all third-party integrations.

For local integration, rather than using ZigBee or Z-Wave, Nest has employed its own protocols -- the networking layer that inspired Thread, and Nest's own home-automation protocol called Weave. Nest has implemented these technologies in all of its products including thermostats, smoke/CO detectors, cameras, Hello video doorbell, and Nest Secure alarm system, since the very first product.

While Nest has exposed some of its home-automation technology to third-party providers since 2015 via OpenWeave, only one manufacturer has taken the bait - Yale with its Linus lock, expected to ship in 2018.

Oddly enough, Nest sibling Google has not incorporated Thread or Weave (or ZigBee or Z-Wave) in its Google Home hubs, including the original product, the new Max and Mini, and the Google Wifi mesh-networking system -- even though Google and Nest are really starting to look like a unified organization with smart-home strategies in alignment.

Unlike the ZigBee-enabled Amazon Echo Plus, the Google products will continue for now to rely on the cloud for integration with third-party smart devices, including the entire Nest ecosystem.

So in that regard, Amazon prevails with ZigBee.

Even so, this piece isn't about interoperability per se. It's about Amazon's odd decision to go with ZigBee when it could sell far more devices with Z-Wave, given that it's an e-commerce company after all.


Avi Rosenthal, principal of IoT Consulting, LLC, is a 20-year veteran in the IT and home-technology fields.



  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]

Follow Julie on social media:
Twitter · LinkedIn · Google+

Julie also participates in these groups:
LinkedIn · Google+

View Julie Jacobson's complete profile.



  Article Topics


Control & Automation · Automation · Whole House Control · Security · News · Blogs · Amazon · Echo · Google · Nest · Thread · Weave · All Topics
CE Pro Magazine

Not a Magazine Subscriber?
Subscribe Today...It's FREE!!

Comments

Posted by Julie Jacobson on October 24, 2017

Quite right, antonio

Posted by antoniohardeman on October 24, 2017

I think Amazon left out the Z-wave chip bc as SpivR mentioned there is a fee associated with the chip or some other disagreement where Amazon and the Z-wave alliance couldn’t come to terms.  I think that Amazon is betting on people just using Zigbee smart bulbs with the Echo and not trying to branch out into a fully connected system.  And as you mentioned Julie, Amazon will curate a small list of Zigbee devices that will work with the Echo, thereby potentially limiting how connected the end user could make their home. 

I think that you can read into their statement about plenty of Z-wave devices being able to connect to the Echo as “Hey, if people want to go all in on a connected home they can just grab Smart Things, Wink, Nexia, etc., add our Echo devices to those hubs, add a bunch of Z-wave devices that we sell on our website and they’re good to go”.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on October 23, 2017

Totally agree with all your points, SpivR. I actually meant to include the suggestion that Amazon is in the position where they could actually “make” ZigBee, and certainly make mfrs comply with their special requirements, as Apple has done with their MFI partners. I was questioning in particular why they would miss the opportunity to sell so many more products through amazon.com if they were to adopt Z-Wave.

Posted by SpivR on October 23, 2017

The article fails to appreciate that Amazon created the voice assistant market and still commands the lion’s share by both dollars and volume.

Amazon has the ability to create a de facto standard in this space.  We should be thankful they chose an existing standard, Zigbee, instead of creating their own.  They certainly could have done that easily also.

There are pros/cons to every standard. Any vendor that chooses one gets bashed for not choosing the other.

Remember the Revolve hub?  It had every kind of radio in it and promised to unite everything? Only problem was most of the radios were turned off, drivers and software were never developed, and the product at $300 was grossly overpriced.

Google eventually absorbed them into Nest and shut them down.

Courage is picking something, and running with it.  Foolishness is trying to be all things to all people (Jack of all trades but master of none).

Posted by lordorwell on October 20, 2017

This was partially informed, but all you have to do is look at the usage scenario for home automation.  Most people use alexa nearly exclusively to control their lights, and 99% of smart bulbs are zigbee (zll is a subset of zigbee). Remotes that you can program or scene controllers are also mostly zigbee.  Additionally, zwave is licensed and comes with a fee and you are required to use their chips.  Just about the only other uses out there for voice control are thermostats (most are wifi but i have a zigbee one) and controlling televisions either via Harmony or FireTV.  Either of these scenarios requires a separate device anyway.  The only real usage scenario that zwave controls is wireless security devices, and from what i can tell from research, the alexa hub won’t have any kind of automation for connected devices so they would be useless anyway.

Posted by TKA99 on October 20, 2017

Was this article suppose to be posted in the “Sponsored Content” section?

The graveyard of antiquated and failed business models is filled by people and companies who spend too much time “Wondering” why customers and major corps make the decisions they do.  Now is not the time to lament, wring hands, stomp feet and criticize. In fact, it’s the time to get on board and capture the opportunity this presents for device manufacturers and the adjacent players that support their adoption.  Major growth was just unlocked for those that wish to capture it vs whine about it.

Posted by leonard.lowe-llc on October 19, 2017

The commercial building systems integration market embraced Zigbee years ago and there are a myriad of Zigbee products in that space.  The tech is both robust and widespread.  Amazon may be expecting to crossover into light commercial with their product as their markets expand.

Posted by HometechJohn on October 19, 2017

I could not be happier that Amazon did NOT choose Zwave, the jury is out for me on Zigbee but I have had years of miserable experience with Zwave and its about time for it to die a merciful death.  Its reach has been brutal, the ability to add/delete devices brutal, the only diagnostic tool I ever saw built by Leviton for Zwave BRUTAL. (The guys at Worthington knew more about it than Leviton people)

Talk about lick, stick, PRAY

Every single implementation unique, even if the Zwave wireless protocol was standardized it use by too many manufacturers so different and unreliable to never be adopted by anyone except harry homeowner who had a 2000 sqare ft home.  Remember its the system that you had to give 3 or 4 lamp modules to every client so it would have a prayer of working. 

Lutron Radio RA2/Casseta, reliability, tech support, did I mention tech support by real people with knowledge.  Yes it needs its own hub but thats a small price to pay for reliability(read NOT ZWAVE), breadth, tech support.

Philips Hue and the word compelling used in the same sentence….do people really sit on the couch and play with their lights on their smart phone and feel all warm and smart?  Love to see the numbers for sales at Home Depot, they have had some nice end cap space for years and I for one cant believe there are enough Hue bulb sales to pay for that prime end cap space.  Philips has deep pockets and can afford to play around with stuff like this but anyone else who actually has to pay for that end cap space would have moved on.  Look for new Chinese tile to be filling that space soon.

Starting to feel like an old guy….Get off my lawn!

Seems like 30 years ago X10 was ROCK solid compared to Zwave wink wink!

Posted by WhatsASmartHome on October 18, 2017

Amazon just maintaining the “Phillip’s Hue” route with ZigBee?

Posted by hmurchison on October 18, 2017

Correction- Google WiFi indeed has a Zigbee radio. The Onhub router supports Weave as well.  The most likely reason for choosing Zigbee is the lack of requiring a Hub of any kind. Couple that with Zigbee 3.0 and Dot Dot and Zigbee’s roadmap is looking more compelling

View all comments.

Posted by RussellsTeapot on October 18, 2017

I suspect it is more likely that Amazon as a giant e-commerce company, recognizes that Z-Wave — as much as it looks like an open standard — is in fact a single vendor technology. Amazon may not be willing to risk its entire smart home strategy on the whims and fortunes of one supplier. Zigbee on the other hand is an open standard supported by many vendors across a global supply chain.

There are plenty of compelling and best-selling zigbee devices already available like Philips Hue. Amazon plays the long game. As they and other platforms increasingly embrace open, multi-vendor technologies, they probably aren’t too worried about the Zigbee device ecosystem. And they can always connect to Z-Wave devices through SmartThings, Wink, and other hubs.

Posted by Blefadts on October 18, 2017

Main reason is single chip supplier, also they know consumers don’t care what technology they use. They will own consumer market and will drive a lot more zigbee products to market.
They also were probably turned off by cost of Zwave.

Posted by hmurchison on October 18, 2017

Correction- Google WiFi indeed has a Zigbee radio. The Onhub router supports Weave as well.  The most likely reason for choosing Zigbee is the lack of requiring a Hub of any kind. Couple that with Zigbee 3.0 and Dot Dot and Zigbee’s roadmap is looking more compelling

Posted by WhatsASmartHome on October 18, 2017

Amazon just maintaining the “Phillip’s Hue” route with ZigBee?

Posted by HometechJohn on October 19, 2017

I could not be happier that Amazon did NOT choose Zwave, the jury is out for me on Zigbee but I have had years of miserable experience with Zwave and its about time for it to die a merciful death.  Its reach has been brutal, the ability to add/delete devices brutal, the only diagnostic tool I ever saw built by Leviton for Zwave BRUTAL. (The guys at Worthington knew more about it than Leviton people)

Talk about lick, stick, PRAY

Every single implementation unique, even if the Zwave wireless protocol was standardized it use by too many manufacturers so different and unreliable to never be adopted by anyone except harry homeowner who had a 2000 sqare ft home.  Remember its the system that you had to give 3 or 4 lamp modules to every client so it would have a prayer of working. 

Lutron Radio RA2/Casseta, reliability, tech support, did I mention tech support by real people with knowledge.  Yes it needs its own hub but thats a small price to pay for reliability(read NOT ZWAVE), breadth, tech support.

Philips Hue and the word compelling used in the same sentence….do people really sit on the couch and play with their lights on their smart phone and feel all warm and smart?  Love to see the numbers for sales at Home Depot, they have had some nice end cap space for years and I for one cant believe there are enough Hue bulb sales to pay for that prime end cap space.  Philips has deep pockets and can afford to play around with stuff like this but anyone else who actually has to pay for that end cap space would have moved on.  Look for new Chinese tile to be filling that space soon.

Starting to feel like an old guy….Get off my lawn!

Seems like 30 years ago X10 was ROCK solid compared to Zwave wink wink!

Posted by leonard.lowe-llc on October 19, 2017

The commercial building systems integration market embraced Zigbee years ago and there are a myriad of Zigbee products in that space.  The tech is both robust and widespread.  Amazon may be expecting to crossover into light commercial with their product as their markets expand.

Posted by TKA99 on October 20, 2017

Was this article suppose to be posted in the “Sponsored Content” section?

The graveyard of antiquated and failed business models is filled by people and companies who spend too much time “Wondering” why customers and major corps make the decisions they do.  Now is not the time to lament, wring hands, stomp feet and criticize. In fact, it’s the time to get on board and capture the opportunity this presents for device manufacturers and the adjacent players that support their adoption.  Major growth was just unlocked for those that wish to capture it vs whine about it.

Posted by lordorwell on October 20, 2017

This was partially informed, but all you have to do is look at the usage scenario for home automation.  Most people use alexa nearly exclusively to control their lights, and 99% of smart bulbs are zigbee (zll is a subset of zigbee). Remotes that you can program or scene controllers are also mostly zigbee.  Additionally, zwave is licensed and comes with a fee and you are required to use their chips.  Just about the only other uses out there for voice control are thermostats (most are wifi but i have a zigbee one) and controlling televisions either via Harmony or FireTV.  Either of these scenarios requires a separate device anyway.  The only real usage scenario that zwave controls is wireless security devices, and from what i can tell from research, the alexa hub won’t have any kind of automation for connected devices so they would be useless anyway.

Posted by SpivR on October 23, 2017

The article fails to appreciate that Amazon created the voice assistant market and still commands the lion’s share by both dollars and volume.

Amazon has the ability to create a de facto standard in this space.  We should be thankful they chose an existing standard, Zigbee, instead of creating their own.  They certainly could have done that easily also.

There are pros/cons to every standard. Any vendor that chooses one gets bashed for not choosing the other.

Remember the Revolve hub?  It had every kind of radio in it and promised to unite everything? Only problem was most of the radios were turned off, drivers and software were never developed, and the product at $300 was grossly overpriced.

Google eventually absorbed them into Nest and shut them down.

Courage is picking something, and running with it.  Foolishness is trying to be all things to all people (Jack of all trades but master of none).

Posted by Julie Jacobson on October 23, 2017

Totally agree with all your points, SpivR. I actually meant to include the suggestion that Amazon is in the position where they could actually “make” ZigBee, and certainly make mfrs comply with their special requirements, as Apple has done with their MFI partners. I was questioning in particular why they would miss the opportunity to sell so many more products through amazon.com if they were to adopt Z-Wave.

View all comments.