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A Networking Pro Rediscovers Z-Wave…and Really, Really Likes it

CE Pro contributor and networking pro Bjorn Jensen of WhyReboot revisits Z-Wave for the first time in a long time, pleasantly surprised by its progress; admires new Kwikset lock for paranoid people and Fibaro's colorful home automation devices.

Why Bjorn Jensen likes Fibaro.

Photos & Slideshow

Bjorn Jensen · November 7, 2014

Bjorn Jensen, principal of the network-consulting and -design firm WhyReboot, is an IT guru in my eyes and in the eyes of his clients, his students, CE Pro readers and CEDIA. But as well as he knows IP, Jensen hasn’t really kept up with developments in other networking technologies such as Z-Wave.

During CEDIA Expo 2014, he revisited the home automation technology for the first time in a long time, and he was pleasantly surprised by the progress Z-Wave has made. Here he describes his experience with exhibitors in the Z-Wave Pavilion. - Julie Jacobson

Just a decade ago there was this little thing started called the Z-Wave Alliance that sought to do what the Wi-Fi Alliance did: bring everybody to the table to agree on protocols and promote interoperability between devices. Looking at the growth of their CEDIA booth each year you can tell that they have grown into a force to be reckoned with. This year, at CEDIA Expo 2014, their booth was bigger than ever.

Celebrating their 10 year anniversary, the Z-Wave Alliance booth area was abuzz with manufacturers showing off their Z-Wave enabled devices. There are now are over 300 manufacturers making Z-Wave products, almost 1,200 certified devices in the market, with 28 million Sigma chips deployed worldwide (Sigma Designs manufactures the Z-Wave chips).

As a network engineer by trade, my favorite thing about Z-Wave has to be the fact that it operates in the lower 900MHz frequency. This makes it so that the devices that incorporate Z-Wave can be very low power and not interfere with other wireless protocols such as the Wi-Fi that is so important to us, or even Bluetooth.

Though using that lower frequency means it can’t handle high bandwidth applications, it doesn’t need to because Z-Wave is primarily used for simple sensor and remote control applications. The benefits are that even with such low power (as in, can even be battery operated) the devices have a pretty good range of up to 100 feet (line of sight).

I always like to explain the difference in range between lower and higher frequencies by comparing it to a car booming bass from down the street. You can hear the bass way before you hear the mids and highs. This is because the lower frequency travels farther and avoids, and can pass through, obstacles better.

Each Z-Wave network can include up to 232 nodes, and these nodes can be configured to act as a mesh network, working harmoniously together to communicate from point A to point B in a multipath environment. In other words, the more Z-Wave enabled devices you add to the network, the stronger your communication will be between devices (although, to maximize battery life, most battery-powered Z-Wave devices do not repeat signals).

Kwikset Lock for Paranoid People

There were quite a few new products at the Z-Wave booth this year. Quite a few caught my eye and some were products that I’ve seen in previous years. One of them was an old product with some new features and twists. This was the SmartCode 916 from Kwikset, their version of the touchscreen door lock. This Z-Wave enabled door lock has a lot of the same features you’ll find on many locks, even competitor Z-Wave locks. However, there were a few unique things that this lock does that set it apart from the rest, at least in my eyes. The first being a feature I personally think is rather pointless but can be a huge selling point to a paranoid client that has watched too many spy movies.

Have you ever watched those movies where somebody gains access to a secure location by dusting a keypad with talc in order to see which buttons were pressed? One thing they always fail to mention in those movies is that the buttons need to be pushed in a specific order or, after a few too many errors the door will go into lock down mode and/or sound an alarm. Anyway, put reality aside for a second and think about your client who has watched too many of those movies and wants or needs something to combat this “problem” and make themselves sleep better at night.

Related: More on Home Automation

Other companies have combated this paranoia by allowing the option of randomizing the location of the numbers on the touchscreen. This would mean that nobody could figure out which buttons were pressed because the number 2 could be in the 9 location and vice versa. This is undoubtedly pretty cool, but would get annoying to have to hunt and peck for the numbers you need to press to gain entry instead of them being in the location you are used to. Imagine dialing someone’s phone number and having to relearn the location of the numbers every time. Exactly!

In comes Kwikset with their SecureScreen feature. Their answer to the so called “smudge” attacks is to place two random numbers on the touchscreen that you must touch, in any order, before you gain access to the full keyboard. Not only does an attacker not know you can touch them in any order, but because it randomly places them on the screen, there will always be smudges in locations that have nothing to do with your personal passcode. Brilliant! I have to add that their touchscreen is super sexy, very low profile, and responds very well to touch.

Another feature that they’ve added that can be useful in numerous situations is their patented SmartKey re-key technology that allows a homeowner to re-key their locks in seconds without even having to remove the lock from the door. They demoed this to me at the show and it was extremely easy to do. So easy in fact that another gentleman behind us chimed in by saying, “That’s a great way to send a message to your ex!” All you need is the original door lock key, a tiny tool that they provide that fits into the lock (almost like a hat pin), and the new key you would like to set the lock to. I came away from this demo thinking that this was the door lock I wanted to replace all of my other door locks with. Some of the other features of this new lock are:

  • Dramatically reduced interior size for increased aesthetic appeal
  • All-metal, tamper-resistant interior escutcheon
  • BHMA Grade 2 Certification, ensuring top quality and durability
  • UL Certification with 20-minute fire rating
  • A Mastercode option allowing users to prevent user codes from being added to or deleted from the lock
  • Can hold up to 30 user codes
  • BumpGuard technology that protects homeowners from lock bumping

Fibaro’s Colorful Panic Buttons and Creepy Sensors

Another manufacturer at the booth that seemed to be the culmination of everything Z-Wave has to offer was Fibaro. They are a home automation manufacturer from Poland who has apparently been around for quite some time though I had never heard of them. There’s a pretty cool video on their website showcasing the abilities of their system. Aside from the creepy music that makes one feel like you’re watching a trailer for a slasher film it’s the kind of thing that could make the average homeowner want to jump up and purchase some smart home appliances immediately.

You may have seen them at the show, the booth ladies were giving out apples and taking pictures. Their motto is, “Fibaro System takes home automation to completely new level. So unique in fact, that we no longer call it ‘automation.’ We think of Fibaro as Home intelligence”

They’ve managed to pack Z-Wave chips in a myriad of sensors and other gadgets that can be used to retrofit a system with relative ease. They call this a “non-invasive installation process.” One of the ways they do this is obviously by creating sensors that are battery powered. Looking like something out of a sci-fi flick, one of their sensors is the “Motion Sensor.” Again, something about this company loves creepy. This thing quite literally looks like an eyeball staring at you from the corner of the room but has some really great features built in.

  About the Author

Coming from a background in large commercial computer systems administration and engineering, Bjørn Jensen found a home with a Platinum Crestron Dealer as the IT Director. While there he saw the growing need for more complex, managed networks working as the core of any large residential home automation system. Knowing that Ethernet networks would become ubiquitous in our industry, Bjørn decided to form a company dedicated to providing commercial grade plug and play networks for ESC’s who didn’t have the time or the knowledge to properly implement what is needed in some of the larger, more complex environments. Since then he’s become entrenched in the CE community by becoming a member of the inaugural CE Pro Blog Mob and writing and instructing courses for CEDIA’s new certification, the Residential Networking Specialist. For more information see the following: About WhyReboot. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Bjørn at Bjorn@whyreboot.com

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  Article Topics

News · Fibaro · Kwikset · Z-Wave · All Topics
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