Control & Automation

Z-Wave Chairman on SmartThings, HomeKit, Thread, 6LoWPAN, ISE 2015

Z-Wave Alliance Chief Mark Walters chats about SmartThings joining Z-Wave Alliance Board, and how Z-Wave stacks up to other home automation initiatives like Apple HomeKit, Thread, AllSeen and OIC.

SmartThings hub 2.0 at CES 2015
Julie Jacobson · February 5, 2015

SmartThings, the Samsung home automation group, has joined the Z-Wave Alliance board. We took the opportunity to chat with Alliance chairman Mark Walters about that announcement, and to catch up on other smart-home initiatives including Apple’s HomeKit; IP-based solutions such as Thread, 6LoWPAN and IP-over-Z-Wave; Qualcomm’s AllJoyn/AllSeen Alliance; the Intel- and Cisco-inspired Open Interconnect Consortium; and how Z-Wave is doing in Europe on the eve of ISE 2015.

The Z-Wave Alliance has added SmartThings to the board of directors, represented by Dan Lieberman, head of research and standards for the Samsung home automation division.

Ordinarily, these types of announcements aren’t such a big deal, but this one might be. Apparently SmartThings hasn’t joined any other related boards, so Z-Wave must be at least a little bit special to the company, which also supports ZigBee (and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth BLE soon) in its hub.

Of course, parent company Samsung is on lots and lots and lots of boards and joins just about every new initiative that launches. But this is SmartThings.

“I think they’re committed to working with the Z-Wave Alliance and its partners,” Walters says (SmartThings was not available yesterday for an interview). “They are very excited about what they can do to bring functionality to the ecosystem.”

Even before joining the board, SmartThings was active in the Alliance, participating in working groups on command classes and other Z-Wave minutiae.

SmartThings, by the way, announced at CES 2015 the addition of Bluetooth Smart (BLE) to the hub, as well as support for more devices such as Somfy motorized shades, Rachio irrigation and August locks.

Integration with Samsung’s Gear S watch was also on the horizon.

Samsung, meanwhile, promised that by 2017 all Samsung TVs would be Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled. By 2019, virtually all Samsung electronics would be Internet-ready.

Samsung TV with home automation powered by SmartThings at CES 2015. Click to enlarge (photo: CE Pro)

Other Z-Wave Board Members
SmartThings joins these board members of the Z-Wave Alliance: ADT, Evolve (hospitality), Fakro (roller shutters), Ingersoll Rand (door locks), Jasco (GE-branded devices), LG U+, Nortek Security & Control (security, automation systems).

LG U Who?

LG Uplus (U+), an LG Electronics division, is South Korea’s third-largest telco and is expected to launch a complete home-control system for that market, starting with its first: a remote gas shut-off valve.

Apple HomeKit
Like others with official knowledge of Apple HomeKit, Walters couldn’t say much about the platform. He pretty much reiterated what had to say about HomeKit integration last month.

While HomeKit is ostensibly built for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (BLE) devices, products that talk other protocols like Z-Wave and ZigBee can participate in the ecosystem via a hub or “bridge.”

“Apple is adamant that the HomeKit app is designed to provide the highest level of access to a few things you want to control. It doesn’t replace a native app.”

- Mark Walters, Z-Wave Alliance

The bridge, however, must include an MFi (Made for iPhone) chip and communicate to the iDevice via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

“The hang-up is that Apple has says it won’t support every device type on the other side of the bridge,” Walters says. “For now, it won’t allow control of devices that provide access, such as door locks.”

HomeKit should not be considered a replacement for richer home control systems (such as SmartThings).

“Apple is adamant that the HomeKit app is designed to provide the highest level of access to a few things you want to control,” says Walters. “It doesn’t replace a native app.”

So, for example, HomeKit might enable lights on/off commands or shades up/down, but not a fuller feature set.

He imagines that MFi-approved devices will have two options: a basic HomeKit app or a richer native app.

IP over Z-Wave
There was a time when it looked like utilities wanted to go all-IP for their smart meters, so ZigBee (already the dominant protocol for smart meters) came out with an IP-over-ZigBee implementation.

Z-Wave followed suit with its own implementation, just ratified in November 2014.

The solution delivers 6LoWPAN (low-rate, power-optimized, IPv6 delivery) over the Z-Wave MAC/PHY layers, “but there aren’t any takers right now,” Walters says.

The reason?

Like other IP delivery methods (ZigBee IP, Thread), this one is 600 times less efficient than Z-Wave, according to Walters: “That’s a really big penalty.”

He adds, “We think you bring IP to the edge, and then use the most efficient, most secure protocol to the device. In today’s world, that’s Z-Wave, followed by ZigBee.”

Meanwhile, Z-Wave has a better IP mouse trap in the Z/IP, a very inexpensive USB gateway device that assigns IP addresses to every Z-Wave input in an ecosystem, making it easier for IP-centric developers to include Z-Wave devices in their systems. (Note this is different from other Z-Wave USB sticks on the market that act as IP controllers for Z-Wave devices. You still have to “program” in Z-Wave.)

Logitech, with its Harmony Hub home control system is the first taker for Z/IP.

AllJoyn/AllSeen, OIC, Thread
What does Walters make of the latest home control initiatives? They’re simply incomplete.

The AllSeen Alliance is an initiative based on Qualcomm’s AllJoyn technology. The Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) allegedly was formed by Intel and Cisco because they didn’t like the licensing fees associated with AllSeen (this didn’t come from Walters, by the way).

But both do practically the same thing, that is: define device discovery and pairing rules for disparate devices in a single ecosystem so they can all (theoretically) communicate with each other.

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Beyond that, though, someone still has to define device profiles (what does a light switch do?) and create applications.

Walters likens these solutions to UPnP, which has, of course, succeeded in the A/V world.

Thread, based on Nest’s 6LoWPAN-over-802.15.4 protocol, suffers similarly. It defines only the network layer of the stack and relies on someone else to figure out the rest.

Z-Wave’s One Chip-maker
ZigBee fans love to criticize Z-Wave for having only one chipmaker – Sigma Designs, which acquired the technology from Zensys in 2008.

Walters says he hears this a lot but “to date, having a single supplier of silicon has not impeded or hindered Z-Wave of the ecosystem. The performance is as good as or better than anyone’s.”

He does suggest, however, that “as the market grows and as demand for devices gets larger, I think that will bring the need for additional silicon makers.”

Europe and ISE 2015
For the first time, the Z-Wave Alliance will have a partner pavilion at Integrated Systems Europe (ISE 2015) next week in Amsterdam.

In Europe, KNX is the dominant protocol for home and building control, but Z-Wave is gaining ground.

That has to do both with the growth of Z-Wave (now 35 million devices deployed), as well as the rising popularity of home automation – both in Europe and at the ISE conference, which typically has focused on high-end audio and video, mostly for commercial applications.

“I think the European marketing is maturing to a point of broad interest in home controls,” says Walters. “Just in the last few years our member companies have become interested in that market.

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Follow our ISE 2015 Coverage @

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Participating in the ISE pavilion are:

  • Aeon Labs – sensors, switches, more
  • Fibaro – complete home automation systems, sensors, other devices
  • ID-RF – Chinese OEM that recently launched its own NodOn brand of white-label products
  • Nortek Security & Control (formerly Linear) - Security, home automation, devices
  • Secure Controls – Thermostats, water heater controls
  • Thermo-Floor – Radiant heating
  • Zipato – Modular home automation system
  • Z-Wave Europe – European distributor

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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at

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  Article Topics

Control & Automation · Lighting · News · HomeKit · Smart-Things · Thread · All Topics
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