Z-Wave Scores Huge UL Win for Security, a First for Mesh Technology

Latest super-secure Z-Wave technology mitigates smart-home hacking; will achieve UL 1023 compliance for intrusion, giving the home automation standard an edge in powering some 20 million security sensors and alarm panels each year.


Z-Wave, arguably the leading home automation technology today, may soon become the top home-security protocol as well. UL has approved the latest Z-Wave protocol for UL 1023 compliance, giving Z-Wave the green light for professional alarm installations, and mitigating consumer concerns about hacking the smart home.

Today, more than 20 million security sensors, alarm panels and other security devices are installed each year, primarily by security professionals who must install UL-certified products. Most of the UL-compliant sensors utilize one-way radios operating at 300/400 MHz frequencies. The standard for decades, these low-cost radios offer long-range communications, long battery life and very secure transmission.

But the UL-listed sensors are single-purpose, one-way and mostly redundant because security dealers are installing multi-purpose sensors like Z-Wave right next to them. The UL security sensors are required for life-safety applications, while the Z-Wave sensors provide lifestyle benefits and feedback.

If only the Z-Wave sensors could achieve UL-compliance for life-safety (burglary), they could replace traditional security sensors altogether. That dream is becoming reality.

A More Secure Z-Wave vs. ZigBee

Sigma Designs (Nasdaq: SIGM), the owner of Z-Wave technology, put the gears in motion last year when it launched the new Z-Wave Security 2 (S2) framework for next-gen Z-Wave products. That framework was developed in cooperation with UL, with 1023 compliance in mind.

Today, Sigma announced that its new Z-Wave transceivers (models ZM5101, ZM5202, and ZM5304) with protocol SDK version 6.60 have been evaluated to UL’s standards for home security. The products feature anti-jamming and AES 128-bit encryption provisions like today’s less-capable UL devices.

“Now you can standardize on one radio for both security and convenience,” says Avi Rosenthal, VP of security and control for Nortek Security & Control, developer of 2Gig alarm systems and a leading manufacturer of Z-Wave devices.

“Every device from a door/window sensor to a sophisticated door lock will be part of the secure environment. The consumer doesn’t have to worry about any of it.”

— Nortek VP Avi Rosenthal,
Z-Wave Alliance Board Member

A board member of the Z-Wave Alliance, Rosenthal says UL has never certified mesh-networking products for life-safety. While rival home-automation protocol ZigBee has some UL-compliant life-safety devices, those products have mesh-networking disabled, resulting in a short-range, point-to-point solution, according to Rosenthal.

In the case of new UL-compliant Z-Wave devices, “This is a true-blue mesh network, exactly how you would expect it to work,” Rosenthal says.

Even moving forward, ZigBee might have trouble achieving the same UL status as Z-Wave. ZigBee operates in the crowded 2.4 GHz band, which is prone to unintentional signal-jamming from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and myriad other technologies on the home network.

The 2.4 GHz noise can trigger false alarms in a security system, which can be challenging to detect.

Operating in the 900 MHz band, Z-Wave battles much less traffic on the home network, so the technology can better distinguish between real and false alarms.

Z-Wave’s two-way sensors feature “Jamming Detect,” a mechanism added to the protocol to satisfy UL’s stringent interference protection requirements. 

Prospects for UL-Compliant Z-Wave

It seems the opportunities for Z-Wave cannot be overstated in the UL announcement.

“There has never been an end-to-end encrypted protocol for life-safety,” Rosenthal says. “Every device from a door/window sensor to a sophisticated door lock will be part of the secure environment. The consumer doesn’t have to worry about any of it. It is a single, compatible standard for convenience and security.

According to the Z-Wave Alliance, Z-Wave is included in over 90 percent of professionally installed security systems. Opening up the security sensor market for Z-Wave devices more than doubles the total available market being addressed, according to the group.

UL-compliant Z-Wave products probably won’t hit the market until Q4 of this year, according to Rosenthal, but existing Z-Wave products that employ the newer 500-Series Sigma chipset should be firmware-upgradeable for UL compliance.

Will we still need the industry-standard 300-Mhz sensors? Probably not, Rosenthal says.

Today’s 300/400 MHz security sensors are cheaper, but much of that has to do with economies of scale, according to Rosenthal. The price differential is shrinking already, and once a high volume of Z-Wave radios are used as security sensors, any price advantage will disappear.

Furthermore, alarm panels will no longer have to support multiple radio platforms, further bringing down the price of a Z-Wave-centric system.

The long range of 300/400 MHz sensors is moot when compared to Z-Wave’s mesh-network capabilities.

The only lingering advantage to 300/400 MHz is battery life, but here again Rosenthal says Z-Wave is approaching parity. Currently, the old one-way standard gets about 2x battery life compared to Z-Wave, “but we’re improving,” he says.

For Nortek’s part, Rosenthal says the company’s new 2Gig GC3 alarm panel is being built with UL compliance in mind. New communications methodology must be implemented to ensure UL-sanctioned Z-Wave transmissions for life-safety, not just lifestyle.

“We’ve asked UL to bless the way we’ve been doing it,” Rosenthal says.

The new UL certifications are for burglary only, not fire detection.

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Sigma Designs Announces Break-Through Z-Wave UL Component Recognition

Z-Wave provides the corner stone for adding sensors to professional security networks

Fremont, CA – Sigma Designs, Inc.  (NASDAQ: SIGM), a leading provider of  intelligent system-on-chip (SoC) solutions for Smart TV and  Internet of Things (IoT) for Smart Home, today announced their Z-Wave, modules models ZM5101/ZM5101A-CME3R RF transceivers with protocol SDK version 6.60  have been evaluated to UL’s standards for home security, enabling new applications for professional security sensors and other devices in the multi-billion dollar home security business in the US. 

Professional security sensors such as door and window and motion sensors make up the majority of security devices in the home, which are estimated to represent installation of about 20 million units per year. These devices typically utilize non-standard one-way radios operating at 300/400 MHz frequencies. Since these devices use one-way communication, their effective security and reliability can be compromised. The number one problem faced by security companies is false alarms, which represent more than 50% of the service calls they receive, creating a substantial cost impact.  One-way sensors simply cannot evaluate a false alarm.  Since Z-Wave is a true two-way network technology, it can identify the actual sensors and be requested to re-check conditions multiple times to reduce these false alarms.  Migrating to state-of-the-art two-way sensors will improve the overall security and reliability of security systems and will also represent a substantial competitive advantage for Z-Wave.

Secondly, wireless systems can get compromised by “jamming” – the intentional or inadvertent transmission of radio signals at the same frequency. Sensors operating in the 2.4 GHz band can be unintentionally jammed due to the over-crowding of signals from Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other devices, resulting in a either a security breach or another type of false alarm.  Z-Wave’s two-way sensors feature Jamming Detect, a mechanism that was added to satisfy UL’s stringent interference protection requirements.  Additionally, by operating in the 900 MHz band, Z-Wave devices are safe from the overcrowded 2.4 GHz noise. 

“This is a win-win for the industry as it will be easier for security system and device manufacturers to deploy Z-Wave technology in their end-products when seeking UL certification” stated Neil Lakomiak, director of business development for UL’s Building and Life Safety Technologies division.

“We are excited about the possibilities of Z-Wave enabled security devices coming into the market,” said Ryan Petty, vice-president product innovation at ADT.

“UL’s component recognition of Z-Wave will bring a new “smart” dimension to our sensor portfolio,” said Avi Rosenthal, vice president of security and control, Nortek Security & Control.

Z-Wave is already included in over 90% of the panels provided by professional security companies in the US to augment and add new consumer value to their security services with lifestyle smart home capabilities such as lighting, access and temperature control.  With the new Z-Wave SDK version 6.60, based on the UL component recognition, all smart home sensors and professional security sensors can be united with one Z-Wave technology and leveraged for both pro-security as well as smart home services.  Furthermore, opening up the security sensor market for Z-Wave devices more than doubles the total available market being addressed. 

“Our data said the monitored security market grew at approximately a rate of 15 percent in 2014,” says Tom Kerber, director of research, home controls & energy for Parks Associates. “That is very strong for an industry that had been relatively consistent. Much of that was the addition of interactive controls. Our consumer data shows that when you add home controls and interactive services to a basic security system, the appeal increases by as much as two-fold. In fact, we had predicted that the market would grow by about 50 percent over the next 10 years, but we have had to revise that forecast up to probably more like in the next five years.”

According to Frost and Sullivan’s research on smart buildings the sensor market alone is projected to reach nearly $4 billion by 2018.

Building on the release of Z-Wave’s SDK 6.60 and UL compliance, Z-Wave now supplies an application framework and sample code to sensor manufacturers that allow them to get to market faster with a shorter development cycle.