|Posted on November 8, 2013 at 12:45 AM|
If your Internet search history has broadened beyond “Miley Cyrus twerking” or “Katy Perry boobs” and ventured into the realms of “DIY home automation,” then you’ve likely run across the name “Z-Wave” at some point. And then you probably wondered, “What the hell is a Z-Wave?!”
Well, Z-Wave does not describe some new shotgun-to-brain resistant strain of zombie apocalypse. Nor is it a massive rogue wave caused by underwater tumult miles off the Zanzibar shore. It’s also not a new way of grading on a curve, where the highest and lowest scores are forced to fight to the death in a gladiatorial arena, using only their wits and sharpest #2 pencils to survive.
Much like the X-Men or the Justice League, there is an alliance of Z-Wave member companies, which goes by the ominous moniker of the Z-Wave Alliance. Unfortunately, they don’t gather in a secret lair, have traded cool costumes for suits and their super powers are mainly limited to promoting synergy and interoperability and I doubt a single member has been bombarded with gamma radiation or escaped a dying planet.
Actual facts indicate the Alliance was established in early 2005 by a group of control manufacturers, and now has support from over 250 companies, including some big names like Honeywell, Belkin, Kwikset, Yale, GE, Black & Decker and Leviton. To date, more than 900 different products have been certified by the Z-Wave Alliance. To get to the bottom of exactly what Z-Wave is, I reached out to the Mark Walters, Chairman of the Z-Wave Alliance.
What is a Z-Wave, what does it do and can you surf it like Mavericks?
The elevator pitch is that Z-Wave is a radio frequency (RF) control technology designed to achieve reliable communication and operation between different products from different manufacturers. If that sounds about as exciting as the latest revision of the tax code, you’re actually wrong. The latest tax code is fascinating stuff! And what Z-Wave does is very cool as well, opening affordable automation possibilities to John Q. Everyman by allowing different products to talk to each other via a unified language.
Compared to 802.11 Wi-Fi and Zigbee – the most similar and closest competitor to Z-Wave’s technology – Z-Wave exists in the 900MHz band instead of operating at 2.4 GHz. Walters says this band features less congestion, creating less interference that results in superior performance. Also, 900 MHz’s lower frequency benefits from having a longer wavelength that can penetrate walls and other objects better, delivering better range and resulting in more stable networks.
Start Meshing Around
Another of Z-Wave’s strengths lies in the fact that it creates a mesh network, and it is this mesh that gives Z-Wave much of its power. It’s a mesh created by all connected devices; it surrounds them, penetrates them and binds the mesh galaxy together. Or something. With typical RF networks, adding devices saps resources from the network like a bunch of digital leeches, either causing it to slow down or creating interference that can produce crashes.
Not so with Z-Wave. In fact, exactly the opposite. The Z-Wave mesh network actually gets more powerful and strong-like-bull the more devices you add. As new devices are added, they automatically weave into the mesh, and then create the most optimal pathways to send communications between the devices, with each device able to act as a repeater for other devices. Should one device fail, the mesh self-heals, instantly creating a new transmission pathway. Picture Z-Wave as a colony of hyper-aware ants, instantly responding to any obstruction by just pressing-on and finding a new way back to the colony.
Don’t Hate, Automate
But what can you do with all this mesh-enabled Z-Wave power? Plenty.