First of all, I am not an expert in Z-wave and the information in this article is only from my own research and experience in implementing home automation in my home. Still interested? Read on then.
Z-wave is a radio frequency protocol mainly used in home automation devices. Interoperability between devices and brands has been the hallmark feature of Z-wave but the key to this ensuring that you use certified devices. It is also a two-way protocol meaning that when a command is sent to a node, the node is able to acknowledge that the command was received.
Some markets like Australia and New Zealand have been flooded with Z-wave devices with questionable certification and it has been plaguing users. This results in a poor experience with its implementation and those potential customers moving on to other technologies or abandoning it altogether.
The Z-wave Alliance, while doing their best to address the issues that affected the early versions of Z-wave haven’t helped the situation with their ZDK versions. With devices now being released using the newer 500-series chips, users now need to know which devices are the most compatible with the new features offered.
New Features of the 500 Series
- Backward compatibility and interoperability with previous generation Z-Wave
- 50% improvement in battery life
- 67% improvement in range
- 250% more bandwidth (now 100kbs vs. 40kbs)
- 400% extension of flash memory over previous-generation SoC
- Frequency agility: three RF channels of operation in some regions
- New Plug-n-Play Network-wide Inclusion
- Improved self-healing and fault tolerance with Explorer Frame feature
- Standardized method for over-the-air firmware updates (OTA)
- Improved product information capture for product certification database
Network Wide Inclusion
There some great new features of the 500 Series (Gen5) chip. For the end-user and DIY’er some features definitely stand-out: Improved battery life, range and over-the-air updates. But, I think the feature that most would find useful is Network Wide Inclusion.
NWI is actually not “new” in the sense of being only a 500 Series feature. It feature was optional in previous generations but is now a requirement to be Z-wave Plus certified. NWI has been present for a while in ZDK 4.5x. Curiously, NWI is not supported in ZDK 5.x or versions below 4.5. Not sure why.
In older devices, to be able to add or remove a node from the network, you needed to bring your controller within a few inches of the device. Unless you used a portable controller like the Homeseer’s Ztroller (device is discontinued) or Aeon Labs Z-stick, adding switches can be problematic because the switches would generally need to be installed first before being included into the network.
NWI changes all of that. With NWI, the controller doesn’t need to be a few inches from the device but can now use the existing Z-wave mesh network to find the new device to add or remove it. The catch is that all of the devices (including your controller) in the route has to support NWI as well.
As of this writing there are no Z-wave Plus certified dimmers or switches on the market but many newer ones are using ZDK 4.5x. I can confirm that Evolve dimmers and switches are using ZDK 4.52 or 4.54 and many Aeotec devices are now Gen5.
To Z-wave or not to Z-wave
I talk about Z-wave mainly because it has become my protocol of choice to implement in my home automation endeavors. I chose it because of the interoperability between certified devices and I can be assured (at least 99% of the time) that my devices will work with each other. That being said, I see home automation exploding. Where it was a hobbyist endeavor, it is quickly becoming a mainstream movement with the likes of Apple, Google and Microsoft making moves into the space. The new players will introduce new protocols and a new set of challenges. Exciting times.