On our most recent IoT Podcast episode, a caller left us a question on our IoT voicemail hotline about Zigbee and Z-Wave. He has a range of devices in his smart home, including a SmartThings hub. Now that the Zigbee Alliance rounded up just about everyone who’s anyone in the smart home market with the Connected Home over IP (CHIP) project, he’s wondering if he should be concerned about adding new Zigbee or Z-Wave products.
It’s a valid question, especially since CHIP hasn’t yet publicly delivered anything beyond high-level plans. CHIP expects to have a draft of its standard(s) by year end, so even if all goes according to schedule, products that use CHIP’s approach won’t be arriving until 2021 at the earliest.
But if you take a closer look at what CHIP has publicly shared, there’s no reason to write off either Zigbee or Z-Wave just yet, if ever. I’ll highlight just a few of the relevant bits of info to illustrate this.
In its FAQ section, Project CHIP addresses the key concern of support for existing products, saying “Yes. Amazon, Apple, and Google are committed to continue support for developers and their products.”
The smart home market is continuing to mature with new products, even as CHIP moves forward. Put another way: Device makers that use Zigbee and/or Z-Wave aren’t stopping production and waiting to see what happens. That bodes well for future support, based on CHIP’s answer to this question.
As far as the Zigbee protocol used today, here’s what CHIP says about it in the future: “Yes, the Zigbee Alliance and its members are continuing to drive the development and growth of the Zigbee protocol, both today and after the launch of the Project’s protocol. Those developing Zigbee products today will continue with confidence.”
Only time will tell if this is accurate, but CHIP isn’t exactly replacing Zigbee; instead it will replace the transport protocol of Zigbee with one over IP. Indeed, the answer to another FAQ says exactly that: “The Project uses Internet Protocol (IP) rather than the Zigbee transport and networking protocol. Project CHIP and Zigbee are two separate protocols.”
Keep in mind that at the physical and medial layer shown above, Z-Wave doesn’t yet fit in as it doesn’t use the wireless radio standards found in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Thread.
Here’s another way of looking at it. Network connectivity and data transfer activities are built upon many layers. Project CHIP is attempting to standardize the application layer that sits on top of the lower layers that govern networking. The idea is to get devices that use different radio technologies able to share their device data over the Internet Protocol. There are other benefits too, such as consistent methods for device discovery and configuration.
I’m personally not planning to invest in any new Z-Wave devices but that’s more of a preference. I’ve since moved mainly to a Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-centric smart home because those devices are easier to support with digital assistants. But there’s no reason for you to do the same if there’s a Zigbee or Z-Wave device that meets your needs.
Stacey thinks that within five years, Z-Wave may be something different than it is today. Indeed, it’s changing now; at least organizationally.
Earlier this month, the Z-Wave Alliance ceased to exist as a for-profit group and is officially an SDO or Standards Development Organization. That doesn’t change the way Z-Wave products work today although it could in the future. However, I’d expect some modicum of backwards compatibility, given that Z-Wave has been around since 1999.
To hear the question about CHIP as it relates to Zigbee and Z-Wave, as well as our discussion, tune in to the IoT Podcast below.