If you need any more indication that Matter is not going to kill all of the pre-existing standards in the smart home anytime soon, check out the launch this week of Trident IoT, a new company devoted to building Z-wave chips. Trident was founded in April to design and support Z-wave devices, and launched this week with news that it is a month out from taping out its chips and plans to sample them to customers before the end of this year.
This is huge news for the smart home and the Z-Wave standard in particular. For decades, when I spoke to people about the Z-Wave standard, I heard praise for the mesh network’s reliability and frustration that only one company, Zensys, provided the silicon. This worried customers because they wanted a second source for chips to keep pricing in line, and act as an option in case Zensys went out of business.
In 2008, Zensys was purchased by Sigma Designs, and hopes for another silicon provider or an opening up of the standard rose, but Sigma Designs didn’t open up the radio protocol. In 2018 when Silicon Labs decided to buy Sigma Designs, Z-Wave customers got excited again. And in 2020, Silicon Labs started the process of opening up the standard by spinning out the Z-Wave Alliance. Then in 2022, the Z-Wave Alliance announced that the source code was available for anyone, and that the technology had been ported to a new chip.
So it’s been a long road to get to Trident IoT and a second source of Z-Wave chips. And in that time the smart home got more popular and talk of radio standards were subsumed in talk of interoperability between different vendor ecosystems. Instead of focusing on Z-Wave or ZigBee, customers were trying to figure out if a sensor worked with Nest or Alexa. Security companies still used Z-Wave in their systems, and hardcore DIYers could buy hubs that included Z-Wave radios, but after the big tech vendors said they would get behind the Matter standard for the smart home that would use Wi-Fi and Thread, it seemed like Z-Wave would fade away.
And it might, but not without a fight. I still talk to companies building security system hardware and access control devices that are invested in Z-Wave, and the Z-Wave Alliance has put a lot of effort into creating a long-range version of the mesh network that can send data over distances of a mile. As of March of this year, there were more than 4,000 certified Z-Wave devices, and Trident IoT Founder and CTO Mariusz Malkowski, says he’s talked to potential customers about building more.
Malkowski also explained that Trident IoT would focus on other protocols to ensure its customers could build devices that worked with Z-Wave, Matter, Thread, ZigBee or whatever the client needs. The company has engineers that specialize in many different IoT protocols. Trident’s embrace of all standards reminds me of Silicon Labs’ focus on becoming a dedicated IoT chip company.
Malkowski says Silicon Labs supports what the company is doing and there’s a quote from a Silicon Labs’ employee in Trident’s press release. I expect that if Trident does become successful it will encourage more companies to use Z-Wave or keep existing Z-Wave customers happy, as there’s now a secondary source of chips. This benefits both companies.
And frankly, it’s beneficial for customers too, especially if hubs are indeed making a comeback. Matter so far has its growing pains, and the potential benefits of a long-range Z-Wave option to power sensors in yards or distant access control devices is large. It looks like that XKCD comic about there being yet another standard is playing out in the smart home, but at least if you’re a company betting on Z-Wave, you have another option.