It would be fair to say that the Matter standard and Thread protocol have stolen the spotlight over the recent months, if not longer. Well, the Z-Wave Alliance wants to change the conversation a little. Today, it announced that it has completed its Z-Wave Source Code project. The Z-Wave protocol source code is now available to all Z-Wave Alliance members. As if that wasn’t enough of a conversation starter, the Alliance is finally moving beyond a single silicon vendor for Z-Wave products.
Silicon Labs to this point has been the sole provider of Z-Wave-compatible chips (after buying the original Z-Wave chip designer Sigma Designs). But back in 2020, it started contributing to this open-source effort. And now, Z-Wave has been ported to a third-party chipset: Exegin Technologies created the port as a beta test.
Will these developments steer the conversation in a way that keeps Z-Wave relevant? It’s too early to tell, but it’s possible. And I wasn’t kidding when I described Z-Wave as relevant. Here’s a Google Trends search over the last 12 months on Z-Wave, Matter, and Thread devices:
I think the results are to be expected. Since 2019, Matter has been touted as a more universal IoT standard. It took three years to get here but Matter, supported on both Thread and Wi-Fi, shows promise. The ability to bring devices together from disparate smart home ecosystems reduces a big consumer pain point. It also offers flexibility where there hasn’t been when it comes to choosing devices. And it helps both device makers and the developers who make apps for those devices, with a common language as well as a choice of chipsets to use.
Z-Wave going open source certainly brings some of those benefits, but not all of them, to the table.
By opening up the Z-Wave protocol to other chip makers, there’s potential for more competition in the required silicon for Z-Wave products. That should reduce costs over time for the chips, provided there are some companies that decide to build Z-Wave chips. Will there be?
That’s an open question at this point. I think it’s a tough sell for chip makers when there’s so much momentum for Matter and Thread. Indeed, earlier this year, Silicon Labs itself reported 50 customers had signed up to develop Matter devices using some of its chips. Nanoleaf and Tuya Smart are two of those customers and I don’t see why they would now decide to switch over or include Z-Wave chips in their products.
Today’s news suggests Silicon Labs saw the writing on the wall. If it believes Matter and Thread are the future, Silicon Labs had nothing to lose now by letting other chipmakers build Z-Wave chips if they want to. So in that regard, Z-Wave’s open-source efforts and removal of a single silicon vendor won’t have the impact the Alliance expects. But again, we’ll have to wait and see.
Clearly, there’s still a market for Z-Wave devices. A growing market, even. The Z-Wave Alliance says it has seen “90 million new Z-Wave devices enter the market since 2020.” That’s no small number but Matter and Thread are just getting started. And a reasonable number of existing IoT devices are getting Matter/Thread support with software updates.
Amazon alone plans to bring Matter support, mostly over Wi-Fi at first, to more than 100 million devices in the coming months. When you add in similar efforts from Apple, Google, Samsung, and others, you’re looking at hundreds of millions of Matter-capable products.
It’s certainly possible, likely even, that we’ll see new hubs and gateways that integrate both Z-Wave and Matter with Thread or Wi-Fi. In fact, as part of today’s announcement, Silicon Labs introduced the Unify SDK: A way to create such interoperable bridges.
There’s another piece to the Z-Wave puzzle though where Matter and Thread don’t have an advantage: The Z-Wave-LR, or long-range, specification. This really competes more with LoRa or long-range wireless solutions that are beyond the reach of today’s home networks. But it presents an opportunity for Z-Wave to keep driving growth in the IoT space.
That growth potential is more suited to Industrial IoT and smart city solutions as opposed to smart homes. Still, it’s a big opportunity and we could see more Z-Wave LR locks, garage door openers, and gate sensors for those with larger properties. If you need access to devices from a mile away, Thread and Wi-Fi aren’t going to cut it. Short of paying for cellular IoT connectivity, Z-Wave LR could be a very viable option.
All in all, today’s news is mostly positive for Z-Wave. It has the potential to be great news which I know would be welcome to the many Z-Wave device fans out there. We’ll have to see how it plays out over 2023 though. As Matter and Thread momentum has built up, it could just keep on rolling and grab the spotlight back as consumers get a taste of the simple setup and operability of the newer standard.