Category Archives: News

CES 2018

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is THE trade show for smart home technology and all things cool and new and geeky. It’s a massive show and I only spent one day there and never made it out of the Sands convention center which is one of the smaller venues. If you’ve never been to CES it is something to see. The crowds are enormous and the tech is brand new. So new, some of it will never actually make it to market as there is plenty of smoke and mirrors.

Eric Ryherd wireless IoT consultant expert

My purpose is obviously to seek out the latest news about Z-Wave and chat with my clients. The Z-Wave Alliance invited me to man the “Ask the Expert” desk at the show for a few hours which I was happy to do. My expert knowledge of Z-Wave answered simple questions like “what’s Z-Wave?” (It’s like wifi but low power) to complex questions about the rules around Security S2 and SmartStart.

The most common question is always what’s the difference between Z-Wave and Zigbee? My short answer is that Zigbee is like silos. If you can develop an app, gateway and all the devices you need, then Zigbee will work OK. Z-Wave however was a mesh network from day one and every Z-Wave device can talk to every other Z-Wave device regardless of the manufacturer. Z-Wave is built around standardized command classes so every hub knows precisely what format a temperature sensor is sending the data. Is it in celcius or Fahrenheit? Tenths of a degree or hundredths? With Z-Wave, the format is fully specified. The other protocols let you decide the format which is fine if you have the huge budget to do it all. But if your investors have you on a shoestring budget then Z-Wave is the way to go. I have much longer answers to the Z-Wave vs. Zigbee question but much too long to keep your interest in a quick blog post.

The big announcement for Sigma (other than the acquisition by Silicon Labs) is the announcement of the 700 series. Unfortunately details remain shrouded in secrecy but Sigma has put a stake in the ground of having developers kits by summer 2018. Finally having a real 32 bit ARM processor will be a huge productivity improvement for us IoT developers.

I had limited time to walk the floor but it does seem that smart home has finally taken off. There are so many companies making cool gizmos it’s overwhelming. From sun tracking solar powered umbrellas to cameras of every size and resolution to lots of new hubs there is no way one person can take it all in. You’ll just have to see for yourself.

The Z-Wave Alliance booth is even bigger this year filled with companies hawking the latest IoT thingamagiggy using Z-Wave. Every one of them able to talk to all the other Z-Wave doodads. The booth was busy all day long. I did wander past the tiny Zigbee booth buried in the back of the hotel with a few people in it but nothing like Z-Wave.

SiLabs acquires Z-Wave – Good or Bad?

On Friday of last week Silicon Labs signed an agreement to purchase Sigma Designs for $282M.

The question is: is this good for Z-Wave or bad? 

logoSilicon Labs is a well respected semiconductor manufacturer with an array of microcontroller products  from 8-bit 8051s thru modern low-power ARM CPUs. Silicon Labs has been chasing the IoT market since before IoT was a “thing”. Their low power micros have industry leading features often integrating the latest connectivity solutions like USB, Zigbee and now Z-Wave.  With a market cap of nearly $4B, Silicon Labs (SLAB) has a lot more financial muscle than Sigmas (SIGM) mere $265M could provide. All Z-Wave licensees should rejoice that a much larger company is now  supporting Z-Wave with the accompanying increase (we hope) of resources.

sigma-logoIn my opinion, the most interesting part of the announcement is that SiLabs is buying Z-Wave and not Sigmas primary business of Set-Top-Box processors. The announcement states: “Sigma Designs is in active discussions with prospective buyers to divest its Media Connectivity business”.  The announcement goes on to say that if Sigma can’t unload its “Media Connectivity business” then SiLabs will buy just the Z-Wave portfolio for $240M thus making the rest of Sigma worth only $42M assuming someone is willing to pay that much for it.

The Past

logo_zensyszwaveZ-Wave was originally invented by Zensys based in Copenhagen Denmark in 1999. Originally the Z-Wave protocol used Chipcon radios (acquired by TI) and Atmel processors (acquired by Microchip). In 2003 Zensys announced its own custom designed “100 series” Z-Wave transceiver which was a complete Z-Wave capable IoT System-On-Chip. In 2008 Zensys was struggling financially.  Fortunately Sigma stepped in an purchased Zensys for an “undisclosed amount”. Nine years later, Sigma has sold Z-Wave for a very nice ROI of perhaps 100X. Mergers and acquisitions in the semiconductor industry are frequent as technology and markets shift in unforeseen ways.

The Present

Z-Wave is growing like crazy as the number of 100% inter-operable mesh networked Z-Wave devices on the market continues to increase. There are now over 600 Z-Wave licensees with over 2100 products already on the market. With the recent addition of the AES-128 encrypted Security S2 communication and SmartStart to simplify the building of the Z-Wave network, Z-Wave shows it is continuing to evolve while still being completely backwards compatible with all the existing devices all the way back to the 100 series.

The Future

The future is nearly impossible to predict. I certainly don’t claim to have a clearer crystal ball than the next guy. But this acquisition bodes well for the future of Z-Wave. The additional resources should accelerate the introduction of the ARM Z-Wave microcontrollers which in turn will bring more Z-Wave products to market faster and cheaper. The soon to be announced next generation transceivers are expected to utilize modern ARM processors and make a significant leap forward in debug capabilities that are not present in the current 8051 8-bit CPUs. Z-Wave developers will finally be able to single step through their code instead of relying on printf to output a few cryptic characters giving you meager clues where your code has gone wonky.

Conclusion

The acquisition of the Z-Wave portfolio by a financially strong IoT silicon manufacturer is a “good thing” for the future of Z-Wave.