Category Archives: Z-Wave Network

Eric Ryherd Presenting “IoT Device Testing Best Practices” at Z-Wave Summit in Oklahoma City September 26-28, 2017

Z-Wave Developers and Marketers will come together at the Z-Wave Summit at the Jasco facility in Oklahoma City September 26-28, 2017. You have to be a member of the Z-Wave Alliance to attend. I highly recommend attending if you are developing Z-Wave devices . Networking with other Z-Wave developers and having intimate access to the Sigma Design and Alliance engineers and marketing folks is invaluable. To attend, register via the Alliance member-only web site. The Alliance always has some fun in the evenings too so it’s not all work!

Eric Ryherd Presenting

Express Controls founder and Z-Wave expert Eric Ryherd (aka DrZWave) will be presenting at the summit for the 4th consecutive year. Last years presentation was “Seven Things you probably don’t know about Z-Wave” and was well received. I was surprised how many engineers were completely unaware of the many new features and command classes that have been added to Z-Wave in the past couple of years. This year’s topic is “IoT Device Testing Best Practices“. I’ll go over some of the failures I’ve found over the last several years in both my products and other products I’ve tested.

Abstract

Z-Wave wireless Internet of Things (IoT) devices are hard to test! There are countless devices already in customers hands with bugs in them that make Z-Wave seem unreliable when in fact many of the issues are bugs in the device firmware.  Eric Ryherd, Z-Wave expert and consultant, describes some of the  failures that are still shipping today and best practices when testing your IoT device to reduce the chance your device fails in your customers hands. Simple command sequences sent one at a time by a test engineer is not representative of the real world packet storms that occur in an apartment building with complex RF reflections and multiple interfering RF networks. Your device has to work in the real world and to do that you need to simulate those terrible conditions that do not happen on the engineers desk.

Author Bio

Eric Ryherd licensed Z-Wave in 2003 to develop IoT devices before the term IoT even existed. Light switches, motion & temperature sensors, water valves and meters, hubs, window shades, remote controls are just a sample of the Z-Wave IoT devices developed and tested by Express Controls. Eric applies his Z-Wave expertise in consulting, training and assisting with Z-Wave Certification to companies of all sizes. Read more by Eric at his blog – DrZWave.blog.

Z-Wave Challenges in MDUs and How to Resolve Them

Deploying a robust Z-Wave network in MDUs (like apartment buildings or hotels) can be challenging unless you follow a few basic rules.
The most common problem in MDU deployment is that many installers fail to take advantage of Z-Wave’s number one technical advantage – the mesh network. Every always-on (wall powered) Z-Wave device adds a node to the mesh. But battery powered devices like door locks, sensors and many thermostats do NOT add nodes to the mesh – they merely benefit from other devices on the mesh network. A system where there is one Z-Wave hub and a door lock in each dwelling unit will result in a poorly performing system because there is no mesh! To build a reliable mesh, every device in the network needs at least two routes between the hub and every device on the network. This means you need at least one Z-Wave repeater or lamp module in every network.
An MDU can easily have dozens or even hundreds of units all within Z-Wave range of each other. If each unit has just a single Z-Wave hub and a door lock, then each unit causes interference with every other unit resulting in a cacophony of Z-Wave traffic. A better solution is to have one hub serve 5 or even 10 units with each unit having at least one always-on device within it to provide a good “mesh” node to access the battery powered devices. Always-on devices in adjacent units help provide routing pathways to improve the robustness of the network. The installer needs the proper tools to evaluate the best location for these always-on devices to ensure a high-quality mesh network with plenty of alternate routes.
Another challenge in MDUs is that things are always changing. An owner might install a mirror (which is a metal plate on glass) or a metal appliance that significantly alters the Z-Wave quality within the unit. Even though the mirror or appliance is not in between the hub and the door lock does not mean that it won’t cause connectivity problems. The solution to this issue lies again with the mesh network and having alternate routes. Since things are always changing, the hub needs to have a policy to “heal” the network occasionally to adjust to the changes in the environment.
If some door locks seem to have short battery life then you might be suffering from limitations in older, pre-500 series Z-Wave devices. Early generations of Z-Wave would wake up battery powered devices like door locks using only their NodeID to request which node to wake up. This works fine in single family homes since every node on the network has a different NodeID, but in an MDU with multiple adjacent Z-Wave networks, if the door lock in each unit is NodeID=2, then every hub will wake up every door lock in the building any time a unit needs to check on the battery level of any door lock. The solution is to ensure each adjacent installation has a different NodeID for door locks or battery powered nodes. Thus, apartment 101 will have the door lock as NodeID=02, apartment 102 will have the door lock as NodeID=03, and so on. The latest generation of Z-Wave solves this problem so as these newer locks come on the market this issue will disappear.

A few quick rules for deploying Z-Wave in MDUs:

  1. Always build a Z-Wave mesh
  2. Install fewer hubs
  3. Use tools like IMA to validate mesh networks
  4. Don’t build the same network in every unit
  5. Network must be flexible due to changing environments

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Z-Wave Networks for Consumers

You have a Smart Home using Z-Wave as a wireless technology for all these Internet of Things (IoT) devices to communicate with each other. But maybe things are not working quite as well as you expect. You press a button on your phone and 1… 2… 3… and then finally a light comes on or maybe it doesn’t come on at all! Another common problem is when a battery powered sensor was updating the temperature last week and this week it just doesn’t seem to be sending updates anymore or at best sporadically. As a Z-Wave expert I’ve built and rebuilt hundreds of Z-Wave networks and have come up with a few habits to make Z-Wave networks more reliable.

1. Minimize Polling

This is probably THE number one mistake new users of Z-Wave make. They figure Z-Wave is a high speed network so they can just poll a light switch every 3 seconds and then react to any change in the switch. Z-Wave and most other wireless networks work best when the network is highly available. If the network is busy, every device that needs to send a message has to wait its turn and then compete (and often collide) with all that polling traffic. Collisions slow everything down just like rubber-necking on the highway.

Polling used to be the only way to get around a patent that fortunately expired in February 2016. The patent forced many light switch manufacturers to not send a message when you flipped the switch. Several manufacturers found ways to get around this or they licensed the patent. But now that the patent has expired, you can get light switches that do send a report immediately when their state has changed.

So the primary way to minimize polling is to replace the few devices in your Smart Home that trigger an event  (or SmartApp or Magic or whatever your hub calls it) with one that will instantly send an update. If you have some older switches but they’re not that important to instantly know their state has changed, you can still poll them but no more than once every few minutes. Remember that if you have 60 Z-Wave devices and you poll each one once/min then you are polling once/second and the network is hammered! So only poll a couple of nodes!

2. Have enough devices to create a mesh

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve worked with that had a door lock and a hub and nothing else, maybe a battery powered thermostat. And they wondered why the connection to the lock was unreliable when the hub was at the far end of the building! Z-Wave relies on Always-On (110VAC powered) nodes to build a “mesh” network. The mesh is the key to Z-Wave reliability. Every Always-On node acts as a repeater in the mesh and is able to forward a message from one node to another in the mesh. But only the Always-On nodes can forward a message. Battery powered devices like door locks and battery powered thermostats cannot forward messages. Only the Always-On nodes can.

Solution: If some devices are not reliable, add more Always-On devices. Add a Z-Wave repeater or any device like a lamp dimmer. Even if you don’t use the lamp dimmer it will act as a repeater and improve the network. I have a few lamp switches I use for my Christmas lights which I leave plugged in year round because they help the Z-Wave network since these nodes are at the periphery of my home.

Distance between nodes is not always the criteria for adding more nodes in a network. The Z-Wave radio signals may bounce off metal objects like mirrors or appliances and cause two nodes that are only a few feet apart be completely unable to talk to each other due to reflections of the radio signals. Adding more nodes in the mesh provide alternate routes to nodes that otherwise might be in a dead zone due to these reflections cancelling out the radio signals.

3. Place the hub in a central location

Putting the hub in a corner of the basement might be convenient, but its a terrible idea for Z-Wave. The hub is the most important node in the network and should have the best location possible. While Z-Wave is a mesh network and can route or hop thru other nodes in the mesh, each hop is a significant delay and chokes up the network with more traffic. Ideally the hub should reach 90% of the nodes in your Smart Home without relying on routing. If the hub has Wifi then putting it in a central location is easy, you just need a wall outlet to plug it in. I have my hub hung off the back of a TV cabinet in roughly the middle of the first floor of my home.

4. Heal the Network

Once a Z-Wave network is built, it has to be “healed” so every node can use all the other nodes in the network to route messages. This healing process can take many minutes to even hours depending on the size of the network. When you first build a Z-Wave network, the first node added only knows that the hub is in the network. When you add a second node, the hub knows that both the nodes are in the network but the first node you added has no idea that node 2 is there – unless you heal the network. So any time you add a node, you need to heal at least a few nodes in the network if not the entire network. Be cautious with the healing process – it uses 100% of the Z-Wave bandwidth during the process and every node will wake up every FliR node (door locks) at least once which will drain the batteries of the FLiR node. Generally only heal when nodes have been added or removed or if there seems to be a problem in the network.

Z-Wave is able to self-heal automatically. Z-Wave nodes will try various routes to get their message thru if at first it doesn’t succeed.  The node will remember the Last Working Route and try that one first for the next message. But if the nodes have no idea there are other nodes in the network they have no way of knowing what routes to try so at least one full heal of the network is required.

HomeSeer

homeseerhealHomeSeer has several platforms so the precise method might be slightly different than shown here. From the web interface home page select the menu Plug-Ins->Z-Wave->Controller Management then select the Action “Fully Optimize a Network”. The network wide heal will take some time depending on the size of the network.

SmartThings

SmartThings Expert Z-Wave Eric Ryherd DrZwaveSmartThings  user interface is thru their app which makes finding the network heal a bit of a challenge. Start from the dashboard and click on the three lines in the upper left corner. Your Hub should be the first choice in the menu that slides out, click on your hub. A new menu comes up, click on the last choice “Z-Wave Utilities”. The last choice on the next menu that slides in is “Repair Z-Wave Network” so click on it and then click on “Start Z-Wave Network Repair”. The repair will take from minutes to over an hour depending on the size of your network.

Vera

verahealVera has several versions of their UI but each of them has a similar menu structure so these instructions should work on any version. The Vera version shown here is UI7. Use a PC to log into GetVera.com and select your hub. From the Dashboard, select Settings->Z-Wave Settings and then click on the advanced tab. At the bottom of the advanced tab is the GO button to run the “Update Node Neighbors”. Depending on the size of the Z-Wave network this process will take several minutes to over an hour.

5. If a device doesn’t pair, first exclude it, then include it

You’ve taken the brand new Z-Wave IoT widget out of the box and you’ve tried to pair it (the Z-Wave term is “inclusion”) but it just won’t include! Arrrghhh! The first thing to try is to exclude the node first and then try including it. Any hub can “reset” or exclude a Z-Wave device even if that device was previously connected to another network. Some manufacturers occasionally fail to exclude the device during testing so the device may already be connected to their test network. Z-Wave Expert IoT WirelessOr you may have inadvertently included the device but the inclusion process failed somehow and the hub is confused. Excluding the node should reset it to the factory fresh state. Newer Z-Wave Plus devices (which have this logo on them) are required to have a way to reset them to factory defaults using just the device itself. Every device is different so you’ll have to refer to the device manual to perform a factory reset but if all else fails this should make the device ready to pair. Naturally having the hub physically close to the device being paired will also help though most devices can be paired from a distance.

Secure devices like door locks are particularly challenging to pair. First the secure device has to join the Z-Wave network, then the AES-128 encryption keys have to be exchanged and if that process fails (which it does on occasion), then you have to exclude and try the inclusion process all over again. Secure devices definitely want to be within a few feet of the hub during inclusion to ensure reliable and speedy Z-Wave communication.

6. Battery life and how to maximize it

When a battery powered Z-Wave device wakes up and turns on its radio, it uses 10,000 times more battery power than when it’s asleep. So the entire trick to making batteries last is to minimize the amount of time the device is awake. Some devices naturally have other battery draining activities mostly involving motors to throw a deadbolt or raise a window shade. Obviously any motor will use a lot more battery power than the Z-Wave radio but the radio will play a significant role in battery life.

When a battery powered device is added to a Z-Wave network the hub should do two things:

  1. Assign the Association Group 1 NodeID to the hub
    1. Association Group 1 is the “LifeLine” in Z-Wave and devices use this lifeline to send all sensor data and alerts to this node
    2. All hubs are required to assign Group 1 but double check this assignment
  2. Set the Wake Up Interval to no more than once per hour and ideally only a few times per day
    1. Every hub assigns the WakeUpInterval differently and largely handles it behind the scenes so this may be difficult to verify or change
    2. If the device is waking up every few minutes and sends a sensor reading then its battery life isn’t going to be more than a few weeks
    3. The battery level of the device is usually reported at the WakeUpInterval  rate

Many sensors have other Association Groups or Configuration Parameters that will let you specify the frequency of sensor readings. Realize that the more often the sensors report in, the shorter the battery life.

7.  Dead nodes in your controller

One of the big problems in Z-Wave network maintenance is eliminating “dead” nodes. When a device fails or for whatever reason is no longer in use, then it needs to be removed from the controller. If it remains in the controller then the controller will try to route thru this dead node on occasion resulting in delays in delivering messages. Eventually the self-healing aspects of Z-Wave will make this less likely but various devices will on occasion attempt to route thru it. Since the node is dead, that wastes valuable Z-Wave bandwidth and potentially battery power of sleeping devices. Occasionally running a Heal on the network will remove the node from the routing tables but it will remain in the controllers routing tables. It is best to completely remove this dead node. Each hub has a different method for removing dead nodes and usually requires going into an advanced Z-Wave menu.

Following these guidelines will help your Z-Wave experience be more robust. If you have more questions please feel feel to reach out via email to drzwave at expresscontrols.com.