Zniffer File HowTo

Z-Wave developers have a handy tool for debugging firmware and Z-Wave network issues called the Zniffer. The Zniffer consists of two parts, the first is a USB dongle with special firmware and the second is the Windows program. You can’t buy just a Zniffer USB dongle (they come as part of some of the developers kits) but you can make one out of a standard UZB. You can even make a SuperZniffer as described in my previous blog posting. The Zniffer program is included in the Simplicity Studio IDE tools for developing Z-Wave products.

Zniffer traces are INVALUABLE when submiting a support case to the Silicon Labs Z-Wave support web site. I am an Field Applications Engineer so I often review Zniffer traces captured by developers who have questions or are reporting bugs. The problem is that many times I get a support case that says “Zniffer trace attached – what is problem?” and the Zniffer trace is several hundred megabytes with dozens of Z-Wave networks and maybe one hundred Z-Wave nodes captured across days of time. Talk about the proverbial needle in a haystack! So I am asking everyone to follow a few rules BEFORE attaching a Zniffer trace to a support case.

Zniffer File Rules

Before attaching a Zniffer file for Z-Wave support to review, include the following:

  1. The HomeID of the network with the problem
  2. The NodeID of the Z-Wave node that demonstrates the problem
  3. The line number or the date/time of the where the problem occurred (or a range)
  4. The Security Keys of the Z-Wave network
  5. A clear and concise description of the problem, what should have happened, what didn’t happen, what you believe is wrong

ZnifferHowTo1

HomeID

The HomeID of a Z-Wave network is a 4 byte, eight digit hexadecimal number that uniquely identifies a single Z-Wave network. Only devices with the same HomeID can talk to each other. In a development environment there are often dozens or even hundreds of Z-Wave networks in range. Remember the Zniffer captures every network in the air. Please do not filter the HomeID when saving out the Zniffer file as there may be critical interactions with other network or even noise that will be filtered out if you save only the matching HomeID. We can always filter by HomeID when displaying the network on our PC but we can’t see the data if its not in the file.

NodeID

The NodeID of the node that is displaying the issue has to be identified. You might have dozens of nodes in the network who are all talking at once so we need to know which one is the one with the problem. Please include details of the device as well such as what type it is (binary switch, thermostat, sensor, battery powered, etc) . Ideally if you can include the device within the zniffer file that will tell us just about everything we need to know as the NIF will be exchanged and the interview will take place.

Date/Time

Each transaction in the Zniffer trace is identified by a line number on the left side or the date/time. Indicating the line number or date/time or a range of these will help us navigate the potentially huge Zniffer file and quickly zoom in on the problem. Wading thru days of Zniffer data to finally find the interesting bit is just wasting our time and yours.

Security Keys

If you are working with Secure devices you MUST include the security keys. Without the security keys the data is encrypted and it is all just meaningless ones and zeroes and we can’t help you. Now that all devices are required to be secure, the key file is critical. The Zniffer trace has to include the SPAN table update as without the SPAN table we again cannot decrypt the message. The easiest way to be sure the SPAN is included is to add the device-under-test (DUT) to the network while capturing the Zniffer trace. The other option is to power cycle the DUT which will usually cause the DUT and the controller to exchange Nonces to resynchronize the SPAN table and we can once again decrypt the messages in the Zniffer.

To extract the security keys, join the PC Controller to the Z-Wave network. Be sure to enable all levels of security by providing the S2 DSK of the PC Controller. Once joined to the network, the keys can be saved to a file using the procedure below:

ZnifferHowTo2

The filename is the HomeID.txt which in the case above is FFE5B5C9.txt and contains:

9F;C592557B5F99DDC9BDD12D0D926BAFE5;1
9F;31944FE8F8DE2330E79741313A949190;1
9F;18FD847446AFD7E410B2BCF8912BC632;1
98;C65D55C44FB2156635CA07A48D362AD3;1

To decyrpt the messages in the Zniffer, just click on Load Keys and enter the directory for the file. Then all the messages are decrypted and we can help you solve your problem.

Z-Wave 700 Series Announcement

The long awaited 32-bit ARM based Z-Wave transceiver chip has finally been officially announced. The 700 series announcement is on the home page of the Silicon Labs web site so this is a big deal for SiLabs and Z-Wave. The companies joined forces just eight months ago and we already have a major advance in Z-Wave technology.

Z-Wave 700 Press Image

What’s New?

The 700 series is a major improvement to Z-Wave for both consumers and developers. For consumers, the lower power and longer radio range means more reliable communication and longer battery life. For developers the main advantage is we’ve finally moved beyond the 1980s 8051 8-bit CPU with very limited debug capability into a modern 32-bit ARM CPU with full serial wire debugging capabilities. We can FINALLY single step thru code instead of having to use PRINTF!

700 Series Features:

  • Longer RF range
    • 150% in the US and 200% in the EU due to improved RF sensitivity and increased transmit power in the EU
  • Lower Power = Longer Battery Life
    • Improved semiconductor technology and a faster CPU yields significant battery life improvement and 10 year coin cell operation
  • Lower Cost – Worldwide Support
    • Improved RF blocking means the country specific SAW filter is not needed saving cost and making a single SKU for worldwide operation
    • No external serial memory is required and OTA firmware update is now mandatory
  • Easier Product Development
    • Integrated Debug Environment (IDE) with full ARM debug, single step, trace, and energy profiler speeds product development
  • 100% Interoperable and Backwards Compatible
    • The 700 series is fully interoperable with all mesh-networked Z-Wave devices all the way back to the pre-100 series Z-Wave devices

When Can I Get One?

If you already signed up for a free Beta devkit, then one should be on its way in the next few weeks. Devkits have begun shipping but quantities are limited and will take until the end of January before all the Beta samples are shipped. The Beta signup closed back on October 1st so if you missed the deadline you’ll have to wait until later in Q1 to request one from your Silicon Labs salesperson. The official “general availability” (GA) release is the end of Q1 at which time the datasheets, chips, devkits and software will be released at the 7.xx full release version. Datasheets require an NDA until the GA release.

You can get started today using the Simplicity Studio IDE and begin developing code and explore the SDK. The software is free and can be downloaded from here.

My Initial Thoughts

I’ve had a 700 series Beta DevKit for a few weeks now working with our Alpha release partners to get some early feedback. We’ve had some hiccups and the firmware needs more work but the silicon is solid. I have joined my 700 series devkit to my home and it communicates fine with my very early pre-100 series Z-Wave light switches attesting to the ongoing commitment Z-Wave has to be fully interoperable and backwards compatible.

Z-Wave Summit Fall 2018 Philadelphia

The Z-Wave Summit is usually held only once each year in the USA and it is not to be missed. I’ll give a brief overview of what was discussed at the summit in the short post below. But if you didn’t attend in person, you missed the most valuable aspect of the summit which is the chance to meet and talk to other Z-Wave developers. This year the summit was hosted by Bulogics in the city of brotherly love,  Philadelphia PA. Bulogics is a Z-Wave certification house so they know everything about Z-Wave and how to have a good time!

2018ZWaveSummitMitch.jpg

Summit Notes

The 700 series was officially “revealed” at the summit with many presentations talking about the new ARM based Z-Wave transceiver. The summit has over 140 attendees from 70 companies not including all the Silicon Labs and Alliance employees. This is the largest attendance of a summit to date and reflects the rapidly growing world of Z-Wave.

Matt Johnson, IoT Sr. VP, described the roadmap for multiprotocol chips which include Z-Wave, zigbee, BLE and Wifi as well as proprietary protocols. For the immediate term though the focus is on getting the 700 series shipping. The real key for Z-Wave is the interoperability and certification ensuring every Z-Wave device can communicate with every other device.

Z-Wave product manager Johan Pedersen presented the important improvements in the 700 series over the 500 series:

  • ARM M4 32-bit CPU
  • 150% RF range improvement in the US and more in EU/Asia
  • Lower power and faster wakeup time making coin cell operation a reality
  • Lower cost due to elimination of the external NVM & SAW
  • Single HW build for all regions due to elimination of the SAW filter
  • Longer battery life with 1.8-3.6V operation
  • Serial debugging

By far my main interest as a developer is that we finally have a real CPU with an M4 and serial debugging so I can finally single step my code and figure out where I went wrong!

The next natural question of course is when will the 700 series be a reality? The answer is “soon”. Ugh. Developers kits are supposed to be available soon and the parts will be shipping in early 2019.

Technical Track

On the second day of the summit the groups are split between marketing and technical geeks like me. More presentations on things like the new Z-Wave Plus V2 requirements which will go into effect with the 700 series release. The V2 requirements significantly ups the bar for support for various command classes with the goal of making Z-Wave devices to fully inform the hub of their capabilities. There should be little or no custom coding to support most V2 devices – the device will tell you everything it can do.

The presentation by Alex Capecelatro, founder of Josh.ai, described the future of voice control which sounds amazing. Alex described just how hard voice control really is and has a long way to go before it really works the way we all want it to. I liked his quote from the New York Times: “We overestimate what technology can do in 3 years but underestimate what can be done in 10 years”. Z-Wave has come a long way in the dozen years it’s been around.

Configuration Command Class

2018summitERI gave a presentation on Configuration Command Class Version 4 and all the wonderful things it can do. The most notable point is that 2/3rds of the Z-Wave Plus certified devices have at least one Configuration Parameter. Yet many hubs have no way of modifying or displaying to the user the current value of parameters. Z-Wave Plus V2 mandates support for Configuration Command Class V4 for both hubs and devices so you need to get busy! My presentation title is: “The Chicken vs Egg is over: Moving Your Product to Configuration Version 4” which can be downloaded from this link: Z-WaveAlliance2018EricRyherd.

Interoperables Band

Once again the band The Interoperables played at the evening get together at a local brewery. These guys are really good for having only practiced a couple of times!

2018ZWaveSummitInteroperables

DrZWave joins Silicon Labs

That’s right, I have officially joined Silicon Labs as an FAE covering the Eastern US. I can be contacted at drzwave@Silabs.com.

 

 

 

 

Whats the difference between Z-Wave and Z-Wave Plus?

There is a lot of confusion between Z-Wave Plus and older non-Plus devices.

Z-Wave_Plus_Badge_RGB_v3.1A product that is Z-Wave Plus means it has passed a rigorous certification process and thus is likely to be more reliable and have fewer issues than non-Plus devices. All Z-Wave devices are 100% interoperable and backwards compatible so a Z-Wave Plus device can communicate with any non-Plus device without issue. If you have a choice between a Z-Wave Plus device and a non-Plus device, I recommend you choose the Z-Wave Plus device because the Plus device will work better.

Z-Wave History Lesson

The timeline shows the technology trajectory that Z-Wave has traveled since its inception in 2002.ZWaveTimeLineThe timeline shows the constant improvement and evolution of Z-Wave. Initially the data rate was only 9600 bits per second. This was fast enough to turn a light or two on or off but as things progressed and you want to slowly change the color of a dozen or more bulbs, then you need a faster data rate. Thus, the increase to 40K with the 300 series and 100K with the 500 series. There are many other enhancements along the way including longer range, better RF sensitivity, lower power, more peripherals and in particular the AES encryption engine. The amazing thing though all of these improvements is that they have all remained 100% backward compatible. Even the latest chips can talk to the early 100 series chips. Granted it is only at the slower 9600 bps but it still works! So the lamp dimmer you bought in 2004 is still able to talk to the latest SmartThings hub.

The Curse of the Even Series

Z-Wave has had some mistakes along the way, after all no one is perfect. Much like the Star Trek Movies, all of the even series chips were flawed and quickly obsoleted. The developers became so fearful of the curse of the even series they skipped the 600 series and jumped straight to 700. The 200 series chips were simply buggy. Period. They had some significant power issues making them difficult to use as a battery powered device among other problems. The flaws were quickly fixed and the series replaced with the largely firmware compatible 300 series which had a long and plentiful life. Many 300 series devices are still in the market though the chips have reached end-of-life so there are limited inventories left. A small number of 300 series chip based devices are Z-Wave Plus – but that number is quite small and there are probably none left on the shelves though you could have one installed in your home. Fortunately, as we’ve seen they are all completely interoperable so no problem there.

The 400 series suffered from a marketing mistake early on – the memory that holds the firmware is One-Time-Programmable (OTP). This means the firmware cannot be updated – EVER. You burn it once, and pray it is good. This is a nightmare for developers as they have to replace the chip every time they make a new firmware build, which they typically do hundreds of times per day. While the OTP saves a fraction of cent in the cost of the chip, the drawbacks far outweigh that tiny cost.  Fortunately we developers didn’t have long to wait and the 400 series was replaced with the 500 series. The 500 series had plenty of FLASH and added the ability to update the firmware in the device even after it is installed in the field using a technique called Over-The-Air (OTA) firmware update.

Z-Wave Security – AES Encryption

One of the most important IoT devices is a door lock. Naturally, a door lock needs to be secure. Up until 2008, Z-Wave was “in the clear” meaning it wasn’t secure at all. The Security Command Class was added to encrypt all communication with banking quality AES-128 encryption which makes Z-Wave secure – or so the Z-Wave developers thought.

In 2013 it was widely published that the Z-Wave security has a weakness when a device is first joined to a network. During that process, the encryption “key” is sent to the device over the radio and it is encrypted, but the encryption key is 128 bits of 0. Since the encryption key is all zero, it is possible for someone with very sophisticated equipment to “sniff” the radio data and thus obtain the key to every secure device in the network. While this is a security hole, it requires a lot of equipment on-site at the short time when the user is adding a secure device to the network. Much easier for a burglar to throw a brick thru a window to gain access vs. hacking a Z-Wave door lock. But Z-Wave had to counter with an improvement and they did just that in 2015 – with the updated Security S2 command class.

Security S2 adds full diffe-hellman symmetric encryption to the key exchange. A number of performance improvements were also made which enables battery powered devices to be secure without spending extra time exchanging secrets back and forth. All devices certified after April 2017 are required to support Security S2.

The question of Z-Wave Plus vs. Non-Plus however is independent of Security. Since new devices have to implement Security and they are Z-Wave Plus certified, it seems like the two go together but in reality they are independent. But all new devices will have both which is good. Fortunately support for Security S2 isn’t required to be supported by Hub vendors like SmartThings, Vera, HomeSeer, etc. They will need to add support but all your older non-secure devices will remain 100% backward compatible.

The Future

Z-Wave continues to evolve and improve but continues to remain 100% backward compatible all the way back to 2002 and the initial release of the 100 series transceivers. The Z-Wave Certification program continues to be strengthened with new features and new tests that make every Z-Wave certified product better and completely interoperable with every other Z-Wave device on the market. Interoperability is the advantage Z-Wave has over the many other competing wireless protocols for IoT.

Newer devices have been tested more rigorously and use the latest chip sets for better RF range and mesh network routing algorithms. So given the choice it’s generally better to buy newer devices using the latest technology.

Conclusion

Choose a Z-Wave Plus device over a non-Plus device even if you have to pay a little more. A Z-Wave Plus device uses the 500 series chips with the latest RF technology and firmware and has been tested under the Z-Wave Alliance Certification program which is quite difficult to pass. Rest assured that the Z-Wave device you purchase today will continue to be interoperable with future versions of Z-Wave technology for the foreseeable future.

 

Z-Wave Saved My Fathers Life

My father is a cantankerous curmudgeon but at 89 years old he deserves to be a little crusty. In his infinite wisdom at the age of 79 he decided to move away from his family here in New England and purchased a home in warm sunny Florida. He was happy he no longer had to freeze in the cold of winter but I was unhappy because now he was 2,000 miles away and I worried something might happen to him. If someone broke in or if he fell no one would know potentially for weeks. To ease my worries I applied my technical expertise and deployed an inexpensive Z-Wave based system to keep an eye on him.

HomeSeer to the Rescue

HomeseerZeeS2

HomeSeer sells a Raspberry Pi based Home Automation system with a built-in Z-Wave interface called the Zee S2. This small box needs only 6 Watts of power but contains a complete Linux computer that can serve web pages and runs the HomeSeer HS3 application. My initial system was just the HomesSeer Zee S2 ($199) and two Express Controls EZMultiPli Multi-sensors ($99) for a total cost of $300 for my peace of mind.  No monthly charges, no “monitoring fees” or any other costs so this is indeed a low-cost solution. All of the Z-Wave devices just plug in with no wiring, no batteries and everything pretty much plug-and-play. In less than an hour the system went from the box to fully installed and the web interface up and running via my phone or computer.

The HomeSeer system is accessible 24x7x365 via their portal at myhs.homeseer.com. No complex router tunneling or anything like that – just plug the Zee S2 Ethernet cord into HS3the router and then login to it from anywhere in the world. The system is secure and password protected. The HS3 application serves web pages with a status of every Z-Wave device. The HS3 application runs on the Raspberry Pi so all processing is local which means temporary Internet connectivity outages are no problem.

The HS3 user interface shown here is utilitarian which is fine for this application. HomeSeer has an easy to use IF-THEN “events” page which is quite powerful. The HS3 system constantly monitors the motion sensors and depending on the time of day sends me a text anytime there hasn’t been motion detected in the house for more than 5 hours. I placed a motion sensor next to his bed and another in the kitchen. Since he typically would get up several times each night, my 5 hour time limit rarely false-triggered. The trigger was extended longer during the day since he would be up and around the house and not in the bedroom for more than 8 hours at a time.

Nothing is Perfect

When I first put the system together, it seemed to work reliably. However the Zee S2 unit was installed at the far end of the house near the cable box. The kitchen motion

ezmultipli200
Express Controls EZmultiPli Motion Sensor

sensor was about 25′ away and the bedroom one was another 20′ away and had to pass thru several walls, the HVAC system and a bathroom. With only 3 nodes in the Z-Wave network I violated one of the key rules of a mesh network – always have more than two routes to every device. In this case I had exactly one route to each device so I didn’t have a mesh and the result was a number of false triggers because the bedroom motion sensor occasionally couldn’t reach all the way back to the Zee S2.

I was frustrated because I left what I thought was a working system but soon turned out to be unreliable. Now I was 2000 miles away and had to suffer with this system for nearly a year before my next visit to Florida. The solution was to add a few lamp modules and another multi-sensor so now I had 7 nodes with several routes to all nodes. Now the system was reliable and did not false trigger. I added an event that automatically turned on a lamp in the family room whenever motion was detected. My father really liked this feature as he always had light as soon as he entered and it would automatically turn off when he had left the room.

I thought things were pretty robust at this point but my next Achilles heel turned up rather quickly. Something caused the Raspberry Pi to crash. I couldn’t log into it and it was no longer sending me the daily emails telling me what time my father had gotten up in the morning. After nearly 2 months the system just suddenly started sending me the daily emails again. Apparently a power outage had in effect rebooted the HomeSeer system. On my next visit I put the entire system on a power strip that my father could reach so he could reset the system. I still want a power strip that has a watchdog timer function and if it doesn’t get some sort of “ping” every hour or so, it reboots everything downstream.

He Takes a Fall

At 2:39am one morning in mid-November 2017, my father fell in his bedroom. He was unable to get up. He was unable to call for help. My HomeSeer system sent me a text at 7:39am stating he had not gotten up. That seemed like an odd time for him to not get up so I tried to call him. After several calls with no answer and checking the HomeSeer system to see that there has been no changes since 2:39am I became concerned. I had the Sheriff stop by and check on him and it turns out he was on the floor, awake but unable to move. The EMTs were called and he was taken to the hospital. In just 5 hours he was already dehydrated and would have slowly died a painful death in a day or so if my system had not been in place. The Z-Wave system saved my fathers life.

Looking back on it now, I had noticed that his morning schedule had started to vary significantly from day to day. For years he had been getting up at a pretty predictable time of around 10am. But in the months prior to his fall, his schedule had started to vary from 8am to as late as 1pm in the afternoon. When we talked on the phone he said he was fine but clearly he was struggling. He enjoyed being warm in Florida and he was happy and I was confident that my Z-Wave system would alert me to any major problems which it did.

Z-Wave Multi-sensor Version 2.0 with SmartStart – Batteries not Required

Merrimack, NH March 19, 2018 – Express Controls LLC announces the release of Version 2.0 of the EZMultiPli three-in-one multi-sensor and Z-Wave repeater. The Z-Wave Plus certified device is one of the first available SmartStart devices on the market and is available for purchase now on Amazon.

EZMFrontAnimFeatures

  • Motion Sensor
  • Temperature Sensor
  • Light Sensor
  • Color Indicator Night Light
  • Z-Wave® Range extender
  • Wall Powered – No Batteries, No wires
  • Screw tab for secure installation
  • SmartStart enabled

The new features for the 2.0 version are the addition of a screw tab for secure mounting and SmartStart. The tab on the enclosure enables secure mounting in either a standard outlet or a decorator outlet common with GFCI circuits used in kitchens and baths. The tab ensures children, elders, cleaners or maintenance personnel can’t easily remove the sensor. Secure mounting means the Z-Wave network is robust and reliable since EZMultiPli typically is a key repeater in the Z-Wave mesh network. Never worry about the batteries dying since EZMultiPli is wall powered. Installed by anyone with just a screwdriver – no wires, no batteries, no damage to the walls drilling holes.

SmartStart

qrPackSigma Designs SmartStart technology makes installation easy and secure. If your home automation system supports SmartStart, the first step is to scan the QR code on the back of EZMultiPli. If EZMultiPli was purchased as part of a kit containing several SmartStart devices, the QR code may have already been scanned at the factory. The next step is to simply plug EZMultiPli into a wall outlet and it will automatically join the Z-Wave network. Inclusion should begin within a couple of minutes but may take longer if several SmartStart devices are added at the same time. SmartStart uses the latest Security S2 encryption technology for all radio communication ensuring your system is secure.

Express Controls

Express Controls provides expert consulting services for the design and manufacture of wireless Internet of Things (IoT) products for Z-Wave product development teams. Express Controls has been been developing IoT products using Z-Wave protocol since 2003 and the 100 series Z-Wave RF transceivers.  Currently we are developing Z-Wave products using the latest Sigma Designs fifth generation 500 series RF modules which enable us to quickly prototype any IoT device you can imagine.  We have resources available for PCB design and layout as well as industrial design and 3D printing to help visualize the entire IoT product quickly.   Leverage our knowledge of the nuances of the Z-Wave protocol to bring your Z-Wave product to market quickly.  

Contact

Eric Ryherd – CEO and Z-Wave Expert Consultant

info@expresscontrols.com – +1 (603) 889-4841 – ExpressControls.com

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.

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