Is 'ZigBee vs. Z-wave' the wrong battle? An analyst’s insight into 'up and coming' smart home technologies.

A new report from IMS Research projects the adoption 13 different connectivity technologies in the home.


IMS Research (acquired by IHS, Inc.)There is no doubt that ‘managed home control’, where consumers can remotely access and control devices such as thermostats via an Internet portal, is one of the biggest drivers of the ‘smart home’ market: the sheer volume of commentary on the foray of service providers, such as Verizon, Comcast, Orange, and Deutsche Telekom, into smart home services leaves no doubt that their role in this segment is set to be pivotal. 

This poses the question: if these companies are set to be main players in the smart home market, which connectivity technologies will they be pushing for?  Surely, if such large corporations are set to deploy systems with a specific technology, that technology will be certain to dominate.

ZigBee has already been chosen as the preferred technology by a number of service providers, such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Swisscom. Z-Wave has also gained traction in the home control market: with Z-Wave devices are already being deployed with ADT and Verizon packages.

A new report from IMS Research, Connectivity Opportunities in the Smart Home – World – 2012 Edition, projects the adoption 13 different connectivity technologies in the home, ranging from RF to powerline communications and wired alternatives. Aside from ZigBee and Z-Wave, which are often the topic of debate, there are a number of other technologies set to gain traction in the smart home, such as EnOcean, DECT ULE and Bluetooth Smart.

To-date, EnOcean technology has mainly gained traction in commercial buildings, or new-build home automation systems. In the future, EnOcean, with its energy harvesting functionality, could be very useful for managed service providers seeking to reduce maintenance and servicing costs by removing the need for battery replacement. 

DECT ULE is also emerging as a key technology in the managed home control segment, and will be especially interesting to those telecommunications companies already deploying with DECT technology in gateways or telephony systems.  As DECT ULE is a simple software upgrade from traditional DECT solutions, these companies may be able to transition cost-effectively into the smart home space.

The role of Bluetooth Smart in the smart home will ultimately be dependent on the integration of Bluetooth Smart Ready in gateways; if Bluetooth Smart Ready is deployed as a central part of the system, Bluetooth Smart can be used in small battery-powered devices, such as window/door contacts and motion sensors.  While there is still some debate over whether Bluetooth Smart has a place in the smart home (and if so, where, exactly?), IMS Research expects it to start to gain some traction with managed service providers as part of a whole-home solution, with strong support from certain key players in the HVAC industry.

The market penetration of EnOcean, DECT ULE and Bluetooth Smart technologies will depend on which technology can provide the cost-effective end-to-end solution that service providers crave.  Both ZigBee and Z-Wave offer a high volume of connected devices widely available for service providers to choose from, so in order to penetrate the market effectively, the ‘up and coming’ technologies will need to demonstrate the multi-application ecosystem that consumers are increasingly demanding.

So is the ‘battle to watch’ really between ZigBee and Z-Wave, who have already gained traction in the smart home market? Or is the battle between the ‘other’ technologies the one that will really drive the market forwards?  We look forward to finding out.

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