It's funny how technology developments work in the wireless market. When a technology is first introduced, it's hailed as the next great thing. Then during the gruesome standardization process, it's seen as a failure and non-start. Next, once the technology is standardized and praised again, members of the design community start looking for ways to knock the technology off its pedestal.
That last step is exactly where ZigBee falls at this point in its development process. Like Bluetooth, ZigBee hit the market with lots of fanfare and promises most of them unrealistic. With standards in place, ZigBee is once again being hailed as the ultimate solution for the automation market, with analysts, chip companies, and OEMs putting the technology on a pedestal. And now that ZigBee is on its perch, a host of companies are now looking for ways to knock it off.
Weeks after the ZigBee Alliance announced its specification, Zensys started pitching its Z-Wave technology hard and launched an association dedicated to gaining adoption for Z-Wave technology in home automation applications. At the same time, West Technology Research reported that Insteon, a technology developed by Smarthome that supports wireless and powerline connections, would be the dominant solution in the home.
Of course, each camp has their reasons that they are better than ZigBee. Zensys and Z-Wave backers claim they can develop lower cost radios and say that ZigBee will face tough interoperability and interference issues. They also talk about adoption of Z-Wave technology at the OEM level. And with companies like Danfoss adopting Z-Wave technology, Zensys and Z-Wave backers have something to brag about.
Smarthome takes a similar tact on the radio front, claiming that Insteon technology can be implemented using a lower-cost radio. The company also talks about the ability for Insteon systems to simultaneously support X10 powerline connections.
But, these technologies have their problems as well. Z-Wave has gained adoption in the OEM community, but has only one chip and stack provider at this point. There are also questions about the scalability of the protocol.
Insteon's powerline background could also be its Achilles Heel. X10 is a troublesome protocol that is known for its interference problems. Insteon is also built on a proprietary protocol, raising some of the same issues faced by Z-Wave.
At the end of the day, it's really too early to determine what technology will win in the home automation market. But, while I agree with some of the arguments made by Z-Wave and Insteon backers, my gut says that ZigBee will be the long-term winner for home automation. ZigBee is an open protocol that has a number of silicon vendors and OEMs supporting it. The ZigBee Alliance appears to be taking the steps necessary to make interoperability work and avoid the problems encountered by Bluetooth developers. And, most important, ZigBee developers show a strong path to reducing the costs, which is the number 1 factor for the home automation sector. These three points will play well for ZigBee in the home automation market and could ultimately allow ZigBee to win the fight against Z-Wave and other technologies
Speak Out: Will ZigBee win in the home or will Z-Wave prevail? What do you see as ZigBee's biggest challenges? Let us know your thoughts in our ZigBee Forum.