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Looking For A Z-Wave Alternative?

Z-Wave is proprietary mesh network from Sigma Designs and supported by ~325 manufacturers worldwide. It is frequently used for local area sensor data networks like home automation, smart lighting, and HVAC control. If you’re building one of these smart applications (or something else that might benefit from being on a Z-Wave network) and you’re curious about alternatives, you’ve found the right article. Below, we’ll discuss some of the factors that may lead you to look for a Z-Wave alternative and the benefits of some of those other options.

Consider a 2.4 GHz solution.

Z-Wave uses the sub-GHz 915 MHz ISM band in the U.S. and the 868 MHz SRD band in Europe. If you’re looking for a simpler or more cost-effective deployment—and you are set on using a mesh network protocol—consider the global-standard 2.4 GHz ISM frequency band. ZigBee, WiFi, Thread, Xbee, and others all run on 2.4 GHz bands. This band is helpful in that the hardware for it is not country-specific, and can be used anywhere. The downside of the 2.4 GHz band is that, all other things being equal, it will have shorter range, and it is subject to more interference due to its popularity.

Move to a star network.

As mentioned, Z-Wave is a mesh network, which means that each node in the system acts as both a wireless data source and a repeater. Information from one sensor node continues to hop from node to node until it reaches the gateway. However, in order for a mesh to be successful, you need a high density of nodes. This often leads to over-engineering the network, and is one of the biggest issues with deploying a mesh.

So, if you’re considering Z-Wave, first determine if you actually need to use a mesh network. You may need a mesh network if you’re trying to get higher data rates and have a well-defined layout of devices (for example, if you’re doing electric meters in an urban area). If so, stick with it.

However, there is something to be said for having a simplified network without the worry of meshing—so if you don’t have a  specific reason to use a mesh, investigate star networks like Symphony Link. The benefit of a star network is that if one node goes down, the message can still be received because the node is directly connected with the router.

Join another network.

If you’re considering Z-Wave, you’re probably planning on deploying your own network— that’s the only option with this technology. But deploying your own network can come with a whole host of operational issues that some people don’t take into consideration. For example, if you deploy a WiFi network, provisioning all of the endpoints can be a major challenge.

But if joining a network like SIGFOX, LoRaWAN, or Ingenu is an option, you should probably consider it. You’ll have to pay a fee to be on the network, but you won’t have to deal with network setup yourself. If you’re considering this plan, the first thing to do is determine if a network exists where you’ll be deploying your application. If there is, great! Use it. But if there isn’t—and even if there’s a press release claiming a network will be out in a given period of time—don’t wait for a network to be built.

Another option is to look at a network that works right out of the box, like Symphony Link. Once you’ve assigned your device a network token and application token - which is something that can be programmed in the factory so you never have to worry about it working - the node immediately joins the network once turned on. We’ve designed it to get your system up and running with minimal effort, similar to how one might use a SIM card to get on a cell network.

In Conclusion

At this point, you may feel like you need to go back to the drawing board and examine some Z-Wave alternatives to connect your application. If so, be sure to check out our complete list of wireless IoT network protocols. In it, we outline 27 protocols that have been used to solve all kinds of connectivity issues. If you have more questions, reach out to us or tweet us @LinkLabsInc.
IoT Protocol Selection White Paper

Written by Glenn Schatz

Glenn is the Vice President of Business Development at Link Labs. He is in charge of generating new business, interacting with distributors, sales reps, partners, and customers, and answering any technical questions that arise to ensure that the engineers can spend their time developing technology.

Before Link Labs, Glenn worked at the Department of Energy bringing energy efficiency to main street businesses, and was also a co-founder of ECORE Ventures, a cleantech project development company. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, where he eventually went back to teach Energy Policy as a military officer and civilian professor. Prior to his return to USNA, he was a submarine officer stationed in Virginia on a guided missile sub.

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