These have been heady months for the Z-Wave Alliance.

A string of events starting in January with a CNET award at the Consumer Electronics Show, a successful demo of a marketable package of Z-Wave products at the International Builders' Show, and a substantial, but undisclosed, investment in Z-Wave by Cisco have lifted Z-Wave into the frontrunner spot for wireless home automation.

One big reason for the Z-Wave bandwagon in the wireless home control world is that most of the leading Z-Wave companies are well known among builders and have established sales channels to builders either via electrical distributors or integrators, or through direct sales.

More than 125 companies are now part of the Z-Wave Alliance, with residential manufacturers such as Cooper Wiring Devices, Elk, Intermatic, Leviton, Logitech, Residential Control Systems, and Wayne-Dalton leading the charge. Intel, and now Cisco, also have strategic investments in Z-Wave, an important vote of confidence for the technology community.

Z-Wave's main competitors are ZigBee and Smarthome's Insteon. ZigBee is based on an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers standard and has at least two companies shipping residential products. Insteon is Smarthome's new wireless technology that runs on both radio frequency and power lines. At press time, Smarthome was set to ship products that broaden the company's product line beyond lighting control.

For the uninitiated, Z-Wave is based on technology developed by Zensys, a manufacturer of chip technology for home control. Z-Wave is a two-way wireless mesh network communication protocol that lets homeowners monitor and manage their lights, thermostats, garage door openers, smoke detectors, security systems, and window coverings. The idea behind a mesh network is that the network grows stronger as the homeowner adds devices to the network.

“The beauty of Z-Wave for builders is that it's friendly to the construction cycle because the technology is not dependent on running wires before the drywall goes up,” says Yan Rodriguez, director of home networking for Wayne-Dalton, a maker of garage doors and openers and a member of the Z-Wave Alliance.

“Builders can sell Z-Wave before, during, or after construction,” he says, adding that Z-Wave lowers construction costs because builders save the $75 per device cost of running Category-5 wire each time a device is added to the home.

The industry awards and strong showings at the trade shows are important, but sooner or later the Z-Wave Alliance has to deliver. The first step toward actual products that will ship was the success of a demonstration home that alliance members renovated late last year in St. Petersburg, Fla.

VISIBLE WAVES: A Z-Wave package available to builders this year for less than $5,000 includes software that lets homeowners draw floor plans and identify the home's Z-Wave devices. Homeowners can manage the Z-Wave network with controllers in a room, through a home PC, or remotely over the Web.
VISIBLE WAVES: A Z-Wave package available to builders this year for less than $5,000 includes software that lets homeowners draw floor plans and identify the home's Z-Wave devices. Homeowners can manage the Z-Wave network with controllers in a room, through a home PC, or remotely over the Web.

Mike Einstein, vice president of marketing for Intermatic, also a Z-Wave member, says it took about two days to install more than 50 Z-Wave products in the home. The result was a prototype package of 35 to 50 products that Z-Wave members can offer new-home buyers through integrators and home builders.

According to Einstein, Z-Wave members started training integrators last month at the EHXShow in Orlando, Fla., with an eye toward showing the Z-Wave packages in home builder design centers and show homes by this fall. For less than $5,000, builders will be able to Z-Wave–enable the following features in a 3,000-square-foot house: indoor/outdoor lights, thermostats, security, garage door opener, and five to six blinds. The package will come with controllers in every room, a remote for the TV, and a garage door opener.

“You don't really need 35 to 50 devices to make a strong Z-Wave network,” says Wayne-Dalton's Rodriguez, adding that a package for $1,000 consisting of 12 devices, including a garage door opener and lighting, would be fine as a starter package.

For more information on Z-Wave, visit www.z-wavealliance.org.