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Z-Wave Makes Headway in Home Energy, via Verizon

Did the proprietary wireless technology Z-Wave just do a leap frog move into the smart energy home over a more standards-based approach like ZigBee in the U.S.? Verizon confirmed with me late last week that its inaugural smart home pilot, which includes an energy management product and which it showed off at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, will initially be based around Z-Wave.

The move is important because Verizon’s smart home pilot — and commercial product that will come out later in 2011 — is one of the first moves from a major U.S. telco to offer energy management services, and could kick off the nascent energy management industry. To date, despite a lot of attempts by startups in the market, the home energy management space hasn’t yet taken off.

Z-Wave is a proprietary wireless technology that uses chips basically made by one vendor: Sigma Designs (s SIGM), which acquired Z-Wave chipmaker Zensys in 2008. The Z-Wave Alliance does have prominent members, including ADT, Black & Decker, Danfoss, Leviton and Ingersoll Rand, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have proprietary roots. In contrast the wireless standard ZigBee has tens of millions of chips and modules being made by multiple vendors for dozens of device partners.

But to date ZigBee has been a technology embraced by the power industry and utilities, instead of consumer electronics makers. Z-Wave has the lead in overall home automation products on the market, with about 250, compared to ZigBee’s 100 certified devices (these numbers are from December).

The smart home product from Verizon will include a connected thermostat, smart plugs, appliance modules, windows and door sensors, and a service gateway, all enabled by Z-Wave. The connected camera, which can be used for security applications, will use WiFi. Using this connected gear, consumers will be able to monitor and manage both their home energy consumption, and security services.

Verizon is working with 4Home, the home automation company that was recently acquired by Motorola, for its smart home trail. 4Home has long been a member of the Z-Wave alliance.

Verizon’s principle architect for its Home Monitoring and Control services, John Valdez, and Jack Eastman, Verizon product manager, told me in an interview last week that Verizon is initially focused on Z-Wave for its smart energy home service because the wireless technology is “more readily available,” than working with the utility-embraced home wireless standard ZigBee.

There are more consumer-focused and commercially available products based around Z-Wave, said the Verizon execs. But that doesn’t mean that Verizon won’t be including other wireless technologies including ZigBee in the future: “We are more than happy to integrate anything into it.”

The progress of Z-Wave in the smart energy home, is apparent in other deals, too, which we pointed out in this article for GigaOM Pro, subscription required. For example, Japanese telco NTT DoCoMo said in October it planned a Z-Wave-based home energy management offering, featuring “smart tap” power sensing devices and home routers from Sumitomo.

Smart meter makers — which have turned to ZigBee in droves — also aren’t exactly rushing to open systems to connect with home device makers, points out the Verizon execs. In fact in Verizon’s energy product it includes something it calls a “smart meter,” but not one of the ZigBee-based standard ones. Instead the Verizon energy product includes a circuit clamp, which records energy usage and connects to an interface via Z-Wave.

The Verizon execs said that they will be working closely with Sigma and the Z-Wave Alliance to push for a more open approach.

Image courtesy of Ytechblogs via Creative Commons license.

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