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Z-Wave opens up with new public SDK and developer site

Oct 3, 2018 — by Eric Brown 2,679 views

New Z-Wave owner Silicon Labs has launched a public developer site for the Z-Wave home automation wireless standard with public documentation, a public Z-Wave SDK, a Raspberry Pi image, and a forum.

Silicon Labs and its Z-Wave Alliance have further opened up their Z-Wave mesh networking standard by releasing the first public SDK and launching a Z-Wave Public Standard Developer Site for home automation developers. The new site also includes a developer forum and an image for experimenting with Z-Wave on a Raspberry Pi 3. Silicon Labs, which is known for its wireless modules, MCUs, and sensors, acquired the 100-employee Z-Wave business from Sigma Designs in April of this year for $240 million.

Popp Hub

The Z-Wave Alliance and the ZigBee Alliance have been battling for years to push their respective mesh networking standards in the home automation market. Since neither has been able to dominate the other, home automation device vendors typically support both standards. Together, the rivals have held off incursions from newer competitors such as Bluetooth Mesh, Google’s 6LoWPAN-based Thread standard, and the WiFi piggybacking WeMo mesh technology used by WeMo devices.


Z-Wave has shipped in more than 100 million device units, with 2,400 certified, interoperable Z-Wave devices currently available from more than 700 manufacturers. Z-Wave is supported by a variety of home automation hubs including the Raspberry Pi based Popp Hub.

One of the major criticisms of Z-Wave is that it’s a proprietary standard, which means vendors have been forced join the Z-Wave Alliance to gain access to developer resources. In addition, Z-Wave device prices are often more expensive due to the need for vendors to pay licensing fees to Silicon Labs (or previously, Sigma Designs).

On the other hand, this tight control, which includes strict certification procedures, has traditionally led to greater interoperability than you’ll encounter with the open, IEEE 802.15-based ZigBee standard. ZigBee interoperability has improved, however, with ZigBee 3.0, which has unified different versions of the standard.

Diagram showing relationship of different spec documents on the public Z-Wave site (left) and screenshot from Raspberry Pi image
(click images to enlarge)

In 2016, previous Z-Wave owner Sigma Designs, which had acquired Z-Wave from Zensys in 2009, began to open up the technology by releasing a public version of Z-Wave’s interoperability later. The new public SDK and documentation go much further in opening up Z-Wave. You still need to join the alliance to build a Z-Wave enabled device, but any developer can now use the SDK and documentation to “build applications or services that interact with Z-Wave devices,” says Silicon Labs.

The introduction to the new public Z-Wave site goes on to say: “The public documentation can also be used to find out if you need to be a Z-Wave partner for the project you are working on. Certain types of products are required to be certified to maintain the market leading interoperability of Z-Wave. Certification is only available for registered development partners to make sure the certification is issued to the correct legal entity.”

Nevertheless, this is a major step in making Z-Wave more open. As noted in the reader tip from “Harley Davidson” that alerted us to the news, Paulus Schoutsen, who leads the open source Home Assistant project for home automation, wrote in a recent blog post that he hopes to improve his framework’s support for Z-Wave using the new SDK.

At publication time, the link to the Z-Wave SDK was not working. However, there is extensive documentation including command class and device class specifications. The SD Card image for the Raspberry Pi “comes preloaded with everything that is needed to start working with Z-Wave Over IP,” says the site.

The Z-Wave vs. ZigBee debate goes far beyond how open or interoperable the devices are. For example, Z-Wave has a wider range and ZigBee offers greater speed. More comparison details may be found in these fairly recent Tom’s Guide and The Ambient stories.

Further information

The new Z-Wave Public Standard Developer Site with documentation and a Raspberry Pi image is up and running here. It should eventually offer a working link to the free Z-Wave Public SDK.


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