The Z-Wave Alliance was created in 2005. Put together by a group of home automation product manufacturers, the alliance sought to standardize technology and manufacturing practices to create competitive products but with a certain amount of uniformity. Separate, but relatively equal.
Think of it like a Big Mac. If you buy a Big Mac at a McDonald's Restaurant in Montana, and I buy a Big Mac at a McDonald's Restaurant in Kentucky they will basically be the same. Reliably the same. The people who made my Big Mac and those that made your Big Mac have probably never met, the money paid for these sandwiches went to different places, the price paid may differ, but because a Big Mac follows a standard assembly and preparation if I pull up to a McDonald's anywhere in the USA I can reliably expect that when I order a Big Mac I know what I'm going to get.
In May 2005 Z-Wave (300-Series) was released and soon became widespread. In March, 2013 Z-Wave Plus (500-Series) was introduced, offering better range between hops, better power management, which translates to longer battery life, and more memory which translates into more features like the ability to add S2 128-bit encryption. In April, 2019 the Z-Wave Alliance began promoting enhanced certification for Z-Wave Plus V2, with the 700-Series Chipset. They continue to improve upon the original standard, so Z-Wave Plus V2 will offer even more of the things that made Z-Wave Plus popular. Greater wireless range, longer battery life, and where Z-Wave Plus supported S2 security 128-bit encryption, Z-Wave Plus V2 mandates it. And every time there is an advance in the technology, equipment with the new version is backward compatible with equipment on the older version, albeit with the older versions feature limitations.
Check out the chart below for a comparison between the three (3) current iterations of Z-Wave Technology. Z-Wave Long Range is on the horizon, but I chose to leave it out of this comparison chart. We'll have more information about the newest Z-Wave offering at a later time:
Z-Wave Technology Comparison
|300 Series||500 Series||700 Series|
|CPU/MCU||Optimized 8051 CPU Core||Optimized 8051 CPU Core||ARM® Cortex M4|
|CPU/MCU Speed||16 MHz||32 MHz||39 MHz|
|Memory||2 kB||16 kB||64 kB|
|Flash Memory||32 kB||128 kB||512 kB|
|Operating Ambient Temp||-15 to 85℃ (5 - 185℉)||-10 to 85℃ (14 - 185℉)||-40 to 85℃ (-40 - 185℉)|
|Active Power Use||36 mA||35 mA||12.5 mA|
|Sleep-Mode Power Use||2.5 μA||1 μA||1 μA|
|Coin Cell Compatible||No||No||Yes|
|Max Battery Life||1 year||1.5 years||10 years|
|AES 128-bit encryption||No||Optional||Mandatory|
|MiM Attack Prevention||No||Optional||Mandatory|
|Output Power DBM [TX]||-2.5 dBm||+2.5 dBm||Up to +13 dBm|
|Range Sensitivity [RX]||-102 dBm / -98 dBm||Down to -103 dBm w/SAW filter||-97.5 dBm|
|Wireless Speed||9.6/40 kbit/s||9.6/40/100 kbit/s||9.6/40/100 kbit/s|
|Max Wireless Range Outdoors (Direct)||Up to 100m (328')||Up to 150m (492')||More than 200m (656')|
|Max Wireless Range Outdoors (With Hop/Repeat)||Up to 400m (1,312')||Up to 600m (1,968')||More than 800m (2,624')|
|Max Wireless Range Indoors (Direct)||More than 30m (98')||Up to 75m (246')||Up to 100m (328')|
|Max Wireless Range Indoors (With Hop/Repeat)||More than 120' (393')||Up to 300m (984')||Info not available|
|Z-Wave Specific Features|
|Z-Wave Plus V2||No||No||Yes|
|Backward Compatibility||Yes, w/100 Series||Yes, w/100 - 300 Series||Yes, w/100 - 500 Series|
|Network Wide Inclusion||No||Manufacturer specified||Yes|
|Advanced Route Diversity Calculation||No||Yes||Yes|
|FLiRS (Beaming wake-up)||Optional||Optional||Mandatory|
|OTA Z-Wave Firmware Updates||No||Optional||Mandatory|
|Original Release Date||May 2005||March 2013||April 2019|
I know that Z-Wave is a really cool, easy, and inexpensive way to automate things in a home or business, but I didn't get a sense of just how impressive it is until I was putting together this chart. It's really very cool! There were a few features mentioned in the chart that I wasn't particularly familiar with, so I'm going to define those a little further below:
FLiRS (Beaming wake-up) - This feature has to do with Z-Wave devices that use battery power only, like all door locks, and some thermostats. FLiRS stands for Frequently Listening Receiver Slave (Not Forward Looking Infra-Red, like I thought). Basically, a battery powered Z-Wave device alternates between sleep mode and partially-awake mode. When it is partially-awake it is listening for a beam signal. If a Z-Wave controller (or another Z-Wave device, if the signal has to hop) has network traffic for the battery-powered device, it sends a beam. When the device partially wakes and hears the beam, it wakes immediately and communicates with the device that sent it. If the device partially wakes up and there's no beam signal, then it goes fully back to sleep. This can happen from once per second, to four (4) times per second, depending on how the device was manufactured. If not for FLiRS, Z-Wave door locks would probably not exist due to issues with battery life.
Explorer Frames - Explorer frames have to do with the way information is routed. When a new Z-Wave Plus device is being included to the network, it sends out a whole bunch of explorer frames. When an existing device sees an explorer frame, it resends it with its own Node ID added to the original information. At some point, some of these explorer frames reach the Z-Wave controller. When the controller receives them, it can see exactly which nodes on the network the explorer frames touched. This information is then used to route future traffic for the new device. As network devices are used, this routing information will likely change, but this is a basic explanation of what Explorer Frames do.
Network Wide Inclusion - Network Wide Inclusion (NWI) allows a device to be added to the network even if it's not within range of the Z-Wave controller itself. It makes use of Explorer Frames to do this. Before NWI and Explorer Frames, you often had to include a new device right next to the controller, then carry it to the location where you actually wanted it to be installed, and then cross your fingers and hope that it would work. If it didn't then you likely added another Z-Wave device somewhere between it and the Controller. With NWI, if your network is robust enough, you should not have to do that. It's always a good idea when laying out your network to start with devices closest to the controller, add those to the network, and then work your way out from there. As you can see from the chart above, NWI and Explorer Frames were added in Z-Wave Plus with the 500 Chipset, so any original Z-Wave devices won't support this type of inclusion.
What do you think of the evolution of Z-Wave? Are you ready to buy some devices and start automating? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. We look forward to discussing this and any other security and automation topics you might like to add. Is there something you'd like to see us cover in our blog? If so, let us know in the comments and we'll do our best to bring you the information you're looking for.