Opening up Z-Wave code may help to make IoT hum

Making the Z-Wave interoperability layer public could make smart homes easier to set up

Home IoT is still reaching for mainstream use. The main backer of Z-Wave, a widely used in-home networking standard, just did something that might help take it there.

On Wednesday, chip vendor Sigma Designs made the interoperability layer of Z-Wave available free to the public. This is the code that allows all Z-Wave products to work together. Now anyone can download the code, develop software with it, and give that code to others.

Like others in the fledgling IoT business, Z-Wave's backers want to get more devices working together. This latest move might help to make that happen, plus drive more manufacturers to pick Z-Wave over other IoT network options.

Putting together a smart home can create a cacophony of wireless signals, with some connected devices using Z-Wave, others ZigBee, others Thread or Bluetooth Low Energy, and still others Wi-Fi. This can force consumers to buy a multiprotocol gateway in addition to all the other IoT gear they’ve invested in.

Some users avoid this by having their broadband provider pick the gear (many of those companies use Z-Wave equipment). Then there are diverse application frameworks like AllJoyn and HomeKit to think about. For home IoT to get really big, consumers will have to be able to choose from a wide selection of devices and applications on their own. They want motion sensors and door locks to be able to tell lightbulbs and coffee makers what to do. If those products use different networks and application frameworks, that can be a challenge.

Sigma says it’s helping to clear a path to interoperability among all IoT products. By making parts of its code public (it’s also releasing some APIs and a Z-Wave security framework), Sigma hopes to get more developers writing software that bridges Z-Wave products with cloud-based platforms and services.

For example, developers will be able to write plug-ins that translate Z-Wave commands used on in-home networks to AllJoyn or HomeKit commands used in the cloud, he said. This could mean more applications and services can work with Z-Wave smart home gear.

The vast universe of IoT groups and vendors has been slowly taking steps to knit together an ecosystem that works. ZigBee has done work with Thread, for example. Earlier this year, companies that belong to several different industry initiatives formed the Open Connectivity Foundation to craft a common code base for tasks like device discovery and authentication. But confusion is likely to reign for some time before making a smart home work is like plugging in a toaster.

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