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Wireless Control and Automation Made Practical -- Finally
While automobiles may get all the bad headlines, energy-guzzling buildings account for a whopping 39% of all energy consumption in the U.S., according to the Departments of Energy (DOE) and Transportation (DOT); far above the 27% used by transportation.

 Mark Walters, Chairman, Z-Wave Alliance

Mark Walters,
Chairman,
Z-Wave Alliance

For years we've been hearing about "smart" buildings that adapt themselves to the people and businesses that use them. Though there are exceptions, the evolution in commercial buildings has been slow -- much slower than what we now see in the residential sector. There have been good reasons for this, with cost, complexity and the lack of a viable standard all at the top of the list. But thanks to Z-Wave, a wireless control standard from Zensys, we now have a solution that makes the changeover practical and effective.

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Z-Wave is an off-the-shelf wireless standard for local area, low powered, short range RF communications, utilizing a mesh networking technique. It allows simple, inexpensive retrofit of any building to all the benefits of wireless control and automation. This includes access and lighting control, security, HVAC and other control applications, as well as outstanding benefits in energy conservation, which is obviously a major consideration in today's environments. While automobiles may get all the bad headlines, energy-guzzling buildings account for a whopping 39% of all energy consumption in the U.S., according to the Departments of Energy (DOE) and Transportation (DOT); far above the 27% used by transportation.

One of Z-Wave's most compelling benefits is its practicality. Virtually any device or control system can be easily upgraded to wireless Z-Wave control, and building modifications are possible without expensive cable pulls and costly business disruptions. Conventional electrical devices and systems can become nodes on a Z-Wave mesh network by a simple "pairing" action that takes just seconds. Up to 232 nodes can reside on a network, and can cover areas approximately 400 feet on a side. Because Z-Wave mesh networks can be linked together using standard Ethernet networks, groups of Z-Wave networks can cover even large buildings with reliable RF wireless control.

One of the reasons why Z-Wave can easily make a building smart is because the network itself is smart. Each node on a Z-Wave network is a 2-way transmitter/receiver. When the network encounters an obstacle to wireless transmission, the nodes transmit their signals around the obstacle with a signal-hopping technique. This eliminates the limitations of conventional wireless networks, such as Wi-Fi, which can experience signal blockage and drop-offs that impair their reliability. Because its RF technology works in the sub-1Ghz band, Z-Wave does not interfere with, or experience interference from, other common wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi, cordless phones, microwaves and the like.

This ability to operate seamlessly alongside other wireless environments is another key Z-Wave advantage. As buildings rely more and more on popular IEEE 802.11 technologies for data and content distribution, the wireless "cloud" inside the building frequently becomes muddled and unreliable. Other evolving wireless standards have not been able to overcome this obstacle, which promises to be ever more prevalent as new 802.11 technologies become popular. Z-Wave has proven itself to be robust and reliable even under these difficult "shared" conditions.

In commercial buildings, Z-Wave is usually deployed in specific application areas, such as conference rooms, board rooms and single tenant suites. Typical applications for these areas include lighting and climate control, motorized projector lifts and window coverings, and unified A/V control. Thanks to its ability to send and receive metadata, Z-Wave lends itself especially well to display applications such as reader boards and program guides. In any application, Z-Wave's 2-way communications provides reliable confirmation of control commands. There's no more guesswork as to whether the wireless command was received and enacted at a remote device.

Because Z-Wave networks can be easily combined, Z-Wave can be used to automate entire buildings, even larger ones that are problematic for other wireless control technologies. As an example, multiple Z-Wave networks dedicated to local areas, such a each floor of a building, can be tied together over a common IP backbone to the supervisory application. This provides both centralized control over global and local building systems, and the flexibility of individualized control from end users in specific areas of the building. So while a centralized automation scheme might control lights and climate throughout a building, an occupant can enact local control over lighting or temperature without system confusion. Because Z-Wave is a 2-way protocol, the system is always aware of these changes in status; there's no inconvenient re-programming or re-setting required.

Reliable Controls Z-Wave is not a blue-sky, "coming soon" technology. It has already established itself as the new standard in wireless control, and has been adopted by over 160 manufacturers worldwide who create products and services using Z-Wave. These manufacturer  members of the Z-Wave Alliance work together to insure complete interoperability, which is another of Z-Wave's compelling advantages. Z-Wave devices work seamlessly with each other, regardless of brand or manufacturer. This provides building owners the flexibility of choosing from a wide variety of devices and vendors, and to be able to add Z-Wave control over time, without incompatibility concerns. Investments in building control become less burdensome, and can be deployed in phases. There's finally a real alternative to expensive, restrictive, proprietary systems.

Speaking of vendors, Z-Wave has been adopted by many of the most important names in commercial and residential building applications. Z-Wave products come from major brands that you know and trust, such as Leviton, Cooper Wiring, Wayne-Dalton, Intermatic, Danfoss, and many others. These manufacturers have proven products and applications that are available on the market today.

Clearly, the need for sophisticated building automation and control has now reached critical mass. The days of wasteful 24-7 full-out power delivery are being replaced by intelligent allocation and demand management for energy consumption, in buildings of all types. Z-Wave is, and will continue to be, an important player in this trend. Because it is simple and inexpensive to implement (in virtually any building), Z-Wave negates the most obvious obstacles of cost and disruption. It has the flexibility to reliably control numerous systems and sub-systems within buildings, and new devices and applications are continually appearing on the market, from manufacturers all over the world.

The demand for intelligent control over building systems will be increasing exponentially in the coming years. With Z-Wave, there is finally a solution that's both effective and practical, and most importantly, here today.


About the Author

Mark Walters is the Chairman for the Z-Wave Alliance, a leading provider of wireless networking technology for control and status reading applications and the developer of Z-Wave. Mark joined Zensys in July 2006 and brings extensive experience in home automation and control including residential structured wiring, automated lightning and controls, security, distributed audio and entertainment solutions.

Mark is responsible for the day-to-day management of all activities for the Z-Wave Alliance, a consortium of more than 125 leading companies in the home technology space dedicated to solidifying Z-Wave as the standard for wireless home and entertainment control products. Mark’s responsibilities include the development of programs to grow the membership of the Z-Wave Alliance and provide value for all members, such as Z-Wave Developer Forums, Un-Plug Fests and applications training.

Prior to Zensys, Mark spent six years with Leviton Manufacturing as the director of residential systems, where he was responsible for technology strategy and development, business development and technical customer support for the company’s Integrated Networks and Controls Division. Mark served as a board member of the Z-Wave Alliance on behalf of Leviton and Technical Prime.

Prior to Leviton, Mark held engineering and operations positions in various companies in the consumer electronics and automotive industries including Carver Corporation, a manufacture of high end audio equipment.

Mark holds degrees in Biology and Chemistry from the University of California at Santa Cruz, and a Masters in Business Administration from City University.

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