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2 June 2017

Z-Wave’s Sigma joins OCF, opens up Z-Wave to IoTivity smart home adopters

Sigma Designs has joined the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) in a move that further opens up the Z-Wave low-power mesh protocol to smart home developers. Joining the OCF, which recently swallowed its AllSeen Alliance rival, Sigma is hoping to drive demand for Z-Wave chips – of which it is a major manufacturer.

The OCF now manages both IoTivity and AllJoyn, two standards for defining device discovery and communication frameworks that sit above the radio-layers of the end-devices. As it stands, the OCF has direct partner relationships with Z-Wave and Thread, although certification and product adoption announcements have been slow to materialize.

This is another step forward for smart home standards consolidation, and while the upper-layer frameworks have come together, there’s still rather a lot of choice at the radio-layer – which many think hinders progress. With the upcoming, but delayed, launch of Bluetooth Mesh, the likes of ZigBee, Z-Wave and Thread are set to feel the tightening of the screw, and with Apple poised to launch a smart home device, we might the perversely influential company act as a smart home king-maker – deciding the direction of the industry to come.

The core of the new deal is Public Z-Wave, the stack that includes ‘access to the Z-Wave interoperability layer, the API specification for Z/IP (Z-Wave over IP), Z-Ware (Z-Wave middleware) software products, as well as the full specification of Z-Wave’s world-class S2 security application framework,” says the announcement. Sigma says this stack allows developers to build plug-ins for use in OCF and cloud-based services, that will allow them to work directly with Z-Wave devices and gateways.

Sigma said that it had joined the OCF as it complements Sigma’s direction to standardize and simplify the IoT smart home market, “for an open, unified method of accessing all IoT devices.” For the OCF, this is another protocol win, following a deal back in July with the Thread Group – another low-power mesh networking protocol, aimed at the smart home.

That move opened doors for Thread, which had been using ZigBee’s application layer to fill in the gap in its own standard, and for the OCF, the addition of Z-Wave to its choice of available radio protocols is a step forwards – and adds to the OCF’s higher-layer interoperability standards.

Back in February 2016, the Open Interconnect Consortium essentially rebranded as the Open Connectivity Forum, with Qualcomm and Microsoft joining the board. That move saw Qualcomm and its AllJoyn protocol take a prominent place at the helm of the OCF, whose IoTivity protocol was an obvious rival to AllSeen’s AllJoyn.

A few months later, in July, the Thread Group and the OCF announced an interoperability partnership that the pair said would advance smart home adoption, in a similar vein to a deal between Thread and the ZigBee Alliance, which was announced in May. Another interoperability deal between the Thread Group and the EEBus Initiative was announced in September of that year.

Later, in October, the OCF absorbed the AllSeen Alliance, in a merger, which saw both IoTivity and AllJoyn housed inside the Linux Foundation, and the next few months saw the Thread and ZigBee groups continue their dance of similar deals and interoperability demonstrations that suggested that a merger was on the cards – although the momentum of such thinking has definitely stalled in recent months.

“Z-Wave is the dominant communication standard for smart home devices, leading the way with more than 70m interoperable Z-Wave devices worldwide. As an open standard, including the publicly released Z-Wave protocol and radio specification, we are supportive of all forms of open IoT platforms and interoperability. With Public Z-Wave, Sigma Designs extends the reach of cloud-based services and devices connecting through OCF to work directly with over 1,700 Z-Wave certified devices and gateways available today,” said Sigma’s VP Z-Wave Business Unit Raoul Wijgergangs.

Currently, there is no licensing fee to use Public Z-Wave, but should a product use the stack in a commercial launch, it will have to pass the Z-Wave third-party certification program – which does incur a cost.