Z-Wave: Hospitality’s Alternative to WiFi for IoT Networks

Connected devices can crowd a hotel’s Wi-Fi frequency, causing bandwidth, interference, and reliability problems. Z-Wave works differently by operating in an entirely different frequency band.
Michal Christine Escobar
Senior Editor (Hotels)
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Engineered to provide significantly extended wireless range and support robust networks, the newly released Z-Wave Long Range specification extends Z-Wave connectivity beyond what it was originally built for, the home, and into other use cases such as the hotel industry. To learn more about this technology and its potential for hotels, Hospitality Technology spoke with Mitch Klein, executive director, Z-Wave Alliance & Director, Strategic Partnerships-IoT, Silicon Labs as well as some of the Z-Wave Alliance member companies who are active in the hotel technology space.

Please explain what Z-Wave technology is.

Z-Wave is a networking protocol for smart home/IoT devices. For the hospitality market, Z-Wave is an important alternative to using Wi-Fi for an IoT network. The number of connected devices required for smart hotel applications can crowd the Wi-Fi frequency, causing bandwidth, interference, and reliability problems. Z-Wave works differently, operating in an entirely different frequency band. Each Z-Wave and Z-Wave Long Range (LR) device is effectively a repeater: as more devices are added to the network, it gets stronger, scaling automatically.

Today there are over 3400 Z-Wave certified, interoperable smart home devices available to the market, in categories spanning security, lighting, occupancy sensors, water management, and more. Whatever a property wants to automate, it can be accomplished using Z-Wave devices. Hotels can also roll out these automation projects with confidence knowing that devices will work together now and in the future.

Z-Wave devices automatically discover and communicate with each other, regardless of manufacturer. All Z-Wave certified devices also have full backwards and forwards compatibility: as systems are upgraded, new and legacy Z-Wave devices will continue to work together.

Tell us a little bit about its background.

Z-Wave technology was developed in 2001 by Danish company Zensys. The Z-Wave Alliance formed a few years later to allow diverse manufacturers to collaborate on Z-Wave specification implementation, certification, and marketing. At the time, home automation was a niche luxury application, and as the market grew, security, interoperability, and ease-of-use became prime concerns. The Z-Wave Alliance responded with a robust interoperability certification program and some of the most stringent security requirements in the industry. Now that smart home automation has gone mainstream and expanded into other verticals, including hospitality, these early strengths form the foundation of secure, scalable IoT networks for all kinds of applications. Z-Wave has become popular because it was built from the beginning to be easy, reliable, scalable, and secure.

Last year, the Z-Wave Alliance transitioned into a Standards Development Organization (SDO) and opened the Z-Wave specification as a ratified multi-source wireless standard, available to all silicon and software stack vendors for development. Opening the Z-Wave Specification will speed up growth and innovation for new applications. As demand for IoT automation ramps up in new markets, the Z-Wave Alliance leverages its members’ diverse backgrounds and experiences to shape the specification.  Many Alliance members have served the hospitality market for years; under the new SDO structure, they will have a larger voice in defining the technology and its requirements.

The recently opened Z-Wave LR specification is an example of how the Alliance is innovating to meet new market needs. The original Z-Wave Specification was designed for the home. It has a maximum of 232 nodes per network, with a maximum transmission range of 100 meters, which adequately serves most home networks. Z-Wave LR, on the other hand, can support up to 4000 nodes per network, with a potential transmission range of several miles. Z-Wave LR can successfully act as the communication protocol for an entire smart hotel or resort, covering both indoor and outdoor spaces. In deference to the Z-Wave Alliance’s commitment to backwards compatibility, the Z-Wave and Z-Wave LR specifications are designed to interoperate. If a property is upgrading an existing IoT application to Z-Wave LR, all previously installed Z-Wave devices will continue to work.

How will Z-Wave tech be important for the hotel industry?

Hotels can use IoT technology to invisibly improve operations by, for example, monitoring and managing water and energy consumption. The most dramatic and visible impact, however, could be on guest experience. “Hoteliers have to keep up with the smart home technology evolution,” says Ashot Mashuryan, Founder and CEO of HELTUN, Inc. “Z-Wave’s role in this ecosystem is growing. Early-stage technologies have often lacked proper encryption and suffered from interference, but Z-Wave’s open protocol brings in the security and flexibility the hospitality industry needs.”

Z-Wave and Z-Wave LR enable hotels to leverage mature, popular smart home products to build enterprise-grade automation systems. As Felicite Moorman, CEO of STRATIS IoT explains, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. “With the right software, Z-Wave can provide all the same capabilities as the most sophisticated Building Automation Systems at a fraction of the cost,” says Moorman. “Manufacturers who have adopted the Z-Wave specification have already standardized their product lines for true, seamless interoperability. Smart home manufacturers design their products for mass market adoption – they’re benefiting from economies of scale with respect to code base, product line, and cost. The resulting products are less expensive and more applicable than any proprietary solution.”

Z-Wave will also help properties stay relevant by retrofitting smart technologies into existing spaces. The demands of a Z-Wave-based system are minimized: communication is wireless; management can be centralized; and Z-Wave LR sensors can last up to 10 years on a single coin cell battery. As Ashwanth Anadaso, COO of Hogar Controls puts it, “Z-Wave offers the hotel industry cost savings on wiring, energy, infrastructure, and operations. The majority of Z-Wave controllers and devices are retrofittable and easy to install, requiring little to no downtime. This is a great base for improvements in guest experience and hotel management in the future of connected hotels.”

What will hoteliers need to do to implement and benefit from Z-Wave tech?

Z-Wave can provide a smart hotel with a secure, unified network platform that will scale as the property grows and the systems are upgraded – as long as the hotelier has the right strategy and partners. A professional technology integrator is essential for designing a property-wide system. “Professional help in the planning stages leads to optimum design, savings, and aesthetics,” advises Hogar’s Anadaso. Just as an architect considers both initial and future plans when designing a building, an integrator can assess all use cases and requirements when designing the automation system, tackling usability, technology convergence, and network security in the process.

Engaging in this collaboration and insight planning is an investment in the property’s future – and it will pay off. “Z-Wave technology in hotels ultimately pays for itself,” STRATIS IoT’s Moorman explains. “For example, hoteliers can have vacant rooms automatically go into ‘sleep mode.’ The Z-Wave thermostat adjusts; the Z-Wave light switches power off; the Z-Wave drapes close; and the Z-Wave power outlets power down peripherals.”  This approach dramatically reduces wasted energy without any extra operational effort.

Of course, with new Z-Wave devices entering the market all the time, hoteliers cannot plan for every potential future Z-Wave use case. Fortunately, Z-Wave’s technological approach makes it uniquely easy to upscale. Z-Wave uses a low-power radio frequency that transmits easily through walls, floors, and ceilings; it doesn’t require the same level of wiring preplanning during construction as other solutions. “Z-Wave enables hoteliers to upscale at any time if their needs grow,” says Heltun’s Mashuryan. “Installation is simple. The only real ‘headache’ for hotel owners is setting the vision and a clear road map so they can benefit from all the solutions and use cases enabled by Z-Wave.”

Final Thoughts?

Z-Wave technology can transform the guest experience even if a hotel starts small. “It only takes a few thoughtfully combined devices to create an incredible opportunity,” says STRATIS IoT’s Moorman. “High tech room amenities allow you to promote the ease, convenience, and sustainability of your property. That’s a unique differentiator and competitive advantage.”

Since Z-Wave is an open protocol, hoteliers can expect new products and services to emerge. Z-Wave is flexible. Hoteliers can adopt any relevant new technologies to enhance the guest experience and streamline operations.  Coupled with well-defined business processes and workflows, Z-Wave technology can help every department in a smart hotel overcome challenges and improve hotel operations. The entire property can be transformed over time. Per Heltun’s Mashuryan: “Customer experience is the cornerstone of every industry, but especially the hospitality industry. Z-Wave technology allows hoteliers to truly personalize the guest experience, which leads to increased loyalty and more frequent bookings.”

Throughout its history as a specification, Z-Wave has grown from connecting dozens of devices in individual homes, to thousands on sprawling properties. This history makes Z-Wave technology suitable for any hospitality use case, from retrofits to new developments. A Z-Wave network is built to last, because a Z-Wave network is built to change.