From Z-Wave to ZigBee: new VP Walters sees changes in the IoT air

Even though the ZigBee Alliance's new vice president of strategic development has been in the industry for more than a decade, he still sees the Internet of Things (IoT) as a very young space.


"I can't emphasize enough that this is a very nascent marketplace that's growing extremely rapidly, and collectively, all the technologies out there, we've barely scratched the surface," said Mark Walters, former Z-Wave Alliance founding chairman and now the new VP of strategic development at the ZigBee Alliance, in an interview with FierceWirelessTech. "It's a little bit of the Wild, Wild West, which is kinda good."

ZigBee and Z-Wave actually got started about the same time. Both are based on low-power wireless mesh networking technologies. However, ZigBee technologies run on IEEE 802.15.4 physical layer, which is supported by myriad silicon manufacturers, and ZigBee has a big portfolio of technologies that run on top of that, addressing a multitude of markets from building controls to healthcare.

Z-Wave was founded by Zensys, which was purchased in 2008 by Sigma Designs of Milpitas, Calif., and it doesn't use the 802.15.4 layer; it has its own physical layer that is unique to Z-Wave. The Z-Wave Alliance figured out how to cater to the needs of the home security market, whereas ZigBee has grown a presence in things like commercial building control, utility metering and remote consumer electronics, he said.

The two also have had different go-to-market strategies. ZigBee has been more about getting the standards written and providing access to labs that can test it, or a more "if-you-build-it, they-will-come" approach, while Z-Wave took more of a "we're-going-to-show-you-how-to-build-it" and "how-to-take-it-to-the-marketplace" approach, according to Walters.

One of his biggest jobs with Z-Wave was getting in front of retailers and manufacturers, so Z-Wave operated as not only like a technology alliance but also as a marketing arm and business strategist, or what he calls a "go-to-market" machine. "I think with ZigBee we're probably going to see a little bit more of that" go-to-market kind of focus in the future, he said.

While some industry leaders have called for the IoT industry to work together toward a more unified approach, that hasn't happened in a big way yet. ZigBee, Bluetooth Smart and Wi-Fi are just some of the technologies aimed at growing the IoT. They're each kind of trying to occupy the same technology space but they'll probably end up specializing in their own areas, Walters said.

"I don't think there's going to be a single winner," he said. "I don't think there's going to be any huge consolidation in a short period of time, but what we're going to find is we're going to find each of these technologies starts to eke out its unique place in the market," which is something Z-Wave has been successful at doing.

"I do think over time we're going to see some consolidation," he said. That's often not just about who's got the best technology solution. It's a combination of technology capabilities "and all kinds of market factors."

To some extent, all of the technologies have been ahead of the market. ZigBee in particular proved to be a formidable competitor while Walters was with the Z-Wave Alliance.

Walters plans to develop the current branding and standards to increase awareness and understanding of ZigBee technology. He also will be focused on the upcoming launch of ZigBee 3.0, a release the alliance says is aimed at helping to reduce market fragmentation and further promote the ZigBee standards for the IoT.

In addition, he will craft partnerships and agreements with other organizations to increase interoperability across the IoT. The alliance recently announced plans to collaborate with the Thread Group. The groups said their goal is to "jointly provide an interoperable solution to help streamline product development and ultimately improve the consumer's experience in the connected home."

For more:
- see the press release

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