Technology is part of our everyday lives in ways we once only dreamed of. Just a few decades after personal computers became common, we can communicate with each other and devices from anywhere in the world via a smartphone. And smart-home automation using Z-Wave equipment now gives us an unparalleled ability to control almost every aspect of our home—and protect it with smart security systems. But what is Z-Wave, exactly?
In this blog, we explain how this technology is used in a Frontpoint Home Security System as well as a range of other smart-home devices. Let’s take a closer look at exactly how Z-Wave allows you to control your home and protect it faster, smarter, and more securely than ever before:
What is Z-Wave technology?
Z-Wave is a wireless communications protocol that has some similarities (and a lot of differences) with the Wi-Fi signal that emanates from your router as well as the Bluetooth tech found in many remote devices. A small transmitter sends and receives low-energy radio waves that can travel through doors, floors, walls, and other objects to communicate with a range of compatible equipment.
Z-Wave devices typically “speak” to a control panel that communicates with the Internet, where all of these devices can be monitored and controlled through a browser or app interface.
Developed in 1999 by the Copenhagen, Denmark-based company Zensys, Z-Wave “enables consumers to monitor their home systems easily and securely from anywhere.” And it’s now become the worldwide standard in wireless mesh network communications.
In 2005, six products used Z-Wave technology. As of January 2019, there were more than 2,600. Crucially, those products are all Z-Wave-certified and interoperable, which means that all of the hardware and software work together, and all devices equipped with Z-Wave are compatible, regardless of their manufacturer.
These pieces of equipment “mesh” by sending signals on a dedicated frequency, ensuring less interference than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi networks. Each device amplifies the network signal, making it easy to establish robust connectivity. Z-Wave has gained popularity in home automation because it uses far less power than Wi-Fi and can transmit over longer ranges than Bluetooth.
What devices can Z-Wave control?
Essentially, any type of automated home equipment can be controlled via Z-Wave, including:
Security system components, including intrusion sensors and environmental sensors
Lights and lighting systems
Garage door openers
Individual outlets—basically, any device that turns on and off can be plugged into a smart outlet that sends and receives Z-Wave signals
Being able to turn on the coffee maker or crank up the air conditioning before you get home is very convenient, but Z-Wave does more than offer creature comforts in a Frontpoint system. It puts strong home security at your fingertips, too.
What can a Frontpoint Hub with
Z-Wave technology do?
Well, just about everything needed to protect your home. The Z-Wave elements of a Frontpoint system may include:
Door/Window sensors send a signal when anything is opened (including a cabinet, if you install one there!)
Motion sensors let you know if someone is moving through the house when they are armed
Each of these sensors broadcasts and receives Z-Wave signals to and from the Frontpoint Hub, which then communicates with you via audible alerts and/or an alarm that you’ll hear when you’re home, and mobile alerts that you’ll receive whether you are there or not.
The Hub is also connected to monitoring specialists, 24/7. If a sensor triggers an alarm—whether it’s set off by a security intrusion sensor or an environmental sensor—you and the monitoring center receive a notification. The monitoring professionals will then attempt to contact you twice to verify whether or not there is an emergency. If you don’t answer or provide an incorrect code word, they will dispatch emergency services to your home. The sole exception is a CO sensor; if that detects a buildup of the deadly gas, help is dispatched immediately.
Professional monitoring keeps you and your home protected if you are incapacitated, the battery in your phone is dead, or you are otherwise unavailable.
Beyond emergencies, the Z-Wave sensors and the Frontpoint Hub keep you informed of a lot more that may be happening in your home—even if the security system isn’t armed. For instance, the Hub can be set to beep or chime and send you a mobile alert if doors or windows are opened, motion is detected, or children access a restricted area of the house.
A Frontpoint system is easy to install because all of the wireless Z-Wave devices arrive preprogrammed with out-of-the-box functionality, so there’s no need to drill holes or run cables—or hire a professional to do it for you. Better yet, the system can be customized to interact with any third-party smart device that employs Z-Wave, from window shades to water meters.
Using the Frontpoint Security Hub + Keypad and the Frontpoint Mobile App, the possibilities for home automation are nearly endless. The Hub allows you to consolidate functions from up to 80 sensors and a total of 232 Z-Wave devices into a single spot, so you can use your smartphone to control door locks and arm and disarm your security system, as well as adjust the thermostat, turn lights on and off, turn off appliances, and so much more. And all of this can be done whether you’re at work, out shopping, or miles away on vacation—anywhere you get cell service or Wi-Fi.
The network also lets you program your devices to perform functions automatically. For instance, when you unlock the smart lock on your front door, the Hub can immediately turn the lights on. This and other functions are also possible via a smartphone command, a predetermined schedule, or when your smartphone enters or exits a specified “geofence” based on its GPS. If you set a geofence at one mile from your workplace, for example, the system can automatically lower your thermostat once you cross that boundary on your ride home.
secure are Z-Wave and a Frontpoint home security system?
In a word: Very.
Advances in technology beget advances in hacking, but Z-Wave uses Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 128-bit encryption, which is considered a “gold standard” for protecting data.
This encryption means that even if a device’s Z-Wave signal is intercepted, a hacker will not be able to make sense of the data without an encryption key. If a hacker attempts to crack the encryption with a “brute force” attack, it would take them an estimated “1 billion billion years” to succeed. Frontpoint’s devices also communicate over a secure former military frequency for increased security.
The Frontpoint Z-Wave Hub switches automatically between cellular service and Wi-Fi if one goes down, has a 24-hour backup battery in case of a power outage, and it is “smash-proof.” That means the Hub will send an alert to both you and the monitoring center if any attempt is made to destroy or otherwise disable it before the audible alarm goes off.
future of Z-Wave and home automation
Wireless communication protocols like Z-Wave are becoming integral to our daily lives, and engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs are constantly working on improving them. The Z-Wave Alliance, a group “comprised of industry leaders throughout the globe that are dedicated to the development and extension of” the technology, recently announced plans to turn Z-Wave into a completely open standard.
The practical impact is that Silicon Labs—the original company that manufactures the tiny Z-Wave broadcast radios in each device—will be joined by other manufacturers. Opening up the design and construction of these devices will further innovation in a market that already views Z-Wave as the standard for home automation.
Coupled with the explosion of networked Internet of Things (IoT) devices—everything from smartwatches to refrigerators—this move will see an exponential evolution of the things that you can control in your smart home.
The roughly 2,600 Z-Wave devices that currently exist are about to get a lot of company. And a Frontpoint Hub can command all of them. We can’t wait to see what’s next, and we’re constantly rolling out improved equipment, app features, and a range of customizations that give you amazing control over your home and its security.