Entering a dark home is already a thing of the past for many people thanks to a technology called Z-Wave. One press of a button on an in-car remote illuminates the front walkway, turns on the kitchen and hall lights, unlocks the front door and turns on the stereo.

While this may sound futuristic to many, more than 125 independent manufacturers are already developing Z-Wave-enabled products. These companies – known collectively as the Z-Wave Alliance – have joined forces to promote and develop Z-Wave as the low-cost, easy-to-use and interoperable standard for wireless home control. And with industry giants such as Monster, Linksys, Logitech and Leviton already developing products, home automation is quickly entering the mainstream.

Monster Cable, a market leader in high performance cable speakers, is a member of the Z-Wave Alliance and has developed a Z-Wave-enabled home theater and lighting remote control that interoperates with every other Z-Wave-enabled product on the market. For many homeowners, home entertainment has become a key part of home automation because a variety of home automation tasks can be started by one simple remote.

Taking Control: The Z-Wave Advantage

Z-Wave technology is designed for residential and light-commercial control, as well as status-reading applications such as overall access control, including garage door opening and closing, meter reading, lighting, appliance control, HVAC and intruder-detection. Homeowners can use the Z-Wave network to turn on lights, stereo or television, change the thermostat, open or close a garage or entry door, turn a pool or spa pump on, or even open or close a skylight or blinds.

Z-Wave technology translates into numerous benefits for today’s consumers: affordability, interoperability, versatility, ease of use, convenience and security.

Network solutions in the past have been difficult to install and modify – not to mention costly – prohibiting home controls from becoming a mass market reality. Z-Wave has changed all that. The products cost a mere 10 to 20 percent more than a standard device, such as an in-wall dimmer or thermostat.

The sheer power of home control systems is realized when multiple products are working together, which is a competitive advantage Z-Wave has over alternative technologies. Every Z-Wave-enabled product a consumer buys will work with every other Z-Wave-enabled product on the market – whether it is purchased today or two years from now.

In addition, the network scales easily and can be customized to the individual’s needs – whether it’s an elaborate system for a 5- bedroom home or a more simple system for a 1-bedroom apartment. Along these lines, homeowners can begin with a starter kit and add on appliances, stereo and lighting modules as quickly or slowly as they want.

Unlike hard-wired home control applications, Z-Wave wireless networks can be installed after a home is built. This makes Z-Wave an ideal home control solution for contractors to include on both new and existing homes. Homeowners can also change their network by simply moving modules to different parts of the home or changing the devices programmed in the pre-set buttons.

The most recent benefit of a Z-Wave-networked home is that once the system is set up, pre-set controls can be accessed and changed via the Internet. This is a huge benefit for homeowners who are vacationing or traveling on business. For example, if a homeowner was on vacation and learned that a heat wave was scheduled to pass through her hometown the day she planned to return home, she could turn down the thermostat from her PC, or via an Internet connection on her cell phone, without ever leaving the lounge chair by the pool. She could also remotely check the status of the garage door to ensure it’s closed.

How it Works

The basis of the Z-Wave technology transforms any stand-alone device into an intelligent networked product that can be controlled and monitored wirelessly. Z-Wave products have an embedded chip that is included in a light switch, thermostat or a plug-in module into which you insert your lamp, stereo, TV or whatever home device you want to control.

Each Z-Wave product/module acts as a sender and receiver in the network, offering two-way communications to make sure that one device knows the other received a command. When a pre-set button or scene on the controller is pressed, a low-frequency radio signal is activated and will route to the nearest node and continue the path until it reaches the device it controls. The signal then automatically routes back to the controller with an acknowledgement. Since Z-Wave operates as a mesh network, the signal routes from one node (product) to the next – and around obstacles and dead spots – until it finds a device to talk to. Moreover, it does not require “line of sight” to deliver the signal. The benefit is improved coverage and reliability with large residences covering even more than 10,000 square feet.

For example, if a homeowner is upstairs in bed and wishes to turn off the kitchen lights, by pressing the remote control a signal will travel throughout the networked home. If the path to the kitchen lights is blocked by a new stainless steel refrigerator, the signal will automatically try to find an alternate path around the obstacle and give an acknowledgement once the lights are turned off.

There are an endless number of configurations or scenes that can be set up on a Z-Wave network depending what a homeowner wants to control. A “scene” is a set of actions you want to take place at a certain time with just the press of a button on a Z-Wave controller. For example, a homeowner could set up a scene called “begin your day,” and with the press of one button can turn on the coffeemaker, the lights in the kitchen and bathroom, open the blinds, increase the temperature on the thermostat and turn on the TV. With a capacity of up to 232 devices, Z-Wave solutions are suitable for even the largest homes. And it is clear from the momentum in the marketplace and consumer adoption rates that Z-Wave is changing our lives for the better.

About the Z-Wave Alliance

Formed in January 2005, the Z-Wave Alliance is a consortium of more than 125 leading consumer companies – representing lighting, AV remote control, HVAC, access control, security, pool and spa, home networking and other consumer industries –dedicated to solidifying Z-Wave as the standard for wireless home control products. Its members lead the home controls market, providing leading edge products and systems that deliver increased comfort, convenience, safety and security. More than 100 products are shipping today, with many more due for launch in the coming months. For more information on the Z-Wave Alliance visit www.z-wavealliance.com.

Lew Brown is the Director of Strategic Business Development for Monster Cable and can be reached at lbrown@monstercable.com.