Cisco Systems has revealed that it is making an undisclosed investment in Zensys, developer of the Z-Wave wireless mesh networking technology. While this move is a huge fillip for Zensys, it constitutes a setback for the development of the standards-based ZigBee protocol to which Z-Wave is an alternative.
Cisco Systems has agreed to invest in Z-Wave developer Zensys.
Z-Wave is a proprietary RF wireless technology in the unlicensed 908.4MHz spectrum in the US and 868MHz in Europe. Unfettered by the restrictions of having to comply with a standard, it boasts technical advantages such as a longer range at the same power level with a longer battery life.
On the downside, users are obviously going to be locked in to buying from Zensys, which is the only Z-Wave silicon vendor. In addition, its use of a considerably simpler routing system, which sends information to all the devices in a network, represents a limitation on the size to which a network can grow before congestion strikes.
The Cisco investment enables Zensys to move closer to the networking giant, which is embedding the chips into its Linksys WiFi routers for the digital living room market. This is clearly a huge fillip for the chipmaker, when Cisco could have gone with ZigBee silicon from any number of major players such as Freescale, Samsung, or Texas Instruments, which splashed out $200 million in December to acquire ZigBee developer Chipcon.
Cisco can argue that Z-Wave is a more mature technology. Zensys has been marketing its products for three years, whereas ZigBee silicon, based on the IEEE’s 802.15.4 standard, has only come to market over the last year. ZigBee is not exclusively focused on home automation, and targets markets such as lighting control and building automation generally, but Cisco’s adoption of Z-Wave for the Linksys portfolio is a significant setback. This will be particularly true if Cisco starts to alter the proprietary technology to make it applicable to those other areas ZigBee wants to be in.
In any case, it is a typical move by Cisco to go for a proprietary technology, then use its market clout to establish it as a de facto standard in its own right. It would be no surprise if, as Cisco’s penetration of the home networking market grows, it decides to acquire Zensys.