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In the PLC family of protocols we also have the Universal Power Bus (UPB), developed by Powerline Control Systems (PCS). UPB has been in developement since 1999 and has had products shipping since 2002.

The protocol is similar to X10, but has some significant technical differences that make it more reliable. In fact it's said to be so reliable, that professionals are choosing it for retrofit installations.

UPB Switch
Figure 5: UPB Dimmer Switch

Z-Wave and Zigbee

The wireless family of protocols includes Z-Wave, which was developed by Zen-Sys and funded by Intel. It's important to note that Zen-Sys does not actually make Z-Wave devices; only chipsets used in Z-Wave end products.

Z-Wave is one of the most popular DIY Home Control protocols. The Z-Wave Alliance has more than 150 member companies including Leviton, Cooper, Intermatic, Monster, ACT Solutions, Wayne-Dalton, and Logitech to name a few. There are currently over 225 products on the market.

Z-Wave is often compaired to and sometimes confused with ZigBee/IEEE 802.15.4. So I've put key attributes of both protocols into Table 1 for comparison. While there are technical differences, the key difference boils down to application. Z-Wave has found its market primarily in consumer, home applications, while ZigBee is more often found in industrial control applications.

Z-Wave vs. ZigBee
Data Rate
250 kbps
908.42(US) and 868.42(Europe) 2.4Ghz coming soon
2.4Ghz(16 channels)and 900Mhz
Max. Devices in Network
Proprietary (ZenSys)
IEEE 802.15.4
100+ end user (DIY) products on the market and available today.
No products currently available for DIY installation. Only OEM and professional installation.
Interoperability Z-Wave Alliance, look for the "Speaks Z-Wave" logo ZigBee Alliance, look for the ZigBee logo
Key Alliance Members Intel, Microsoft, Leviton, Cooper, Wayne-Dalton, Intermatic FreeScale, Honeywell, Motorola, Philips, Samsung, Texas Instruments
Table 1: Comparison of Z-Wave and Zigbee

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule of thumb, such as the Control 4 system. Control 4 aims at the "Digital Home", but is available to professional installers only. The result is a proprietary product that is not interoperable with other manufacturers' products. Eventually this may change, however, thanks to the ZigBee Alliance.

Z-Wave Dimmer Switch
Figure 6: Z-Wave Dimmer Switch

Both Z-Wave and ZigBee use a mesh network topology with smart routing. Each device is a repeater and if a device fails, breaking the typical path from one device to another, the data will be rerouted through the next best path.

They are both low bandwidth protocols designed to transmit only small amounts of data. You won't be using Z-Wave or ZigBee to stream audio or video. But you could use it to see what song is currently playing on your Sirius Satelite radio.

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