Navigant Research Blog

Standards Announcements Expand Wireless Device Market

Eric Bloom — May 31, 2012

As the building automation industry has drifted away from proprietary communication protocols toward open ones, it has also faced the new challenge of integrating wireless devices as wireless technology and products evolve and mature to satisfy tomorrow’s energy management solutions and globalizing markets.  A number of standards – particularly ZigBee and EnOcean – have staked out spots in the growing wireless automation device market and are aiming to further solidify their roles as the market matures.

Two major recent announcements provide insight into where that future lies.  The first was the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)’s announcement that it had ratified a new standard, ISO/IEC 14543-3-10, for low-powered wireless devices, particularly energy-harvesting, battery-free wireless devices.  This was tantamount to an IEC endorsement of the EnOcean Alliance’s entire battery-free product ecosystem, and will drive both increased development of EnOcean-based products as well as other energy-harvesting wireless devices.  Previously, no such standard existed for low- and no-power consumption wireless devices, so EnOcean’s products lacked such an industry stamp-of-approval until today.  (If you’re not familiar with EnOcean, their battery-free technology harvests energy from the surrounding environment, such as the energy generated by flipping a switch or from incident light, to transmit a signal over short distances.)

I caught up with Graham Martin, Chairman of the EnOcean Alliance, at the Light+Building Show in Frankfurt a few weeks ago, where vendors such as Siemens, Honeywell, and many others were displaying EnOcean products.  He reported that sales of EnOcean products have been growing about 50% per year, which he hopes will create economies of scale for EnOcean products.  Although EnOcean has made considerable inroads in the Central European wireless automation device market, it is setting its sights on the U.S.  market over the next decade, where it will come face-to-face with ZigBee and its growing ecosystem of devices for smart buildings and the smart grid.

ZigBee, for its part, has been all but silent on this front.  It recently announced the launch of a new standard, ZigBee Light Link, an open standard that provides wireless control for wireless LED controls.  In the fiercely competitive LED lighting environment, where new lawsuits over alleged patent infringements seem to be surfacing on an almost daily basis, the new ZigBee standard provides a vendor-agnostic control solution that facilitates interoperability across different vendors’ technologies.

Today, wireless controls still represent a small niche within the $75 billion automation market, as we discuss in our report, “Commercial Building Automation Systems”.  However, these major announcements from EnOcean and ZigBee represent a big leap forward for wireless and devices and will undoubtedly increase confidence among building systems integrators and facility managers in the viability and maturation of wireless device technology.

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