Zigbee vs Z-Wave: Which one to choose for your smart home

Once you are into home automation, you will always keep hearing Zwave and Zigbee. Essentially, these wireless standards are both alternative ways for your smart home gadgets to communicate with each other, rather than using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. And they bring specific benefits like lower power consumption than Wi-Fi and has a bigger range than Bluetooth.

Understanding network Topology - Star vs Mesh Network

 In a star network, each device communicates directly with (and only with) the central hub. If a device is out of range of the central hub, that device will not be part of the network.  In a mesh network, the signal originates from the central hub just like the star network. However, devices don’t need to communicate directly with the central hub. A mesh network allows each device in the network to operate as a repeater and pass the signal on to another device. This allows mesh networks to be more versatile. They can cover greater distances and even work around obstacles

Zigbee and Z-Wave are both mesh networks – this just means signals can hop from gadget to gadget around the home and each device or sensor doesn't need to connect to Wi-Fi. But they usually have a central hub which connects to the internet. Z-Wave allows up to four 'hops' between the controller and the device, Zigbee doesn't have a limit.

The operating frequency

Zigbee operates on the 915 MHz frequency (in the US) and the 2.4GHz frequency, which might look familiar as that's a major frequency for Wi-Fi too.

One major caveat on Zigbee is that it is broken up into several protocols. There's Home Automation, Smart Energy Profile, SEP energy management, Light Link, digital health, home hospital care, and more. Unfortunately, Zigbee devices of different protocols can't exactly talk to each other well.

Z-Wave, meanwhile is a unified standard (Which means all Z-wave devices are backward compatible), operates at the low frequency 918/960 MHz band, meaning interference is minimal for Z-Wave and possible on Zigbee. Still, Zigbee is faster with data rates at 40-250 kbps versus Z-Wave's 9.6-100kbps.

A Z-Wave signal between two nodes can travel up to 330 feet in an outdoor, unobstructed setting. A more accurate guideline for in-home installation is 100 feet for no obstructions and 50 feet with walls in between. The in-home free space range of ZigBee is about 40 feet.

Device limits

A Z-Wave network is limited to 232 total devices. A ZigBee network theoretically could have some 65k devices connected to it. However, you would definitely run into bandwidth problems long before you got close to that number

Let talk about security 

Both Z-Wave and ZigBee use AES 128 encryption standard. That is the same encryption used by banks and government. No one is going to get control of your smart home by hacking the signal encryption. That’s not to say some devices aren’t vulnerable. It’s just that the wireless signal itself is not the vulnerable part

Z-Wave vs Zigbee: Compatible devices

Both Z-wave and Zigbee has over 2000 support products. Some well known smart home brands and devices that support Zigbee (otherwise known as Zigbee certified products) include:

  • Philips Hue
  • Samsung SmartThings
  • Amazon Echo Plus (with Alexa for voice controls)
  • Hive Active Heating and accessories
  • Honeywell thermostats
  • Ikea Tradfri
  • Belkin WeMo Link
  • Yale smart locks
  • ADT Security Hub
  • Wink hub

And some smart home brands and devices that support Z-Wave include:

  • Samsung SmartThings
  • Wink hub
  • Honeywell thermostats
  • ADT Security Hub
  • August smart locks

Zigbee vs Z-Wave, The verdict

Although it’s not required to pick just one protocol, sticking with one can be advantageous and easier to maintain or upgrade in the long run. Z-wave has proven to be more reliable and less-confusing when purchasing new compatible devices

Still not sure? The good news is you don’t have to pick just one. Many home automation hubs, such as the Samsung SmartThings and the Wink Hub 2, support both protocols


posted on 11 Dec 18

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