Both Zigbee and Z-wave are wireless technologies. They connect your smart devices to each other and the internet. Both protocols create mesh networks that let your smart devices communicate with each other. You may be wondering which protocol is better suited for your home.
Both Zigbee and Z-wave protocols have pros and cons. Zigbee is faster because it runs on a 2.4GHz frequency. But this may cause interference with your Wi-fi. Z-wave is well-known for its interoperability. Both protocols are very secure and have low power usage. So which one should you choose?
In this blog post, I compare Zigbee and Z-wave in terms of several factors. I consider speed, frequency, power usage, security, range, and compatibility with other brands. I also discuss how collaboration with other brands may give Zigbee a distinct advantage. But first, let me explain how the protocols work, and why you need to choose one for your home.
How Do Zigbee And Z-Wave Work?
Smart devices need to be connected to the internet. This is how they receive instructions from an app, and send information back to the app. But a smart device needs to be relatively close to a Wi-Fi router to stay connected. In a large home, this becomes a problem. Zigbee and Z-wave solve this problem.
Both Zigbee and Z-wave protocols create mesh networks. These connect your smart devices and a smart hub. A radio signal can ‘hop’ from the hub (which is connected to the internet) to a device. From that device, it can hop to another device, until it reaches the device that the signal is intended for.
In other words, the device does not need to be connected to the hub directly. Each device in the network acts as a repeater. This also makes it possible for the signal to travel around objects more easily.
We can compare the two protocols with different languages. For example, Zigbee is German and Z-wave is French. Zigbee devices can communicate with each other. Z-wave devices can communicate with each other. But Zigbee devices cannot communicate with Z-wave devices.
Can I use both Zigbee and Z-wave devices in my home?
It is possible to use both Zigbee and Z-wave devices in your home. Some hubs can communicate with both. The Zigbee devices just won’t be able to communicate with the Z-wave devices and vice versa. So you would be creating two separate mesh networks from the same hub.
It is also important to note that there are different versions of Zigbee. All Z-wave devices can work together. But Zigbee devices need to be of the same version (like Zigbee 3.0) to communicate.
Examples of smart hubs that work with both Zigbee and Z-wave are:
Zigbee Vs Z-Wave: Speed
Zigbee is faster than Z-wave when it runs on a 2.4GHz frequency. Zigbee can reach a speed of 250 Kbps. Z-wave only reaches a speed of 100 Kbps.
In many cases, the data being sent is so small that the speed doesn’t matter. But if the device is sending larger data, like video footage from a security camera, it may become significant.
The speed of the signal also depends on the layout of the network, the thickness of walls in a home, etc.
Zigbee Vs Z-Wave: Power Usage
Both Z-wave and Zigbee use relatively low power when compared to a Wi-Fi device. This is especially useful for battery-powered devices. The batteries need to be replaced far less often.
Neither Z-wave nor Zigbee is superior in terms of power usage.
Both protocols also allow for the devices to go into sleep mode when they are not in use. This saves even more power.
Note that these devices need to be connected to a hub, and the hub needs to be connected to a power source.
Also, note that devices that act as repeaters need more power. So battery-operated devices should not be placed into your network as repeaters.
Zigbee Vs Z-Wave: Security
Both Z-wave and Zigbee make use of encrypted signals that hop from device to device. This makes it less likely for your smart device to be hacked. You may have read that Z-wave has unreliable security features. When Z-wave first came out, manufacturers who were using the technology chose not to make use of the encryption. This gave Z-wave a bad reputation.
Since then, Z-wave has made AES128 a requirement for products to be certified. It is also mandatory for manufacturers to implement the newer S2 framework. This makes the devices even more secure.
So you do not need to worry about security when using either Z-wave or Zigbee protocols in your home.
Zigbee Vs Z-Wave: Price
There is no significant price difference between Zigbee and Z-wave.
Zigbee Vs Z-Wave: Frequency
Zigbee operates at a frequency of 2.4 GHz. The problem with this is that it is the same frequency as many home Wi-Fi systems. This may lead to interference. However, this interference seems to be insignificant in most cases.
Zigbee can also run on a frequency of 915MHz, but this results in slower speeds.
Z-Wave operates at a frequency of 908.42 MHz. It does not interfere with Wi-Fi networks. But it may cause some interference with devices that use a 900MHz frequency, like landline phones or baby monitors.
Zigbee Vs Z-Wave: Maximum Number Of Devices
The protocols differ in the maximum number of devices that can be connected to the network. They also differ in the maximum number of “hops” a signal can make between devices.
Zigbee allows the connection of 65000 devices and unlimited hops. But in a regular residential home, these are not necessary. And even if you did connect 65000 devices in your home, you would encounter serious bandwidth issues.
Z-wave only allows a maximum of 232 devices in a network and a maximum of 4 hops.
Unless you have a HUGE home, these numbers do not need to impact your decision.
Zigbee Vs Z-Wave: Range
Building materials reduce the range of a mesh network. So the range you can achieve between your smart devices depends on the layout of your home.
Based on this, Z-wave recommends placing your devices at a maximum of 30 feet apart.
Zigbee supports a greater range. It has a maximum indoor range of around 238 meters. Note that the higher frequency makes it more difficult for Zigbee waves to penetrate thick walls.
Zigbee Vs Z-Wave: Compatibility And Collaboration
Firstly, let me give you a little background about how the two technologies are run.
The Z-Wave technology is owned and maintained by Sigma Designs, a private organization. Sigma Designs also runs the Z-Wave Alliance. This organization controls the certification of all Z-Wave Devices.
To receive Z-wave certification, a device must comply with a strict set of regulations. Based on this, every Z-wave certified device should work with every Z-wave certified controller.
Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. Some manufacturers have made their products more compatible with some brands than others.
So even though all Z-wave devices should be compatible, they aren’t necessarily.
Zigbee has always been an open standard company. This means that any manufacturer can use the technology in their devices. Manufacturers also have a choice of whether they want Zigbee certification.
This has unfortunately resulted in some problems with compatibility between different Zigbee devices. But there are compatible Zigbee devices available. To buy a device that is fully compatible with Zigbee, make sure it has a Zigbee Home Automation certificate.
The Smart Home Standard Collaboration
At the end of 2019, Amazon, Apple, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance announced a collaboration. They are working together to develop a connectivity standard. The aim of this is to increase the compatibility among smart home products.
Does this mean that Z-wave won’t last? Not necessarily. But the fact that these companies chose to work with Zigbee rather than Z-wave might indicate that Zigbee has a brighter future.
And when buying smart devices, you want to choose products that will last. Most smart-home owners keep adding new products to their homes as they are launched. You don’t want to invest in a technology that will no longer be produced in a few years.
Note: After this announcement, Z-wave became open standard. This allows more companies to use the Z-wave technology when manufacturing smart devices. Maybe this change was enough to keep Z-wave in the race?
Home Streamliner’s Take
Unless you value one of these factors really highly, it really isn’t that important which protocol you choose.
I would recommend investing in a hub that is compatible with both. This gives you some freedom when buying devices in the future.