Zigbee Vs Z-wave (What is Better For Your Smart Home?)

by | May 7, 2019 | Zigbee

Choosing between Zigbee and Z-wave is not easy. Two most popular local smart home communication protocols not only both start with “Z”. They  also  offer a very similar functionality from the perspective of an average home user like you and me.

This article aims to explain why, while both communications protocols are great, we think that Zigbee is generally a better choice for the majority of the users.

It boils down to the three main reasons:

  1. Cost:  Zigbee is cheaper as it is an open source solution (meaning no licence fees). This sometimes comes with trade-offs in the interoperability, but the recent developments have solved those issues.
  2. More choice: Zigbee has a higher number of connected devices available on the market than Z-Wave. This means a wider number of home automation products and includes such brands like Philips Hue, Amazon, Samsung SmartThings and Xiaomi.
  3. Open source: We believe in open source – it fosters innovation and many great things (some of which evil) came out of it. While it can be messy to support open source products, we believe that Zigbee Alliance managed to sort out their shit (especially with Zigbee 3.0).

ALSO READ: Zigbee: A Definitive Guide

All of the above comes with the caveats. Z-wave is a robust and well-designed protocol. It is less susceptible to interference since it works on a different frequency, unlike Zigbee that works on the same frequency as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It is also sometimes more reliable and importantly has universal interoperability. Many of the above difference will not matter for the average users and three reasons above outweigh many of the mentioned advantages.

Why selecting between Z-wave and Zigbee is important?

If you haven’t invested in any smart home product yet, you must first decide if you want to go with Z-Wave or Zigbee. Once you choose a protocol, you’ll be locked into an ecosystem of that protocol so you must be completely sure of your choice. Choosing between the two comes down to certain key differences. When it comes down to the two, there is no one-size-fit-all. Thus, understanding the similarities and differences before taking a decision can ensure you end up with the right protocol.

Our Recommendation: Zigbee for the majority of users

Considering the benefits of Zigbee, we’d recommend it to a majority of users. Previously, Zigbee had a few disadvantages such as problems with interoperability. However, Zigbee 3.0 has managed to fix almost all of these problems. Other benefits of Zigbee include it being open source, low energy consumption, generally cheaper price, more devices available, and better mesh infrastructure.

Our recommendation is based on the research and market analysis of the key devices available at the moment. We also reviewed all the key differences between Zigbee and Z-wave that we listed below.

Below is a quick summary table that compares Z-wave against Zigbee. 

 ZigbeeZ-Wave
Created (year)19982001
Rangeup to 75-100 meters indoor30-65 meters
Current versionZigbee 3.0V2.3.8
Approximate number of device65000232
Power consumption40 mA approximately2.5 mA approximately
ProsMore connected devices in the market and better data rateMore user-friendly and easier to set up
Great interoperability
ConsShorter range
Not all Zigbee devices would work with each other
Doesn’t support as many devices as Zigbee

Zwave vs Zigbee – Key Differences

Open Source can be a mess but also brings benefits

Zigbee is an open source maintained by the Zigbee Alliance. This alliance is basically a group of companies that supports the technology’s development and promotes its use. It’s also responsible for the certification of Zigbee devices. Open source means no licensing fees, whih

Since Z-Wave is a proprietary technology, it is owned as well as maintained by a private organization. Currently, it is owned and licensed by Silicon Labs. Like Zigbee, Z-Wave also has the Z-Wave Alliance that controls the certification of all Z-Wave devices.

Z wave has a great Interoperability

There’s no doubt that convenience plays a primary role in setting up a successful smart home. Think about it, if you end up requiring various apps and hubs, then there’s no point of a streamlined, automated hub.

Zigbee, as mentioned earlier, is maintained by the Zigbee Alliance. The 400 companies making up the alliance are responsible for roughly 2500 devices. While this sounds quite impressive, there’s a problem given the way the labelling and certification works. A manufacturer can get its hardware Zigbee-certified if the software doesn’t comply yet. As a result, manufacturers can claim that their device is Zigbee-ready even if the software isn’t.

Meanwhile, the Z-Wave Alliance that oversees the certification makes sure that all Z-Wave devices adhere to the rigid standards set by the alliance. In other words, all Z-Wave devices will work with all Z-Wave controllers. With more than 600 manufacturers overlooking over 2000 devices, Z-Wave shines in terms of its interoperability.

Zigbee cannot be controlled by an evil corporation

Zigbee is an open standard that is controlled by Zigbee Alliance, a committee established back in 2002. Originally, Zigbee was made for commercial use before it was transitioned to use for home automation.

On the other hand, Z-Wave was developed by Zensys, a Danish company, in 2001. It was particularly created for smart homes and was sold to Sigma Designs back in 2009. Recently, in 2018, Silicon Labs bought Z-Wave.

Zigbee allows you to move easily between countries

Zigbee devices work on the unlicensed ISM bands. One popular configuration is the 2.4GHz band which offers a maximum data rate of 250 kbits/s. However, there are other optional specifications as well. For instance, in the US, it is 915 MHz with 40 kbits/s. Similarly, the European version comes with 868 MHz with a data rate of 20 kbits/s.

Meanwhile, Z-Wave makes use of part 15 unlicensed ISM band. In Canada and the US, it works on 908.42 MHz. However, in other countries, the frequencies depend on the regulations.

Will my smart home’s security be compromised?

Both the technologies make use of the AES 128 standard for encryption that’s favoured by government agencies and online banks. Needless to say, you can take a guess of how secure the two are.

Of course, no smart home is fully protected from foul play since there are a few devices that can be quite vulnerable. However, you won’t face any problem with the signal encryption being hacked.

In the beginning, Z-Wave made for itself an unwarranted reputation for lapses in the security. In reality, this was the fault of the companies opting not to use high-level encryption. Ultimately, Z-Wave has now made the AES-128 a requirement for the certification. Similarly, manufacturers must implement the newer S2 framework, making a security breach impossible.

Zigbee made a bold move for the future with Zigbee 3.0

The Zigbee 3.0 is a protocol designed to facilitate the communication of data via noisy environments that are quite common in both industrial and commercial applications. This latest version builds on the already existing standards. However, it unifies the various market-specific application profiles. This allows them to be connected wirelessly within the same network regardless of their market function and designation. Zigbee 3.0 also ensures the interoperability of products from the plethora of manufacturers.

After years of market experience as well as constant development, Z-Wave has introduced numerous improvements to the underlying technology. The recent advancements in their micro-chip performance have made improvements both cost-effective and possible. Z-Wave Plus products now promise a long battery life, improved RF coverage, faster operation, and easier installation.

Zigbee adopted Mesh architecture better

Both Zigbee and Z-Wave feature mesh networks. In such a network, the central hub originates the signal. However, the devices don’t need to communicate with the central hub directly. Instead, in a mesh network, each device in the network works as a repeater and passes the signal to another device. Consequently, mesh networks are more versatile and are able to cover larger distances. Similarly, they can work around obstacles too.

The Z-Wave network can support up to four hops between the destination and the controller devices. Meanwhile, Zigbee devices aren’t limited to any particular number of hops.

Moreover, a Z-Wave network is limited to a total of 232 devices. On the other hand, the Zigbee network theoretically allows up to 65000 devices connected to it. However, you’re most likely to run into bandwidth problems if you connect such a large number of devices to it.

Z-wave has a superior range

Zigbee devices can work at a range of up to 100 meters (40 feet) indoors. However, this can go down to as low as 10 feet depending on the materials used for your walls and on the line of sight. While this short range does fulfil its purpose, it’s not suitable for a larger smart home. This poor range is because of the higher frequency that Zigbee works on. Of course, the higher frequency allows the transmission of a greater amount of data, but it does affect the range negatively. Moreover, high-frequency signals also face difficulty in penetrating through walls as well as other obstructions as efficiently as low-frequency signals.

On the other hand, Z-Wave devices are able to send signals up to distances of 300 feet outdoors. Within smart home, obstructions and interference drastically reduce the range. However, Z-Wave signals can still travel up to 50 feet even with walls in the way.

Unclear winner in signal reliability

No communication protocol, appliance, or smart home device is of any benefit until and unless it is dependable. So, whether you want to control only one smart lock or you want to control a full-fledged security system, you must have a reliable signal. In addition, with applications like home security devices, lack of signal reliability can be quite damaging.

As talked about earlier, Z-Wave works within 800 to 900 MHz range of frequencies. In doing so, it sidesteps the 2.4GHz congestion that Zigbee, as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, works on. In other words, there’s a lower chance of dodgy or lost signals with Z-Wave. This also means that Z-Wave doesn’t have to compete for resources; thus the mesh network is able to allow stronger and better connections.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that a well-designed Zigbee network will produce unreliable results. It only means that in general, Z-Wave is comparatively more reliable.

How much Zigbee devices cost compared to Zwave?

In terms of the cost, there’s hardly any big difference between the prices of the devices of both technologies. As is the case with all smart home products, you can buy the devices at various price points, but neither of them is intrinsically cheaper, despite the differences.

Light switches

With smart light switches, you can control various aspects of the lighting in your house. For instance, you can have them switch on when you arrive on or power down when it’s time for bed. Similarly, they can be used for various other purposes.

When it comes to Zigbee light switches, some of the popular ones include WeMo, Philips Hue, and Ikea Tradfli. As for Z-Wave, some options include Leviton and GE Z-Wave Switches & Dimmers.

Zigbee: Quotra Smart Wireless Dimmer

Quotra Smart Wireless dimmer ($31.99)  is a Zigbee light switch that helps in controlling any of your room light easily and also adjust its brightness from anywhere. This smart dimmer switch also allows you to connect it to Alexa for switching the lights on and off, dimming them, and set timers and schedules.

Z-wave: GE Enbrighten Smart Light Switch

GE Enbrighten Smart Light Switch ($39.98)  is a very typical Z-Wave Plus light switch. With this light switch, you can schedule timed events and control your lights even if you’re not at home. Overall, you get the ultimate flexibility and control over the hard-wired light sources present in your home.

Motion sensors

Smart motion sensors are basically devices that not only detect movement but are also triggered by it. With the help of infrared lasers, they identify changes in the surrounding. They also communicate with your phone and other smart devices and act as the trigger that sets a pre-programmed scene into motion. While they are primarily used for security purposes, they can be used for other applications too.

SmartThings Motion Sensor

This ’SmartThings ($19.99) is probably the only Zigbee motion sensor that you need to be aware of. It is cheap, very reliable and easy to install and integrate. Go and buy one for each room.

Z-wave Plus Motion Detector

’Ecolink ($36.95) is pet immunity detector is a Z-Wave plus enabled device that smoothly integrates into your Z-Wave plus home automation network. It not only detects motion but also alerts your system of intruders immediately.

Lights

Smart lighting has become one of the key players in IoT. With smart lights, you can enjoy various benefits such as low energy consumption and more savings on bills.

Zigbee: Sengled Smart LED Soft White A19 Bulb

These ’Sengled (from $9.99)   bulbs shine as bright as 60-watt bulbs do although they only consume 9 watts of power. It is highly efficient and can brighten up space for roughly 25000 hours! We also have a lot of good to say about the Sengled brand.

Z-wave: GoControl Z-Wave Dimmable LED Light Bulb

It is not easy to find a decent Z-wave bulbs. ’GoControl ($67.73) is one of those and provide decent light quality and longevity. They save you money, compatible with any z-wave hub and easy to start using.

Conclusion: There is no single universal answer (it is definitely not 42)

Zigbee is cheaper, has more devices and develops faster

Zigbee is the ideal option for a technology expert or DIYer looking for a system that he/she can install without any help and customize it according to their needs. The compatible and scalable Zigbee network allows users to control their world. Some key producers for Zigbee devices include Amazon, Philips, Samsung, Hive, and Honeywell.

Overall, if you opt for smart devices by big names in the smart home industry and would like to enjoy a faster connection, then the Zigbee is the best option.

Z-wave is more stable but more expensive

On the other hand, Z-Wave is the best option for those that only have a basic understanding of these latest developments in technology. It is also for those wanting to keep their home automation easy to maintain, secure, simple to use, and efficient. Z-Wave supports devices by most popular brands such as Honeywell, Samsung, Wink, and ADT, so customers won’t experience many limitations.

Overall, Z-Wave for those wanting a larger range, a better chance for the compatible devices to work together and potentially more reliable connections.

Frequently asked questions

Are ZigBee and Z-Wave the same?

Both Z-Wave and Zigbee are excellent wireless solutions for remote control, retail services, building, and home automation, telecommunications, smart energy, and health control. So while both have similarities in terms of their mesh networks as well as the wide range of devices, both of them have unique advantages. In short, while both have the same function, they differ in their capabilities.

What is the best Z-Wave hub?

If you already have a few smart home devices present, you will need to invest in a smart home hub. This hub controller will allow you to not only manage but also monitor all the devices from one location. Some great Z-Wave hubs include Vera Control VeraPlus, Samsung SmartThings hub, and Wink Hub 2.

What is the best Zigbee hub?

Some great Zigbee hubs to opt for include Amazon Echo Plus, Wink, and SmartThings.