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Zigbee vs Z-Wave Devices

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When it comes to building a fully connected smart home system, Zigbee and Z-Wave are the two most popular wireless protocols. Compare to smart Wi-Fi devices, Zigbee and Z-wave devices offers mesh networking and only use a fraction of the power. If you are only interested in controlling a few devices, stick with Wi-Fi devices. But if you want to set advanced smart home automation, such as automatically turning on the lights when you come home or locking the door when no one is home, invest in Zigbee and Z-Wave devices. Both are great protocols for smart home automation. Based on your situation you may need Zigbee devices or Z-Wave devices or both.

Zigbee Z-Wave
Network Config. Mesh network Mesh network
Frequency 2.4 GHz 800-900 MHz
Speed 40-250 kbps 9.6-100 kbps
Range (indoor) 10-20m 100m
# Connected devices 65000+ 232
# Compatible devices ~2500 ~2400
Power consumption Very Low Very Low
Protocol Standard Open Closed
Hops Unlimited 4
Encryption AES-128 AES-128

Mesh Network

Both Zigbee and Z-Wave support mesh networking. In Laymen’s term, mesh networking allows data to hop from 1 device to another, thus creating longer distances. With a Wi-Fi network, all the devices communicate directly with the hub. If they are out of the range of the hub, they will not work. Z-Wave has 4 hops, while Zigbee has no limit. Although,

(Note that only mains-powered devices, such as light bulbs, outlets, can act as repeaters. Battery-powered devices cannot relay data from another device)

Reliability

Zigbee and Wi-Fi operate on the same 2.4 GHz frequency which may cause interference issues. Z-Wave, on the other hand, operates on a frequency between 800-900s MHz. It won’t have interferences issues with Wi-Fi, but Z-Wave frequency differs based on where you live. If you bought a Z-Wave device in the US, it won’t work well on the hub you got Europe. Zigbee devices are universal, they will work anywhere in the world.

Zigbee has a faster data transmission rate at 250 kbps compare to Z-Wave at 100 kbps. Z-Wave, however, has a longer range at 100m compared to Zigbee’s at 20m.

Power

Both protocols use only a fraction of the power of Wi-Fi devices. Many Zigbee and Z-Wave devices can run on a coin cell battery for a couple of years, whereas the Wi-Fi device would be dead within a few days. Zigbee devices use slightly less than Z-Wave.

Standards

Zigbee is an open standard maintained by the Zigbee Alliance. That means manufacturers can have their hardware Zigbee certified but change the software to make their products only compatible with their own hub. To meet different applications needs, Zigbee Alliance also released different Zigbee standards: Zigbee Home Automation, Zigbee Light Link, etc.

Z-Wave is closed standard maintained by the Z-Wave Alliance. All Z-Wave devices must adhere to a rigid set of standards to be certified. That means that all Z-Wave certified devices should work with all Z-Wave certified hub.

Price

Generally, Zigbee devices are cheaper than Z-Wave devices. If you search on Amazon US store, you can find Zigbee motion sensors for $10-20, but Z-Wave motion sensors would go for $30-$60. ‘Amazon’s prime’ color light bulbs are $11 and $30 for Zigbee and Z-Wave respectively. There are other devices where Z-wave devices are the same price as Zigbee devices such as Yale Assure Lock (Zigbee and Z-Wave version).

Brands

Brands that use Zigbee protocol: Philips Hue, Amazon Echo Plus, Ikea Tradfri, Yale Smart Locks, Sengled Lights, GE, LG, Xiaomi, Bosch

Brands that use Z-Wave protocol: Honeywell thermostat, August Locks, Yale Smart Locks, Aeotec, GE, First Alert, Fibaro

General Advice

When getting Zigbee devices

  1. Check if they are Zigbee certified
  2. Check your hub’s compatibility list (Make sure the model is the same, some products have the same design but different generation)
  3. If it’s not listed, check if your hub supports that type of device (e.g. if your hub doesn’t support smart window blinds, then the devices won’t work)
  4. If the type is supported, check to see if the Zigbee devices use proprietary software (e.g. they can only be connected to their manufacture’s hubs).
    • Philips Hue is proprietary, but some hubs can control Philips Hue devices through the Philips Hue Bridge. (For e.g. Mixtile Hub, SmartThings Hub)
    • If the manufacturers don’t make their own hubs, the devices will most likely be able to connect your hub.

When getting Z-Wave devices

  1. Check if they are Z-Wave certified
  2. Check if your hub uses the same frequency as the device (E.g. if you bought your hub in the US, devices from E.U. will not work properly)
  3. Check your hub’s compatibility list (Make sure the model is the same, some products have the same design but different generation)
  4. If it’s not listed, check if your hub supports that type of device (e.g. if your hub doesn’t support smart window blinds, then the devices won’t work)

Conclusion

You don’t have to limit yourself to just one of the two protocols. You can get both! There are hubs in the market that supports both protocols e.g. Mixtile Hub, SmartThings, etc.

If you’re in a closed space with dozens of Wi-Fi networks and hundreds of devices, get Z-Wave devices.

If you plan to move to a different country, get Zigbee devices (Z-wave uses different radio frequency depending on the country)

If you are only planning to get half a dozen devices and they are far apart, get Z-Wave devices. (Z-wave has longer range)

If you plan on having a lot of devices and the distances between them are short, get Zigbee devices.

If you want to buy devices that will most likely work with your hub, get Z-Wave devices.

If you’re on a tight budget, get Zigbee devices.

If you don’t care about smart automation and only wants to control a few devices, get Wi-Fi devices

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