Automation within a smart home ecosystem requires a wireless network to provide communication between devices. Zigbee and Z-Wave are two of the best-known mesh protocols that support smart device communication.
When it comes to building your smart home setup it is important to be aware of the connection method used by smart devices.
This article will break down the benefits of using a mesh network such as Z-Wave and Zigbee, as well as compare the two against each other.
Related: Best Smart Hub
Mesh Networks and benefits
Zigbee and Z-Wave are essentially languages for your smart devices. This is the backbone for their communication and therefore your home automation.
You may be wondering why such protocols are used in place of WiFi. The answer to this lies with power and bandwidth requirements of devices. Essentially there is no need to have these smart devices communicating over WiFi as the network is internal to your home. WiFi also has a high energy consumption rate compared to using a mesh network like Zigbee or Z-Wave.
Mesh networks involve a signal hopping from one device to the next to provide instruction. In this instance, no bandwidth is used up through a consistent WiFi signal.
Founded in 2002, the Zigbee Alliance has become the standard protocol for IOT connectivity. It is an open project looking for standardization with a global spread of membership. Members include a long list of big names such as Huawei, Comcast, Amazon, Samsung and many more.
- Standard: IEEE 802.15.4
- Frequency: 2.4GHz
- Range: 10 – 100 meters
- Data Rate: 20 -250 kbps
- Device Limit: 65,000 nodes
In 2001, Zensys created the first Z-Wave protocol. Since then the alliance has grown to work collaboratively with many brands such as Huawei, LG, Samsung and many more.
- Standard: Z-Wave Alliance ZAD12837 / ITU-T G.9959
- Frequency: <1 GHz
- Range: 0 – 100 meters
- Data Rate: 9.6 – 40 Kbps
- Device Limit: 232
Zigbee vs Z-Wave
This section will overview the key factors which compare the qualities and features of Zigbee and Z-Wave. The main considerations include their compatibility with devices, security, power usage, and other specifications.
This is perhaps the most important aspect when considering these two mesh networks. Of course, there is no use of a specialized smart home network if nothing is compatible with it. Most brands work hard to integrate their devices with as many protocols as possible. The top choices tend to work with both Zigbee and Z-Wave.
There are currently over 2,000 Zigbee certified products with notable brands including:
- Philips Hue
- Samsung SmartThings
- Amazon Echo
This just scratches the surface, here is the full list.
There are 1,500 Z-Wave devices at the moment which almost rivals Zigbee. The major brands included are mostly the same:
- Philips Hue
- Samsung SmartThings
- Amazon Echo
Again this just scratches the surface of the total list. Find the full details here.
Zigbee and Z-Wave use AES-128 symmetric encryption to protect devices on the network from hacking. This is a standard level that was originally established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2001.
This is an important inclusion as your smart home ecosystem is comprised of devices that are contain sensitive information. Security devices such as smart locks could also be hacked to grant access to criminals.
As mentioned, a limited power usage is one of the principal benefits of mesh network protocols such as Zigbee and Z-Wave. This is a huge difference when contrasted to a Wi-Fi network. The difference between the two is negligible and the impact deciding based on energy savings is not worth the time.
Zigbee is a faster protocol with speeds between 40-250 kbps compared to Z-Waves 9.6 – 40 kbps. This has a clear advantage of a slightly snappier smart home ecosystem.
The range of the two protocols is broadly the same. That said, Zigbee operates at a higher frequency, 2.4GHz compared to Z-Wave which operates at less than 1GHz. This means that Zigbee is quicker at a shorter range as mentioned in the previous section. As Z-Wave is lower frequency it will have a better speed at the furthest distances, towards 100 meters.
Number of Devices
Zigbee absolutely destroys Z-Wave when it comes to the size of the network. In theory, it can have an unlimited device, but experts claim it to be around 65,000 nodes (devices in the network). Z-Wave has a respectable 232 device limit.
The reality is, of course, that the vast majority of households won't come close to even 232 devices, so this should not be a problem.
Which one is better?
Both wireless protocols have certain pros and cons which relate to the context of the user. Overall, any given user will have a positive experience with either Zigbee or Z-Wave as they are maintained to equally high standards.
You need to consider what your current and future devices are compatible with. The major smart home brands tend to work with both, but if you have your eye on a lesser known product you need to check its compatibility.
If your smart home ecosystem is relatively large and you will need a network towards 100 meters, then Z-Wave may be a better choice due to its speed at further ranges.
The Z-Wave protocol has a maximum of 232 devices on its network. This is a large number of devices but if you expect to have more, you will wish to use Zigbee.