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As the popularity of home automation products has grown, so too has the number of wireless technologies that allow these devices to talk to one another. Two of the technologies, or languages, you will likely run into as you set up your own smart home are ZigBee and Z-Wave.
Though both technologies allow you to control multiple smart home devices remotely, Zigbee and Z-Wave each come with benefits and drawbacks. In this article, you’ll also read about some of the products that support each protocol.
All About Zigbee
All discussions about Zigbee should begin and end with one important fact. Unlike Z-Wave and similar technologies, Zigbee is an open technology, meaning no one owns it. Instead, the wireless connection is maintained and advanced by the non-profit Zigbee Alliance and its 400+ member organizations.
Why is this important? Because of Zigbee’s open standard, it’s almost certainly not going anywhere. Instead, it will continue to evolve as the needs of its member organizations change over time. For folks worried about ever-changing technology, this is something worth noting, and can offer you some peace of mind.
How It Works
Zigbee uses a mesh system where information from one device jumps to another using a wireless signal. In doing so, devices can talk to one another. When one device drops out, alternative routes remain, allowing the whole system to stay online. This movement of data doesn’t require high-powered transmitters, which makes it an ideal solution for situations that require a large number of automated products.
Though originally developed for commercial use, Zigbee is now a solid choice for both residential and industrial areas as well.
Advantages of Zigbee
- Easy setup, doesn’t require a central hub or controller
- You can control and monitor products using a remote or mobile device
- Scaleable, supports up to 65,000 devices on a single setup
- AES-128 encryption, offering peace of mind
- Speeds of 40-250 Kbps
Disadvantages of Zigbee
- Not as secure as other systems (such as Wi-Fi)
- Walls and other obstructions can reduce transmission strength significantly
Smart Home Compatibility
In the smart home space, you’ll find many Zigbee-compatible products, including smart lights, switches/plugs, and surveillance systems. The most popular of these is the Philips Hue lighting system, which first arrived on the scene in 2012.
Are you looking for something a little bit different? IKEA’s 2017 Zigbee-compatible TRÅDFRI lighting products are also growing in popularity.
What about an all-in-one smart home system? Iris by Lowes offers an ever-growing lineup of security and automation products for the home using Zigbee technology. The Samsung SmartThings Hub also works with Zigbee.
Looking for More? Comcast, Honeywell, Intel, Kwikset, and WeMo also heavily support Zigbee, as does the popular Nest Learning Thermostat.
All About Z-Wave
Z-Wave is a wireless communication protocol developed by Zensys in 2001. Seven years later, Sigma Designs purchased the proprietary technology.
Like Zigbee, Z-Wave consists of a mesh network that uses low-energy radio waves for communication. It’s primarily used to connect automated lighting, heating gadgets, security tools, and other smart devices.
Unlike Zigbee, Z-Wave isn’t an open system and therefore is only available to Zensys and Sigma Designs customers. While this may initially seem like a limitation, it’s actually one of the protocol’s biggest strengths. One of the most important advantages of a closed system is security. Every Z-Wave network and its products have unique IDs used to communicate with your hub, and this ID adds another level of safety beyond that goes beyond AES-128 encryption.
Advantages of Z-Wave
- Reliable and secure communication
- Simple installation
- Low power consumption
- Remote or local control
Disadvantages of Z-Wave
- It supports only 232 nodes, which is significantly less than the 65,000 nodes backed by the Zigbee standard
- Relatively slow, only supports data transmission rates up to 100 Kbps
How closed is the Z-Wave system? Because it’s a closed system, there’s a risk Z-Wave could suddenly be taken off the market. However, this probably won’t happen. At last count, the Z-Wave Alliance consisted of 450 members and 1,700 certified products. In other words, Z-Wave isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Smart Home Compatibility
There are a lot of smart home products with Z-Wave compatibility, including lighting, sensors, smart locks, thermostats, and more.
For security products, you can’t go wrong with Schlage smart locks or the Piper all-in-one wireless system. The popular First Alert 2-in-1 Z-Wave Smoke Detector and Carbon Monoxide Alarm is also worth considering. Z-Wave compatible thermostats include ones from GoControl and Honeywell, among others.
Which One Is Better?
Zigbee and Z-Wave are both well-established products with their own sets of pros and cons. Z-Wave is often criticized for being a closed system. However, one of the advantages of this is the control that it gives homeowners. The Z-Wave Alliance guarantees that every Z-Wave device complies with a strict set of standards. In contrast, while it is open source, Zigbee is sometimes faulted for its perceived lack of interoperability.
As the Smart Cave explains:
“It is possible that a product may get their hardware certified but their software is not. The result is products that are broadcasting the ZigBee signal but not using the proper ZigBee software. Products like this might be labeled ‘ZigBee-ready.’ A customer may buy the product expecting it to work with all the other ZigBee products but it won’t.”
From an end-user perspective, I’m convinced most folks will be happy with products from either camp. Luckily, an increasing number of smart home devices now offer more than one standard, so you don’t necessarily have to make a choice. For example, the Samsung SmartThings hub uses both protocols.
Also,thanks to IFTTT, even smart lighting products that use different standards can work together. In other words, even if they aren’t compatible, your smart lighting solutions could be tied together using this free web- and app-based service.
The smart home industry will continue to change over the next few years as it gains in popularity. Two things that almost certainly won’t change is the industry’s reliance on Zigbee and Z-Wave protocols to allow devices to talk to one another. Each has a number of well-established products with a large following.
Which wireless protocol to you typically use for smart home products? Let us know in the comments below.