Zigbee vs Z-Wave: Which Is Better For Your Smart Home?

by Jaden Lee

If you are smart home enthusiast, you probably have heard of Zigbee and Z-Wave before. They are two of the main wireless protocols used in home automation. Both of them share some qualities, such as low-power and high reliability, that are essential for smart home gadgets. However, they can’t communicate with each other and for all their similarities, they have key differences, advantages, and disadvantages.

Network Configuration

Star Networks

Most people are familiar with WiFi networks. A WiFi network is typically considered as star network. It means that each device communicates directly with the central hub, if the device out of range, it will lost connection to the network.

Mesh Networks

While Zigbee and Z-Wave both are mesh networks, the signal originates from the central hub same as the star network. But, a mesh network allows each device in the network to work as a repeater and pass the signal to another devices. This allows mesh networks to be more versatile and cover greater distance and work through obstacles.

Zigbee networks are not limited to any specific of hops however Z-Wave only support up to four hops between the controller and the destination device.

Zigbee networks theoretically could support 65k devices connected to it but you would definitely encounter bandwidth problem before you got close to that number. Z-Wave networks is limited to 232 devices only.

For the majority of smart home applications, neither the hops limit nor the total devices limit should be a limitation factor.

Smart Home Interoperability

Can you imagine you need five different hubs and apps to control your smart home?

Smart home gadgets are supposed to make your life easier, not more complicated. In a truly smart home, your smart products need to be able to easily communicate with each other.

If you add a new smart home device to your house, it should install in your home automation system seamlessly. Furthermore, as new products are released, there should be some kind of assurance that your old products will work with the new.

Zigbee Interoperability

Zigbee is an open wireless protocol that is maintained by the ZigBee Alliance. The Zigbee Alliance is a group of companies that support its development and promote its use.

Zigbee’s biggest strike against it is anyone can take the code and change it to suit their needs. This is exactly what happened with Philips Hue, the first Zigbee product most people encounter. Because of changes Philips made to the protocol, Hue products need their hub even if you already have a Zigbee-compatible hub. 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.

In actuality, there are many interoperable Zigbee products. It just got a bad reputation because of the loose certification process. In order to ensure a Zigbee product is in full compliance with the Zigbee protocol, you just have to make sure the product uses the Zigbee Home Automation certification.

Z-Wave Interoperability

Z-Wave is a proprietary technology, owned by Silicon Labs. It also runs the Z-Wave Alliance which controls the certification of all Z-Wave devices.

The big selling point for Z-Wave is its interoperability. The Z-Wave Alliance makes sure that every Z-Wave device complies to a strict set of standards. Every Z-Wave certified device WILL work with every Z-Wave certified controller. There are over 600 manufacturers that produce a total of over 2100 Z-Wave certified products. Each one will be able to plug right into your existing Z-Wave network of devices.

Most Z-Wave certified devices will display the trademarked Z-Wave logo. It is against the law for products to use the logo without the proper certification.

Which protocol uses more power?

Both Zigbee and Z-Wave use a fraction of power required by WiFi. This is why they are such a popular choice for smart home devices. Zigbee devices are required less power than Z-Wave devices but the gap is getting closer.

Most of the devices that using Z-Wave or Zigbee protocols can run on a single coin cell battery for several years. However, a device which act as a repeater will require more power. For that reason, battery operated devices are usually programmed not to act as repeaters. This is important to keep in mind when building your network.

Which protocol have longer signal’s range?

Today’s smart home is expanding to your garage and even your yard. A great wireless protocol needs to be able to reach all corners of your home and beyond.  I can’t tell you the effective range of a wireless signal in your home because the actual range in your home will depend on many factors.

What I can tell you is that for the same power level, operating at a higher frequency will reduce the range of the signal. ZigBee operates at 2.4 GHz compared to the 921.4 MHz of Z-Wave(Malaysia region). The higher frequency allows ZigBee to transmit more data but reduces the range of the signal.

The lower range is reduced even more when there are obstacles. A high-frequency signal will travel through obstructions such as walls less effectively than a low-frequency signal.

A Z-Wave signal between two nodes can travel up to 100m in an outdoor, unobstructed setting. However, it gets significantly reduced in the home. Walls and other obstacles combine with several sources of electrical interference will reduce the effective distance. A more accurate guideline for in-home installation is 30m for no obstacles and 15m with walls in between.

The in-home free space range of ZigBee is about 12m.

Which protocol is more reliable?

The reliability of a smart home device will significantly affects your smart home safety. For instance, controlling a smart door lock or a complete security system requires a very reliable connection. When a command gets sent, you expect the product have to receive the command without any problem. When something doesn’t work consistently or stops working completely, it can be a huge source of frustration. In a worst-case scenario, it could even put you in danger.

Z-Wave is generally considered extremely reliable.

Z-Wave operates in the 921.4 MHz frequency band in Malaysia region. It does not have to deal with the often crowded 2.4 GHz band that ZigBee uses. Crowded frequencies can cause interference which will result in lost or unreliable signals.

You may also experience poor reliability if your devices are out of range. Since Z-Wave devices have more range than ZigBee, you can expect fewer reliability problems stemming from range issues.

As a result, Z-Wave tends to be more reliable than ZigBee. That’s not to say a properly designed ZigBee network isn’t perfectly reliable. But, it’s easier to run into trouble with ZigBee than Z-Wave.

Which protocol is more secure?

Both Z-Wave and ZigBee use AES 128 encryption standard. That is the same encryption used by banks and government. No one is going to get control of your smart home by hacking the signal encryption. That’s not to say some devices aren’t vulnerable. It’s just that the wireless signal itself is not the vulnerable part.

Early on in its history, Z-wave got a reputation for being insecure. Its reputation was not really warranted. The security lapses that occurred were caused by companies’ implementation errors. Even though the high-level encryption standard was available, some companies chose not to use it.

Now, the Z-Wave Alliance requires AES 128 in order for a device to get certified.

Furthermore, the Z-Wave Alliance requires a mandatory implementation of their new Security 2 (S2) framework on all devices receiving certification. This latest security update virtually eliminates the chances of a device being compromised during the inclusion process.  It reduces a previous process from three steps to one, which in turn reduces power consumption and latency. And, it helps to prevent your Z-Wave devices from being used in a DDOS attack.

ZigBee Is Better When You Move to Other Countries

Whether you are in Europe or the U.S., ZigBee uses a 2.4ghz radio frequency. While you might need a power adapter, a ZigBee device will probably work just as well wherever you are.

Z-Wave, however, uses different radio frequencies depending on the country. So if you move abroad, you will likely have to buy Z-Wave devices all over again.

Pintarco Official Option

Since both standards have their advantages and disadvantages, two factors in your decision should be how many devices you plan to have and how far apart they are going to be.

  • ZigBee: If the distance between devices is short or you plan on having a lot of devices (or both), ZigBee is probably the better choice.
  • Z-Wave: The fewer the devices and the farther apart they are, the better off you are with Z-Wave.

However, there’s one other thing you ought to know.

You Can Use Both Standards If You Get the Right Hub

The best option is to get a hub like SmartThings or Wink that can work with both protocols. This way if you have chosen Z-Wave and need a device that only comes in ZigBee (or visa versa), they can talk to the hub, and the hub can help them work together.

Devices using one standard won’t gain any mesh network benefits provided by the other standard, but you at least will be able to control those devices. And you’ll be able to do things like use your Amazon Echo Plus (a ZigBee device) to control your Z-Wave products.

It’s still a good idea to pick one standard and adhere to that as much as possible. But, using a hub that supports both protocols at least opens up your options a bit. And that’s important because right now nothing is guaranteed in the smarthome world.

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