06 Feb Z Wave VS Zigbee: ULTIMATE Guide to Smart Home Standards for 2021
Z Wave and Zigbee are two of the most popular and reputable wireless standards by which gadgets and devices in your smart home can communicate with each other. Instead of using Bluetooth or WiFi, the different devices in your smart home are connected via these wireless channels.
A number of technology companies for light bulbs, smart locks, cameras, etc, work with either or both of these platforms to provide interoperability to your home.
However, both Z Wave and Zigbee differ in pretty significant ways. They have different network configurations, power usage, security protocols, etc. In addition, they also differ based on their range of compatible smart home devices.
In this article, I’ll give you a thorough overview of both Z Wave and Zigbee and show you how the two are similar; but, more importantly, I will highlight their differences so you can make an educated decision about which to use in your smart home.
Z Wave vs. Zigbee: Similarities
Both Z Wave and Zigbee are low-power mesh wireless technologies. They power a smart home and allow various devices to interact with each other by carrying data across short to medium distances.
While they differ in some pretty significant ways, let’s start with what they have in common.
In most cases, the WiFi signal in your home is produced from one single router. As such, depending on how far you are from the router, you might experience certain lags and delays in speed and connectivity. This is because a WiFi network is a “Star Network”, i.e., each device in the network can only communicate with the main hub. If a device is outside that range, it cannot connect to the network.
Well, that’s precisely what Mesh Networks rectifies. These “Mesh Networks” use a number of smaller routers or “nodes” distributed around the house so that each device can operate as a repeater. The signals are then bounced around all the other nodes, providing connection to your entire house equally. This allows them to get around obstacles and also cover more distance.
Both Z Wave and Zigbee are mesh network technologies. As such, they transmit signals from one node to the next, ensuring that your entire house is well-connected, turning it into a true smart home.
Both Z Wave and Zigbee are low-power networks. They consume a fraction of the power that a WiFi network requires. This is one of the primary reasons Z Wave and Zigbee have become smart home staples.
There are many devices out there that don’t even run on hardwired connections; they run on batteries instead. Some of the devices running on single coin cell battery last years under the Z Wave and Zigbee networks whereas they would only last a few days with a WiFi network.
You should note, however, that devices that work as repeaters consume a lot more battery power. As such, you should not program your battery devices as repeaters to preserve your network’s power consumption.
The security of your smart home network is one of the most important features. This is especially true since it controls all your home security devices like your smart locks, security cameras, window sensors, etc. If your wireless network is compromised, it would essentially compromise your entire home’s security systems.
Both Z Wave and Zigbee use AES 128 encryption standard, a military-grade state-of-the-art encryption standard used by governments and banks. This ensures that the wireless signal from both of these networks is invulnerable.
A couple of years ago, Z Wave was branded as an unsafe and insecure wireless network. It got that reputation because some of their affiliated companies chose not to implement the high-level encryption standard available to them, which led to security lapses. The security errors occurred purely as a result of the associated companies’ implementation errors and complaisance. However, Z Wave was still labeled with an unfair reputation.
However, Z Wave has successfully overcome that image issue. Learning from past experience, they have also mandated that it is necessary for an associated device to use AES 128 encryption to get certified into their ecosystem.
In addition to compulsory AES 128 integration, Z-Wave Alliance has also mandated that all devices receiving their certification must implement their Security 2 (S2) framework. This negates the possibility of a device being breached during the inclusion, and it reduces power consumption and latency issues as well.
Now Z Wave is 100% secure now, and they have made several moves to safeguard against other companies’ possible blunders. Zigbee never really had any public lapse in security, and they use the same security protocols as Z Wave.
Both Z Wave and Zigbee are similar in that they’re both 100% safe for your smart home’s security.
Use in Local Area Sensor Data Networks
Both Z Wave and Zigbee are highly popular in local area sensor data networks. These include large security systems, smart homes, urban grid controllers, lighting controls, and HVAC controls.
They have become such mainstays in all of these applications because of their convenience and applicability. Due to their mesh network topography, they can both communicate over greater distances than Bluetooth and they consume low levels of power, making them more suitable for Internet-of-Things applications than WiFi.
Z Wave vs. Zigbee: Differences
If you are seriously considering home automation, you have to be aware of the finer points of the differences between Z Wave and Zigbee technologies. These differences will help you determine which one will be more cost-efficient for your needs andwhich will be suitable for your current crop of devices and location, etc. Read on for a detailed discussion of Z Wave vs. Zigbee.
As already mentioned, both Z Wave and Zigbee and Mesh Networks have some crucial differences.
Network Configuration for Z Wave
A Z Wave network can allow a maximum of four signal hops between the router and the destination device. As such, the signal can only bounce off three intermediary devices before it must reach the destination. Furthermore, a Z Wave network is also limited and can only support a maximum of 232 devices.
Network Configuration for Zigbee
Zigbee networks don’t have any limitations as to how far the signals can bounce. The signals can bounce off 3 or 4 or even 100 devices before reaching the target device. This massively expands their range and distance. Furthermore, theoretically, you can connect over 65,000 devices to the Zigbee network, although that will require way too much bandwidth to be realistic.
Which Network Configuration is Better: Zigwave or Zigbee?
Yes, Zigbee networks are a lot more flexible and extensive. While Z Wave networks are limited to 232 devices, Zigbee networks are seemingly endless. While Z Wave networks only allow 4 hops, Zigbee networks don’t have any limits. As such, Zigbee networks can cover larger physical grounds and connect more devices.
Having said this, if you need a network for simple smart home functionality, both will serve you just as well.
Unless you live in a mansion spanning thousands of acres with hundreds of multimedia devices you need to monitor and access simultaneously, you have no need for Zigbee’s reach in a residential application.
Smart Home Interoperability
Smart Home functionality is all about simplicity and compactness. You don’t want a smart home with a complex control system that includes five different network hubs and several separate apps. You need a smart home in which all your devices can communicate with each other and you can control all of them seamlessly.
If you purchase a new smart home device, it should easily get installed and integrate with your smart home. You should never have to go through a complex installation process every time you bring home a new smart home device. So let’s look at how seamless an experience Z Wave and Zigbee can create for us.
Z Wave Smart Home Interoperability
Due to its wide reach and ecosystem, Z Wave ensures interoperability between all its native devices and platforms. They all comply with a strict standard, ensuring that each Z Wave product works seamlessly with all other products in the ecosystem.
Furthermore, Z Wave Alliance is affiliated with over 600 manufacturers, all of whom produce a total of 2100+ Z Wave products. If your device is Z Wave affiliated, you will easily be able to connect it to your network.
If you intend on buying Z Wave products, look out for the trademark Z Wave logo. If the product’s label carries that logo, it will certainly connect to the rest of your Z Wave smart home.
Smart Home Interoperability for Zigbee
Zigbee is an open wireless platform developed by Zigbee Alliance, a part of a large conglomerate. Right off the bat, Zigbee is not nearly as transparent and clear with its interoperability as Z Wave.
The main cause of the confusion is that Zigbee provides two types of certifications — software and hardware. A device can get its hardware certified for the Zigbee ecosystem without getting the software certification, and vice versa.
As such, you might see the Zigbee logo prominently on the product but later find that it only carries either a hardware or a software certificate, rendering it useless in your smart home ecosystem. This can be pretty sneaky and annoying.
In order to be 100% sure that the product will work in your home’s Zigbee network, get a product with the ZigBee home automation certification. This is a specific certificate to look for. Alternatively, you can ask for assistance or Google the particular product and make sure it can work in the ZigBee Universe.
Whose Smart Home Interoperability is Better: Z Wave or Zigbee?
Z Wave is clearly far superior to Zigbee in terms of smart home interoperability. It comes with a single seal of certification, and, if your product carries that logo, you can connect a particular product to your Z Wave home. However, Zigbee is extremely confusing and multiple customers have reported having purchased products that aren’t compatible with their homes despite carrying the Zigbee logo.
Careful examination can make sure you avoid errors. However, Z Wave is the clear winner in terms of the clarity of the interoperability feature.
Signal Range is incredibly important because it determines how many parts of your home can get easily connected to the smart home network. That’s one of the reasons it is preferred over WiFi and Bluetooth — both of which suffer from major issues in terms of signal range.
When considering the signal range of the network, you need to look into its power and frequency level. Higher frequencies tend to be more powerful, capable of sending more data. They can travel effectively through obstructions like walls, but they suffer in terms of signal range.
Signal Range for Z Wave
Z Wave works on a 908 MHz frequency. This is a fairly limited frequency and it allows signals to travel up to 330 feet in an outdoor and unobstructed setting. However, lower frequencies get more easily obstructed by walls and obstacles, so a Z Wave signal’s range may even fall down to 100 or 50 feet in an indoor setting.
Signal Range for Zigbee
Zigbee works on a 2.4 GHz frequency, which is considerably higher than Z Wave’s frequency. It is more capable of passing through walls and other obstructions without distortion, but it has a very limited indoor range of 40 feet.
Which One Has Better Signal Zigbee or Z Wave?
Both Z Wave and Zigbee signals have their strengths and disadvantages. Ultimately, it all depends on your needs and utility.
Do you want to install the network for outdoor application with limited walls and obstructions? Do you want the network to span over a wider physical range? If so, go for the Z Wave network.
Do you mostly intend to use the network indoors in a fairly limited space? Do you want the signals to effectively pass through several sets of walls easily? If so, go for the Zigbee network.
The reliability of the network’s connection is important, of course. You don’t want to be in a position where you step over a decade back in time, where you had to battle your Bluetooth connection that kept dropping ALL the time!
You want a network that will stick, one that stays connected and allows you to easily navigate between different devices. When you send a command, the target device should immediately receive and act upon it.
The signal’s reliability depends a lot on the frequency. Lower frequencies can travel a greater distance, as already mentioned. As such, you’ll be able to connect to the target device even if you wander off a little. Furthermore, lower frequencies are less crowded. Higher frequencies get more crowded, which increases the chance of coming across an interference, rendering the signals unreliable.
So let’s see how Z Wave and Zigbee stack up against this crucial feature.
Signal Reliability for Z Wave
As noted, Z Wave has a small frequency band of 908 MHz. This can be advantageous in two ways. First, smaller frequencies mean greater range. This means you can access devices that are farther away as well.
Second, smaller frequencies are less crowded. As such, Z Wave networks are more stable and there’s little chance of them receiving external interference from other devices outside the network.
Alternately, if there are a lot of obstacles or walls, the signals may get distorted and weaken.
How Reliable is the Zigbee Signal?
Zigbee networks have a frequency of 2.4 GHz. They have a limited range, and if you leave that range, you cannot communicate with the target device. They are also more crowded for the aforementioned reasons, which means they have greater potential for reliability issues and interference.
Whose Signal Reliability is Better Zigbee or Z Wave?
Z Wave is the clear winner when it comes to signal reliability.
Sure, they have a small drawback of being less capable of traveling through obstacles and walls. However, they are far less likely to experience disruptions and interference, and they have a greater range.
If you’re living in a fairly large space — like a house with several rooms and outdoor space — Z Wave will serve you a lot better. Zigbee is more suitable for a small city apartment, but then you’ll run an even greater risk of network interruptions.
If you travel around a lot, you might be concerned about your wireless network’s global compatibility. How well does it work in other countries around the world? Z Wave and Zigbee differ considerably on this front.
Can You Use Z Wave Globally?
Z Wave uses different sets of radio frequencies for connections in different countries. As such, if you move to another country, you’ll have to buy a whole new set of Z Wave devices all over again.
What About Zigbee?
Zigbee uses a uniform 2.4 GHz radio frequency whether in Europe or the US. Even if you move to another country, you’ll be able to carry your essential Zigbee devices and continue using them.
Which One is More Globally Compatible?
This is pretty clear — Zigbee is the clear winner here.
Zigbee allows you to travel around to different countries with your smart home devices. Z Wave devices, by comparison, will be entirely useless in different countries.
As such, if you think you might shift to another country in the future — or if you travel regularly — Zigbee is the way to go.
Your wireless network can only function with smart home devices that have been inducted into their ecosystem. Some devices belong to the Z Wave ecosystem, some belong to Zigbee, and some belong to both. As such, before buying any of the smart home devices or the network, you should go through the entire list of their compatible devices.
How Many Devices are Z Wave Compatible?
There are a total of 2,400 supported devices in the Z Wave ecosystem with around 700 allied companies.
How Many Devices Support Zigbee?
There are a total of 2,500 supported devices in the Zigbee ecosystem with around 400 allied companies.
Which One Has More Compatible Devices Zigbee or Z Wave?
This field is entirely subjective and there is no clear winner.
Yes, Zigbee currently has a slightly higher number of compatible devices. But that doesn’t really mean anything. You should focus on which smart home devices you specifically need, and which of the two networks is compatible with them.
Below is a comparative table of the most popular devices found in both the Z Wave and Zigbee ecosystems.
|Amazon Echo Plus (with Alexa)||✓|
|Hive Active Heating||✓|
|Belkin WeMo Link||✓|
|Yale Smart Locks||✓||✓|
|August Smart Locks||✓|
|Kwikset Smart Locks||✓|
|Sengled Smart Lights||✓|
|ADT Security Hub||✓||✓|
|Somfy Blinds and Drapery Motors||✓||✓|
|Logitech Home Harmony Hub Extender||✓|
Now that you have read this Z Wave vs. Zigbee article, I hope you have a clear understanding of their prime similarities and differences. As you can see, the decision regarding which network to choose — Z Wave or Zigbee — is entirely subjective.
In regard to some factors, such as signal reliability and range, Z Wave seems like the superior option. With other factors, such as global compatibility and network configuration, Zigbee is the superior option.
In the long run, it all depends on which factors you care about specifically. Armed with this information, you can finally go ahead and turn your entire house into a futuristic smart home!