ZigBee and Z-Wave are the two main wireless protocols used in SmartHome products. But they are not related to each other and, for all their similarities, have key differences, advantages and disadvantages. Knowing what to use when is the key to running a smooth smart home.
If you haven’t purchased your first SmartHome product yet, there are a few decisions you need to make about which path to take. Which hub should you buy? Which Voice Assistant Should You Use? ZigBee or Z-Wave? As with the first two, we can boil down the choice between ZigBee and Z-Wave to a few key differences and specific scenarios. No one answer fits all because, unfortunately, the smart home industry is a mess. Here are some differences and similarities between the two protocols to help you decide which one to choose.
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ZigBee is an open standard; Z-Wave is not
You are even more likely to see a ZigBee product in action than if you weren’t aware of it. One of the strengths and weaknesses of ZigBee is that it is an open protocol and nobody owns it. This is good because the code is verifiable and it probably won’t go anywhere. It’s also bad because anyone can take the code and change it to suit their needs. This is exactly what happened with Philips Hue, the first ZigBee product that most people encounter. Due to changes made by Philips to the protocol, Hue products require their own hub, even if you already have a ZigBee compatible hub. But if you’re a big believer in open source, ZigBee is the winner here.
Unlike ZigBee, Z-Wave is a closed standard owned by Silicon Labs. Now it has changed hands several times, which can be considered an unstable factor. But, as a closed system, in general, the protocol should not be changed, and special device hubs are not required. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Z-Wave adds extra security by requiring each device to use unique identifiers to communicate with your hub, providing easy identification. Every Z-Wave device must meet strict standards, avoiding the problems that some «ready for ZigBee» products had when they didn’t talk to each other as expected. If you think closed systems are more secure, Z-Wave will beat ZigBee.
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Z-Wave mesh has a long range
Both Z-Wave and ZigBee create a mesh network between the various devices you have in your home. Of course they are not compatible with each other. Z-Wave will only work with other Z-Wave devices and ZigBee will only work with other ZigBee devices.
One clear advantage of Z-Wave is how far apart these devices can be. Z-Wave can connect devices up to 550 feet while ZigBee peaks at about 60 feet. You will especially notice the shorter distance for ZigBee if you don’t have a ZigBee device in every room. You may need to move your device or hub closer for a stable connection. If you have a big house and don’t want to have a smart device in every room, Z-Wave might be a good choice to shorten the distance without spending so much money.
ZigBee network networks let you hop over more devices
With their mesh networks, instead of each device connecting directly to a hub, each device can connect to the device closest to it, forming a kind of chain to the hub. The signal then travels from one device to another until it reaches the hub.
Z-wave can only make four jumps. If it and the next three closest devices are too far out of range to reach the hub, the circuit will break and lose connection.
However, ZigBee can hop over as many devices as needed to reach the hub. While Z-Wave eliminates this problem to some extent due to its greater range, you can extend the signal to the furthest corners of your home by adding more ZigBee devices. If you’re planning to decorate your home with sensors, lights, locks and more, then ZigBee can provide an easier solution for every device to reach the hub.