Z-Wave or ZigBee? If you’ve been reading about smart homes online, you’ve definitely read these names before. Z-Wave and ZigBee are wireless standards used by smart devices to communicate with each other. They are both very good alternatives to some more “standard” communication channels, like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Both these protocols have similar qualities that make choosing one a hard but necessary choice.
In this article, we will present the similarities and differences between Z-Wave and ZigBee, so you can make an educated choice for your needs.
The two smart home standards will face off in the following segments:
- Global Compatibility
If your smart devices aren’t going to be reliable, you’re going to have a bad time. It’s frustrating when something doesn’t work when you want it to. Reliability is often a concern when thinking about making your home smart and picking a reliable protocol is definitely important. Especially when it comes to safety and security.
Both Z-Wave and ZigBee are considered reliable, but Z-Wave still takes the cake in this segment. The reason is the frequency band. While ZigBee uses frequency bands that are often crowded (i.e. by Wi-Fi), Z-Wave operates on a different frequency in each region. Similar to driving on a road without cars, Z-Wave has a lower chance of interferences, lost or unreliable signals because of network congestions.
We’re not saying ZigBee is not reliable. It’s just more likely to experience problems on a ZigBee network than on a Z-Wave network.
You would probably want to control all your devices using one hub and one app. Having several hubs and apps would make your smart home much less user-friendly. In order to achieve that, all your devices need to be able to communicate with each other - they need to be compatible. And in order to do that, they need to support the same network protocol. You should also think about your future products - will they be compatible with your old ones?
Z-Wave Alliance is responsible for certification of all Z-Wave devices, which is one of the biggest reason why Z-Wave could be superior to ZigBee. Thanks to these controls, you can rest assured, that every Z-Wave device will work with every Z-Wave controller - as long as they’re certified. At the moment of writing, there are over 700 companies with over 2600 certified products. With Z-Wave, when you’re shopping for a new smart device, look for a trademarked Z-Wave logo on the product. As long as the device is certified, you will be able to plug it into your existing network and the device will start communicating with your hub and other smart devices.
Similarly to Z-Wave Alliance, there is a ZigBee Alliance. ZigBee device compatibility is not as robust due to its two-level certification - hardware and software certification. If you’re shopping for a new device, even though it says “ZigBee ready” it might actually not work with all your current devices because it’s only hardware certified and not software certified. There are still many many ZigBee devices that are compatible with each other. When shopping, look for ZigBee home automation certification.
Another important thing to consider is the range of the signal. If you have a big house, or if you want to use devices outdoors, your hub needs to send and receive data from large distances.
ZigBee has a range of 10-20 meters (32-65 feet), which could be enough in your case, but is no match to Z-Wave’s 100 meters (323 feet) range.
This means that with Z-Wave you have more peace of mind when it comes to reliability, as devices out of range can get very unreliable. Both Z-Wave and ZigBee create a mesh network, which means that devices work as repeaters too. If you have a device in every room, ZigBee’s range might be enough. If not, you will run into issues and will be forced to move the hub and/or devices. If this is a possible concern for you, we recommend you stick with Z-Wave.
As already mentioned, both Z-Wave and ZigBee are mesh networks, which means that devices can work as repeaters, so the signal can “hop” from one device to another. Z-Wave allows only up to 4 signal hops, which means that from the hub, the signal can hop to 3 additional devices. Besides this, a single Z-Wave network has an upper limit of 232 connected devices.
ZigBee is much more flexible in this segment. There is no limit as to how many times can the signal hop from one device to another. It could bounce off 100 devices if you’d set it up to do so as the potential number of devices that can be connected to a single ZigBee network is in the thousands.
That being said, which one is better and more useful? While it’s true that ZigBee is much more flexible, we have to think about real-world usage. Is it realistic that you would connect 5000 devices and make the signal bounce hundreds of times? Most probably not. ZigBee does enable more bounces, which, in theory, would enable you to set up devices further away, but we have to take into account the range of the signal. As we mentioned above, the range of the signal of Z-Wave devices is much larger than ZigBee’s. With this feature, ZigBee makes up for its short signal range, although it’s not likely that you’ll be using it much.
When so many devices in your house are connected to each other, you might wonder how secure the network is. The last thing we want is for some ill-intended criminal to get access to all our home devices. Including the front door lock.
Luckily, both Z-Wave and ZigBee use encryption AES 128 standard, which is also used by governments and banks. That makes both networks very secure.
In the early days, Z-Wave security was only enforced in access control products like door locks and garage door openers. That is no longer the case. In order to get Z-Wave Alliance’s approval, every Z-Wave device must include the new state of the art Security 2 framework, which makes it almost impossible to hack the device during the inclusion process.
No network can promise 100% security, but both Z-Wave and ZigBee have the highest security standards, so there is no reason to worry.
When it comes to power consumption, the terms are much more balanced between the two. Both are considered very low-consumption networks. Compared to Wi-Fi, they consume just a fraction of power. This is one of the main reasons they are so popular. A small battery, that would last a few days on a Wi-Fi device, could power a Z-Wave or ZigBee device for years. That does not apply to devices that work as repeaters - those consume much more power. We advise that you don’t set up your devices as repeaters unless needed. Battery powered devices cannot be set as repeaters.
If we talk about the differences in power consumption between Z-Wave and ZigBee, we cannot say that one is clearly more efficient that the other. It used to be that ZigBee was more power efficient than Z-Wave, but the difference got smaller and smaller in the last years, especially with the introduction of Z-Wave Plus devices.
7. Global Compatibility
ZigBee takes the cake in this segment. While 2.4 GHz frequency comes with the above mentioned crowded frequency drawback, it is globally compatible. No matter to which country you move your ZigBee devices, they will have no trouble connecting to the standard 2.4 GHz frequency.
That is not the case with Z-Wave. Z-Wave uses different radio frequencies on different continents. This means that if you move, you’ll have to buy new devices. You cannot simply move a Z-Wave network from US to Europe.
There is no clear winner here. Both Z-Wave and ZigBee offer a plethora of smart devices to choose from. You can find devices at different price points, so you can choose whatever fits in your budget.
Which one should you choose?
It’s impossible to list all possible reason why you might pick one or the other. The choice is personal and there are certain possible reasons you might pick one over the other. For example, Amazon Key will only work with ZigBee. So if you want to have your Amazon items delivered inside your home, you’ll have to go with ZigBee. For others, the only important thing might be reliability, in this case, you go with Z-Wave. Each one of us has different needs, so make a compromise and pick what suits you better.
But if we had to decide for one (and we had to), we’d recommend Z-Wave. In our opinion, the advantages of Z-Wave outweigh the advantages of ZigBee.
With Z-Wave, it is easier to set up a reliable network for your smart home. That’s why all Qubino devices are certified by Z-Wave Alliance and will always work together to create a fast, secure and reliable network.