Smart Home Automation Devices: What is the difference between Zigbee and Z-Wave?

By Shakir Williams on 08/22/2018

control smart home on computer tablet

If you're like most Americans, captivated by the latest gizmos and gadgets, then you're probably aware of the latest trend sweeping the nation with smart home automation systems.  

Nowadays, we have the luxury of turning the lights on, setting the temperature, and locking the doors all before we even get out of the bed, and thank God! Turning the lights off manually was soooooo 2003.

In this guide, we will discuss the difference between two very popular smart wireless technologies, Zigbee and Z-Wave. With the use of these wireless technologies, smart home devices can easily communicate with one another, and be controlled remotely from a smartphone, tablet, or computer from anywhere in the world!

How do the Devices Communicate with Each Other?

With such a wide selection of smart devices to choose from, where do you even start?  Just comparing all the available features and endless connectivity options is bound to drive anyone nuts.  With all this technology buzz, you may be asking yourself, “How do these devices even work?”

Alexa amazon prime smart home automation system

No worries, you can step out of the corner.  There’s no enchanted wizardry going on with Alexa, except for maybe that freakish laugh that’s been buzzing in the news lately. 

Besides that eerie phenomenon, smart devices are no sorcery of magic, but rather a testament to years of scientific mastery.   

That moment of panic when you realize you forgot to lock the door on the plane headed to Paris, you can ease your mind and lock the door directly from your mobile device.

From Wireless Communication to Mesh Networks

Everyone knows the struggle of connecting Wi-fi devices to a network or a central hub (usually a router), but Z-Wave and Zigbee allow all devices to link together to form what the industry calls, a mesh network. 

Mesh network controls all devices from mobile device

Mesh networking is an alternative to wireless communication that allows a smart device to act as its own beacon of wireless energy.

In other words, instead of each device drawing from one router (which has limited data amounts), each device works as its own router; also known as a signal repeater. 

When you increase the devices in your home, your network becomes more reliable.  This ultimately expands wireless coverage over a greater scale, removing the need for multiple hubs.

Another technical term you may come across is “nodes.” Your device may say, ‘you can have 200 nodes on this network,’ and for us newbies, that’s just a fancy word for devices.

Mesh networks allow for these nodes to “hop” from one device to another. This basically means the signal wave will jump from device to device until it reaches the hub.

Z-WAVE vs. Zigbee

In order for devices to successfully communicate on the same network, they must speak the same language.  This is where Z-Wave and Zigbee come in!  No one wants a smart home with a bunch of different routers and apps to control it.  

With a much wider range than Bluetooth and using less power than Wi-Fi, these smart technologies make connecting and controlling your lightbulbs, sensors, door locks, thermostats, and security devices much easier!

What is Zigbee?  

Zigbee is a low power global wireless technology used for device-to-device communication. Zigbee allows you to control multiple devices remotely, from all over the world, with the use of mesh networking.  

zigbee mesh network for smart devices

This open wireless system runs on low power and can run battery-operated devices for up to seven years.

Added Features:

  • Easy installation
  • Does not require a central controller
  • Can support up to 65,000 devices
  • Compatible with several smart lights, plugs, switches, and security systems
  • Remote control does not require line of sight for use
  • Remote control includes motion sensors and “find my remote” features

What is Z-Wave? 

Z-Wave is a low energy wireless communication network primarily used to connect smart lighting, security devices, thermostats, and other smart home automation systems.  Unlike Wi-Fi, this low power system can run on a single coin cell battery for several years.

One of the major advantages of Z-Wave is that all of their devices comply with a very strict set of standards.  

The Z-Wave alliance ensures that every Z-Wave device is compatible with each other and can easily plug into the mesh network.  

z wave mesh network for smart devices

With over 600 manufacturers generating over 2100 Z-Wave certified products, you are guaranteed to find the right smart device for you!

Added Features:

  • Simple setup and installation
  • Plug & play capability
  • Requires a central controller
  • Can support up to 232 devices
  • Ultra-low-power
  • Low signal interference
  • Each device serves as a repeater

What is the Difference Between Zigbee and Z-Wave?

Both Z-Wave and Zigbee work on a mesh network.  Some of the major differences between them is the number of devices allowed on a single network, as well as the speed.  Zigbee allows for over 65,000 devices while Z-Wave only permits 232 nodes.

Although Zigbee operates at a much higher frequency than Z-Wave, which allows it to transmit more data to its devices, the signal’s range is fairly low.  High frequency signals tend to travel through walls less effectively than low-frequency signals, therefore adding signal interference.  Since Z-Wave devices have more range than Zigbee, they tend to be more reliable.

 

Zigbee

Z-Wave

Frequency

2.4GHz (915 MHz)

800-900MHz

Needs hub?

Yes

Yes

Speed (Data Rate)

40-250kbps

9.6-100kbps

Operating Range

33-66 feet

100 feet

Runs on mesh network

Yes

Yes

Max. Number of Nodes (devices) allowed

65,000+

232

Number of hops allowed

30

4

Security

AES-128 symmetric encryption

AES-128 symmetric encryption

Supported operating devices

Over 2,500 products

Over 2,400 products

Average compatible device prices

$18 - $100

$40-$100

Subject to Wi-Fi Interference

Yes

No

Battery Life

Up to 7 years

12-14 months

Power Consumption

Low

Low

Voice Capable?

Yes

Yes

Works in all countries

Yes

No

Are you ready to make the switch to a fully smart home? Browse our selection of fully integrated smart devices today!

smart motion sensor devices at HomElectrical Smart switches at HomElectrical

smart outlets at HomElectrical smart thermostats at HomElectrical

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. Can I connect Z-Wave and Zigbee devices together?

  1. No. Although they are both mesh networks, a Z-Wave device can not to communicate with a Zigbee controller and vice versa.

Q. Is the network more secure using Z-Wave or Zigbee?

  1. Both Z-Wave and Zigbee operate on the same AES-128 symmetric encryption. This encryption is similar to that used by major banks to protect your financial information. But is anything really 100% secure?

Q. Will Z-Wave interfere with my WiFi?

  1. No, Z-Wave operates on a different frequency than Wi-Fi. The central controller is connected to your Wi-Fi router, but the mesh network doesn’t allow for the other devices to interfere with your Wi-Fi.

 

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