Zigbee vs Z-Wave: Two big smart home standards explored

What are they and why are we talking about them?

Zigbee vs Z-Wave explored

Go down the rabbit hole of smart home sites and forums as a complete beginner and you'll quickly get entangled in a web of wild words that you've not heard before.

Two of those jargon-y words are Zigbee and Z-Wave. Essentially, these wireless standards are both alternative ways for your home gadgets to communicate with each other, rather than using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. And they bring specific benefits too, so for instance Z-Wave is lower power than Wi-Fi and has a bigger range than Bluetooth.

Lots of home tech names you'll recognise, making lightbulbs, cameras, hubs, sensors and more, work with Zigbee, Z-Wave or both. You might see them mentioned in news stories on The Ambient and elsewhere, or even see a sticker or badge on the boxes.

Want more? Zigbee essential guide | Z-Wave essential guide

Zigbee vs Z-Wave: The tech specs

Zigbee vs Z-Wave: Two big smart home standards explored

First up, Zigbee is an open standard run by the Zigbee Alliance whereas Z-Wave is run by Sigma Designs, which has stricter controls to make sure every Z-Wave device works with every Z-Wave controller.

Zigbee and Z-Wave are both mesh networks – this just means signals can hop from gadget to gadget round the home and each device or sensor doesn't need to connect to Wi-Fi. But they usually have a central hub which connects to the internet. Z-Wave allows up to four 'hops' between the controller and the device, Zigbee doesn't have a limit.

Zigbee operates on the 915 MHz frequency (in the US) and the 2.4GHz frequency, which might look familiar as that's a major frequency for Wi-Fi too.

Z-Wave, meanwhile, operates at the low frequency 918/960 MHz band, meaning interference is minimal for Z-Wave and possible on Zigbee. Still, Zigbee is faster with data rates at 40-250 kbps versus Z-Wave's 9.6-100kbps.

Zigbee can also support way, way more devices – 65,000+ devices, or nodes on the mesh network, in fact. Z-Wave on the other hand caps out at 232 devices, which let's face is still plenty for most households.

Back to the benefits of Z-Wave for a minute though: it has a larger range – at 30m (100 feet) – than Zigbee's 10-20 metres (33-66 feet) so it might work better for larger houses and buildings. Z-Wave's latest platform, the 700 Series, can connect even further, at up to 100m from point to point.

A quick note on security: both Zigbee and Z-Wave use the same AES-128 symmetric encryption and claim that they are safe and secure from hacking. Well, nothing is 100% secure, but it's worth knowing that these two big standards are taking the same, robust approach.

Z-Wave vs Zigbee: Compatible devices

Zigbee vs Z-Wave: Two big smart home standards explored

There are slightly more devices compatible with Zigbee – around 2,500 products from 400 members of the Zigbee Alliance. It supports battery operated devices and light switches.

Z-Wave is doing a mean job of catching up though with 2,400 supported devices and more companies signed up – 700 members.

Some well known smart home brands and devices that support Zigbee (otherwise known as Zigbee certified products) include:

  • Philips Hue
  • Samsung SmartThings
  • Amazon Echo Plus (with Alexa for voice controls)
  • Hive Active Heating and accessories
  • Honeywell thermostats
  • Ikea Tradfri
  • Belkin WeMo Link
  • Yale smart locks
  • Sengled smart lights
  • ADT Security Hub
  • Wink hub
  • Somfy blinds and drapery motors
  • GE Appliances
  • LG SmartThinq

Zigbee vs Z-Wave: Two big smart home standards explored

And some smart home brands and devices that support Z-Wave include:

  • Samsung SmartThings
  • Wink hub
  • Honeywell thermostats
  • Hogar Milo (with Google Assistant for voice controls)
  • ADT Security Hub
  • August smart locks
  • Yale smart locks
  • Logitech Home Harmony Hub Extender
  • Somfy
  • GE Appliances
  • LG SmartThinq
  • Kwikset smart locks

When considering the popular, premium smart home brands and products, we'd say Zigbee slightly has the edge – but which one is best for you depends on what smart home kit you already own and what you're looking to add.

Zigbee vs Z-Wave: Decisions, decisions

Zigbee vs Z-Wave: Two big smart home standards explored

It's not clear yet whether Zigbee and Z-Wave will grow side by side as the smart home grows or whether one will win out. It's certainly a quieter battle than the flashy Amazon vs Google vs Apple fight for the smart home interface.

We're only just starting to see smart speakers with Zigbee and Z-Wave built in, but expect to see more. For now, home hubs like Wink and Samsung SmartThings support both standards. You don't actually have to pick either Zigbee and Z-Wave then, but if you're trying to keep things simple and reliable, you might want to choose a side.

If you're planning to stick to the big names in smart home (perhaps you already have some) and you want a faster connection, Zigbee might be worth considering.

For a larger range, potentially more reliable connections and a better chance that all the compatible devices will work with each other, go for Z-Wave.

Are you planning to dive into the world of Zigbee or Z-Wave? Or do you already have a mesh set up at home? Let us know your tips, tricks and complaints in the comments below.

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