In the early days of home automation, systems were hardwired and required technicians for installation and updates. As a response to customer demand for more control, home automation companies developed wireless technologies that communicate via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth instead. Z-Wave and Zigbee are two examples of this technology, and they both allow customers to remotely control multiple home automation devices.
If you’re considering automating your home, you first need to decide what language your hub — the “brain” that controls your devices — will speak. Z-Wave and Zigbee are two of the most popular languages, or wireless technologies, available. While they offer similar products, they differ in their benefits, drawbacks, and consumer bases.
Zigbee is open technology that has become the global wireless standard language of smart device communication. While Zigbee was originally developed for commercial use, it now serves as the sensing and control standard for use in residential, commercial, and industrial areas.
How It Works
Zigbee connects your devices using a “mesh” system where information from one device jumps to others until it reaches the hub. This allows your network of home automation devices to grow in number and signal reach without requiring high-power transmitters.
Zigbee’s open technology is the language for thousands of smart home devices. Many different companies create devices that communicate with Zigbee’s technology, allowing you to seamlessly integrate products from a variety of manufacturers.
Zigbee uses AES-128 encryption — the same level of protection major banks use — and network keys to keep your devices secure. However, because devices using Zigbee technology are manufactured by many different companies, standards vary. Zigbee device makers recently received criticism for their minimal security measures when researchers demonstrated that even a door lock was easily vulnerable to potential hackers.
The Zigbee Alliance consists of nearly 400 member organizations that use, develop, and improve Zigbee’s open-standard wireless connection. Customers can easily mix and match home automation devices from different companies and add new devices as their needs change.
Zigbee prides itself on requiring so little power that devices can last up to seven years on one set of batteries. They also have a Green Power option that allows customers to select devices that do not require batteries at all.
Zigbee was developed for use in the utility and retail industries. While it is also popular for home use, it requires that consumers have some technical knowledge for setup and maintenance.
Who It Serves Best
Zigbee is perfect for the DIYer or technology expert who wants a system they can customize with their preferences and install themselves. You can “control your world” with the scalable and compatible Zigbee network.
Zigbee Compatible Products
Z-Wave is one of the original wireless network technologies for home automation. Its proprietary technology was developed specifically for customers to remotely control and monitor their home automation devices. Z-Wave continues to set the standard for automated lighting, heating, security, appliances, and other smart devices.
How It Works
The Z-Wave hub serves as your home network’s controller, allowing up to 232 devices to wirelessly communicate with each other. The more connected devices in your system, the further your signal can reach. Similar to Zigbee’s mesh system, Z-Wave signals “hop” from one device to another so two devices located outside signal range can communicate via devices in between.
The Z-Wave Alliance consists of 375 companies and 1,500 products that are all interoperable with each other. Nine out of ten leading security and communication companies in the U.S. use Z-Wave in their smart home solutions. Z-Wave technology has 325 manufacturers, which means that there are many options for devices that will communicate with each other.
Every Z-Wave network, and the devices within each network, are assigned unique IDs that communicate with your hub. This makes it so another hub can never control your hub’s connected devices. Devices like door locks and alarms require even more security, so Z-Wave also uses AES-128 encryption.
You can update your smart home devices — including Amazon Echo or Apple Watch — as often as you would normally. As long as the devices continue to speak Z-Wave’s language, Z-Wave will be able to act as your smart home’s central hub.
Z-Wave is user friendly and provides a simple system that customers can set up themselves. If you prefer, you can also hire a professional to install the system in your home. Once you purchase your Z-Wave hub, you only need to decide which devices you want to connect.
Depending on how many devices you choose, your Z-Wave system may be expensive. Z-Wave products typically range from $40 to $100 each, which can add up quickly if you want to connect many devices.
Who It Serves Best
Z-Wave is ideal for someone with a basic understanding of technology who wants to keep their home automation secure, efficient, simple to use, and easy to maintain. Z-Wave works with the most popular brands and smart home devices, so customers shouldn’t experience limitations.
Z-Wave Compatible Products
Although Zigbee and Z-Wave feature similarities with their mesh networks and wide range of devices, they each offer unique advantages for different customers. Compare their features to determine which wireless technology best fits your home automation needs. Get started with Z-Wave by shopping its range of controllers, or launch your Zigbee home automation system by shopping a complete list of its certified products.
Written by Sarah Brown
Sarah Brown is a home automation and community safety consultant for SafeWise.com. She enjoys writing helpful tips and in-depth reviews. Sarah believes that through entertainment, technology and the written word, we can all stay connected to each other and create a safe environment out in the ether. Learn more