What’s the Difference between Zigbee and Z-Wave?

Both Z-Wave and Zigbee are wireless technology used to connect smart home devices to each other and the internet. We found that Zigbee is the best choice overall.

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Zigbee pros and cons

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Runs faster
Pro Bullet Can handle more devices in mesh networks
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Interferes with Wi-Fi
Con Bullet Uses more power

Z-Wave pros and cons

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Doesn't interfere with Wi-Fi
Pro Bullet Uses less power
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Runs slower
Con Bullet May interfere with cordless landline phones or baby monitors

Z-Wave vs. Zigbee: Zigbee wins

Comparing Zigbee vs. Z-Wave, Zigbee has a few features that make it the stand-out in this head-to-head comparison.

Zigbee uses a frequency that is much faster at getting data to and from your device than Z-Wave. It can also connect to more devices. Unfortunately, it can interfere with devices using Wi-Fi, and it uses more power.

Either way, though, you really can’t go wrong with either choice when setting up your smart home automation for a mesh network.


Best for Speed Best for Battery Life
CompanyZigbee Z-Wave
LogoZigbee logo
Frequencies2.4 GHz and 915 MHz 908.42 MHz
Speed250 Kbps and 40 Kbps 100 Kbps
CompatibilityAround 2,820 devices3,000+ devices
InterferenceWi-Fi900 MHz
Connectivity65,000 devices, unlimited hops232 devices, 4 hops

How do they work?

Z-Wave and Zigbee help smart home devices communicate with each other. Smart devices need to connect to the internet to receive commands from apps and relay information. If a device is far away from the router, the signal can be weak, and the device may not get its instructions—or it may struggle to relay information back to the app.

So, many smart home devices, like the Samsung SmartThings Hub, Philips Hue, or Insteon products, use Z-Wave and Zigbee to make sure that each device has a strong wireless connection through a mesh network.

Instead of sending signals directly from the wireless router to a smart home device, like with Wi-Fi, Zigbee and Z-Wave play a game of leap frog. The radio signal will go from a smart hub to the nearest device and then “hop” to the next device (and so on) until it gets to the device that needs the information.

This means that the device gets the message loud and clear, no matter how far across your home the message has to travel. Since devices are interconnected, this type of network is called a mesh network.

Are Zigbee devices and Z-Wave devices safe?

Since the signal hops from device to device, it would seem that Z-Wave and Zigbee devices are more susceptible to hackers. Good news: These types of devices are very safe. When the signal is created, it’s encrypted, like with most Wi-Fi networks. In fact, these devices have AES-128 encryption, which financial institutions use because it’s so secure.

That sounds great, but what is encryption exactly? When data is encrypted, the signal is scrambled up and it can only be unscrambled by one of your devices. Even if a hacker did intercept the signal, they wouldn’t be able to figure out what the information means. It would just look like a lot of symbols and numbers.

Frequencies

Frequency impacts what devices you can pair with your Zigbee or Z-Wave mesh networks. Both types use different radio frequencies. Zigbee uses a 2.4 GHz frequency or a 915 MHz frequency, and Z-Wave uses a frequency of 908.42 MHz.

A device that uses Zigbee won’t be able to communicate with a device that uses Z-Wave and vice versa. So, if you add a mesh network to your home, you need to pick one or the other and only purchase devices that work with its frequency.

Notepad

Zigbee uses a 2.4 GHz frequency or a 915 MHz frequency, and Z-Wave uses a frequency of 908.42 MHz.

Speed

If speed is a dealbreaker for you, Zigbee is your best bet. Z-Wave is considerably slower.

We're guessing you probably want your smart home devices to carry out commands quickly (unless you have a black belt in patience). When arriving home, you likely want to remotely unlock your front door with its smart lock’s app right away. When the connection speed is slow, using an actual key can be a lot faster than waiting for your smart lock to respond.

Zigbee is faster, hands down, when it uses its 2.4 GHz frequency. The problem is, you sacrifice power consumption for speed. So, you may need to change the batteries in your smart devices more often. Z-Wave is less than half as fast, but at least you can wait a little longer to change out the batteries.

Smart home interference

The difference in frequencies also means a difference in how they interact with other smart home devices in your home. Zigbee’s 2.4 GHz frequency may interfere with your Wi-Fi network or your microwave, for example.

Z-Wave’s frequency, on the other hand, may interfere with cordless landline phones, baby monitors, or other devices that use the 900 GHz frequency range.

Bell
Remember:

Zigbee can interfere with your Wi-Fi network and Z-Wave can interfere with other devices that use the 900 GHz frequency range.

Compatibility

The biggest thing to consider when comparing Zigbee vs. Z-Wave is how easy it will be to build your smart home network. Currently, there are more than 3,000 Z-Wave products. Zigbee has a similar number of compatible products, but there is a major difference to remember.

Z-Wave devices all work together, while there are some versions of Zigbee that don’t work with each other. If you choose Zigbee, be sure to only choose devices that use the same version, such as Zigbee 3.0.

Connectivity

A limited number of devices can be connected in a mesh network. Hops are also limited.

A Z-Wave smart home network can support up to 232 smart devices connected at once. That sounds like a lot, but it’s limited to only four hops for information to get from one compatible device to another. If your device is more than four hops away, it won’t get the information.

Zigbee can connect a massive 65,000 devices at one time. You’ll probably never need to connect that many, but it’s nice to know you can. The best part about Zigbee’s connectivity is that it supports an unlimited number of hops.

Ready to set up your smart home? Check out our beginner's guide to home automation.


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Data as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. SafeWise uses paid Amazon links.

†Google and Google Nest Secure are trademarks of Google LLC.

Alina Bradford
Written by
Alina Bradford
Alina has been reviewing the latest tech for more than a decade and has contributed her insights to CNET, CBS, Digital Trends, MTV, Top Ten Reviews, and many others. She specializes in smart home and security technology, working to make gadgets less mystifying one article at a time. In the early 2000s, Alina worked as a volunteer firefighter, earning her first responder certification. Her activities aren’t nearly as dangerous today. Her hobbies include fixing up her 100-year-old house, doing artsy stuff, and going to the lake with her family.

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  • Rogier van der Heide

    Sarah great article and I am looking forward to more and easily accessible information on home automation. Meanwhile, you may want to mention that a Zigbee network can manage 65,000 devices compared to a good 200 only on a Z-wave network, which is a limitation of Z-wave.
    And, in a Zigbee network, a command can jump an infinite number of “hops” as opposed to Z-wave that allows only for four hops. This can be a serious limitation of Z-Wave in a larger residential project.
    As opposed to what your blog suggests, I don’t think that Zigbee comes with any more security concerns than Z-Wave. Sure, the ecosystem is less controlled, but afterall you can choose yourself the manufacturers that care for security. And at the security protocol level, Zigbee and Z-wave are identical and have both implemented AES128 encryption.
    I think it is exaggerated to say that Zigbee devices are harder to install and configure than Z-wave “because they used to be for professional markets only”. Take, for instance, Philips Hue: a zigbee setup that anyone installs and configures in just minutes.
    Finally, your text suggests that the Apple Watch is a Z-Wave device, but that is incorrect. It uses your WiFi connection to to connect with the Z-Wave or Zigbee hub. Just like your smartphone.
    Thanks!
    Rogier

  • Keith

    Thank you Sarah for this wonderful article. I just bought an Amazon Echo and had begun looking at the New Echo Plus with the builtin hub and did a quick duckduckgo search for Zigbee vs Z-Wave. This was one of the top searches. You did a wonderful job at getting straight to the point on both topics. I am kind of torn between the both. I love to make small electronics with Arduino and Raspberry Pi so it sounds like Zigbee would be my best option. However, I do love how secure Z-Wave is. This will be a hard decision to make on the route I should go to begin my home automation.

    • http://www.reviews.org Scott T.

      Keith, thanks for checking out our article. We’d love to hear what you decide to go with and why. Keep us updated!

      • Keith

        So it seems that amazon has decided to go with Zigbee with their new Echo Plus. This could be due to the worldwide use of the 2.4Ghz band. I really want to use Z-Waze in conjunction with Alexa. Z-Wave has better security and more devices (at this current time). So what I have done is bought the 2nd Gen Echo and will integrate it with Samsung SmartThings hub. This hub allows me to use Zigbee AND Z-Wave products. The hub will also allow me to write routines for my devices and Alexa “should” recognize them as scenes. For example I want my porch lights to turn on/off at sunrise/sunset. I have seen people post about doing this using routines on the hub. This will definitely be a work in progress.