Zigbee and Z-Wave: what are they, how do they differ and which home automation brands are compatible

If we have embarked on the adventure of turning our house into a smart home, it is common for us to ask several questions. The first of all, for a matter of practicality, is knowing which manufacturers and devices are compatible with the different voice assistants on the market.

From that point, we will find that light bulbs, plugs, thermostats and other smart devices communicate with each other wirelessly using more or less popular technologies such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but also with other protocols such as the Zigbee and the Z -wave. In this article we focus on the characteristics of both standards, how they differ and where we can find them.

What are Zigbee and Z-Wave and what do they have in common?

Both Zigbee and Z-Wave are two common wireless communication protocols in home automation that use low-energy radio waves.

Both protocols allow certain smart devices (the compatible ones) to communicate with each other instead of connecting directly with our Wi-Fi, something that helps to avoid network saturation, something important in the case of connecting multiple devices.

Of course, this implies that both if we use Zigbee and Z-Wave we will require a hub, bridge or hub that will be the point of the system that connects to the internet. This Wi-Fi signal will be shared among the other devices on the network without the need for each of them to connect to the router individually.

Both Zigbee and Z-Wave work through a mesh or mesh network, a concept known domestically for Wi-Fi mesh systems in the form of a mesh network.

In essence, a mesh network is a set of devices that uses a common language to communicate, acting as repeaters that transfer a signal to the next device, rather than simply "talking" to the hub.

For practical purposes, this means that they better support growth than other communication systems in aspects such as range and resilience to shocks.

The Z-Wave and Zigbee networks transmit in radio frequency and use the same AES-128 encryption technology, so essentially their security is similar in this regard.

Zigbee is an open standard, Z-Wave is not

One of the main differences between the two is that while Zigbee is an open standard managed by the Zigbee Alliance, Z-Wave is a proprietary standard standard owned by Silicon Labs.

In this sense, the opening of the Zigbee has helped it achieve further expansion, a strength that can also become a weakness in ensuring compatibility.

And it is that anyone can access the Zigbee standard and adapt it to their needs, something that Philips did for example with its Hue line, one of the most popular lines that uses this standard.

Thus, since the development and launch of Hue, Philips has been making changes to the protocol used in Hue to limit the compatibility of its hub with other devices that worked under the same protocol, something you can see in our guide to buying smart bulbs .

Similarly, in addition to the Internet of Things, the Zigbee also provides protocols for other uses such as healthcare digitization and automation. These different usage scenarios within the same standard don't always work well together, although with the release of Zigbee 3.0, all of the discrete protocols in the Zigbee ecosystem are unified, so they can work together.

In the case of Z-Wave there is no such problem: the advantage of this closed ecosystem is that all devices compatible with Z-Wave work well with each other even if they are from different brands, since if a manufacturer who wants to integrate this support must acquire a license from Silicon Labs. However, Z-Wave devices consist of unique identifiers so that they can be easily identified during their connections.

Action range and number of connected devices

As we have seen previously, both Z-Wave and Zigbee communicate through a network system, transmitting the signal from one device to another until reaching the hub.

Of course, while Z-Wave only allows you to make a maximum of four "jumps" from device to hitting the hub, in the case of devices that use Zigbee you can do as many jumps as necessary to reach the hub.

This disadvantage is compensated by the Z-Wave protocol with a greater range between light bulbs, sensors, locks and other gadgets: while in Zigbee the range of action is 10 - 20 meters (a usual distance within domestic spaces), with Z- Wave it is possible to reach 100 meters with its latest platform, the 700 series.

In any case, Zigbee as Z-Wave allow a large number of connected devices to be incorporated into your network, which makes them optimal for home automation from individual homes to buildings and offices, although the difference between one and the other is considerable: while with Zigbee we can connect approximately 65,000 devices, with Z-Wave this number drops to 232 units.

Operating frequencies and data transfer rate

There are also differences in terms of data transfer speeds and the working frequency of both standards.

As for the data transfer rate, in Zigbee it is higher, reaching 40-250 kbps compared to 9.6-100kbps for the Z-Wave.

For industrial, scientific, and medical uses, Zigbee uses the ISM band, specifically 868 MHz in Europe, 915 MHz in the United States, and 2.4 GHz worldwide, a band known to be typical of the Wi-Fi signal.

For the sake of simplicity, the most common thing is that the manufacturers of Zigbee devices opt precisely for this band, which guarantees that the smart device can work anywhere.

Side B is that it is easier for this band to become saturated if we increase the number of devices operating in the same band, such as the router, the router of your neighbors and other connected devices.

On the other side, Z-Wave uses different radio frequencies depending on where we are. Thus, Z-Wave operates in the bands of 868.40 / 868.42 /869.85 in Europe and 908.4 / 908.42 / 916 in the United States. In this sense, the possibility of interference with Z-Wave is lower. But it also has its downside: compatibility issues could arise if we were to buy a smart home device that works under this standard in another country.

What brands and manufacturers do Z-Wave and Zigbee use?

To date, Zigbee offers approximately 2,500 devices from 400 Zigbee Alliance members compared to 2,400 devices from 700 manufacturers using Z-Wave.

Despite the equality in the product catalog, Zigbee is more popular as it has weight manufacturers in home automation such as Amazon, Philips and Belkin, who have opted for this standard.

From the list of brands that use Zigbee, these are some of the most relevant:

  • ADT Security Hub
  • Amazon Echo Plus
  • Belkin WeMo Link
  • Hive (heating)
  • Honeywell (smart thermostats)
  • Ikea Tradfri
  • GE Appliances (Home Electronics)
  • LG SmartThinq
  • Lux Konoz
  • Philips Hue
  • Samsung SmartThings
  • Sengled (Smart bulbs)
  • Somfy
  • Hub wink
  • Yale (smart locks)

Some of the most relevant manufacturers that use Z-Wave:

  • ADT Security Hub
  • August (smart locks)
  • Fibaro
  • Honeywell (thermostats)
  • GE Appliances
  • Kwikset (smart locks)
  • LG SmartThinq
  • Logitech Home Harmony Hub Extender
  • Milo (home electronics)
  • GE Appliances
  • Samsung SmartThings
  • Somfy
  • Yale (Smart Locks)
  • Wink hub

As can be seen from the list, there are also manufacturers that market compatible devices for both protocols. An idea if you are looking for versatility is to go for a SmartThings or Wink hub, so that we can take full advantage of both technologies.

Which standard suits me best, Zigbee or Z-Wave?

At this point, we are clear that both Z-Wave and Zigbee have their advantages and disadvantages, so there is no one standard better than another, but it will depend on our needs.

In this sense, it is key to be clear about how many devices we plan to integrate into our network, such as the distance between them.

For a home installation of few devices, the use of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth communication technologies may be sufficient. But if the idea is to domotize an entire house, a block or an office, the Zibgee and Z-Wave solutions are more conducive.

Thus, if the distance between devices is going to be short and we are going to use a large number of units, Zigbee seems a more recommended option. In case the devices are going to be far apart, a better idea is to bet on the Z-Wave.

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