The words "Z-Wave" and "Zigbee" get thrown around a lot when it comes to smart home automation. But what exactly are they and why do they matter? In a nutshell, Z-Wave and Zigbee are communication protocols (we've got a full rundown on Z-Wave and Zigbee for those that want to get technical) designed specifically for smart home automation and we're going to be facing them off head-to-head to see which one comes out ahead in the world of smart home automation.
Round 1: Interoperability
A true smart home is made up of multiple smart home devices working together in unison to make your life easier. Smart home devices work together by communicating through their communication protocols. In this round, we'll examine how well each protocol works with other devices.
Since Z-Wave and Zigbee protocols cannot communicate directly with each other, we'll only examine how smart home devices work together within their own protocols (Z-Wave devices working together within Z-Wave platform and respectively for Zigbee).
Z-Wave Alliance authorizes the Z-Wave certification and is run by a single company, meaning their certification process is likely standardized and consistent. Z-Wave Certified devices are guaranteed to work with other other Z-Wave devices, as all certified devices go through a stringent certification process through the Z-Wave Alliance.
Zigbee Alliance performs testing to certify that all products comply with the standard, however is made up of a consortium of companies and other organizations. Zigbee has recently introduced Zigbee 3.0 to unify their previous different profiles in a single global standard, however does not carry the same guarantee that all Zigbee devices will work together.
Although Zigbee has tried to unify itself with a single global standard with the introduction of Zigbee 3.0, it's hard to contest a platform built on the principle that all certified devices are guaranteed to work together.
Round 2: Adoption
It doesn't matter how well the devices work together, if there are no devices to work with! In this round, we'll examine how well each protocol has been adopted and how many devices each protocol boasts.
Z-Wave was introduced in 2001 and the Z-Wave Alliance now boasts over 700 members with 2,400 certified products.
Zigbee was introduced in the late 1990s and the Zigbee Alliance now boasts over 400 members with around 2,500 products.
We're calling it a tie for this round, since 2400 products vs. 2500 products isn't a significant difference enough to determine a clear winner considering Zigbee had an early head start in the smart home automation race.
Round 3: Technical Specifications
In this round, we're going to get a bit technical and dive into the nitty-gritty of each protocol's technical specifications.
Both Z-Wave and Zigbee protocols uses mesh network topology and uses AES-128 symmetric encryption, which is considered the gold standard for smart home security. Z-Wave has a data rate of 9.6-100 kbps and operating range of around 100 feet and Zigbee has a data rate of 40-250 kbps and an operating range between 10–20 metres (33-66 feet).
Z-Wave operates at the 915 MHz (in the U.S.) and the 868 MHz (in Europe) frequencies and Zigbee operates at the 2.4GHz/2400 MHz (Global), 915Mhz (Americas) and 868Mhz (Europe) frequencies.
When it comes to frequency, the higher the frequency doesn't necessarily mean better. You may recognize the 2.4GHz frequency, as Wi-Fi operates at the 2.4GHz frequency as well. It is important to note that devices using the same frequency may cause interference or bog down your connection, so this is something to consider with Zigbee devices.
Considering Z-Wave and Zigbee both use mesh network topology and AES-128 symmetric encryption, these factors are not enough to determine a clear winner. However, Z-Wave operates at a different frequency than Wi-Fi and there are no concerns about interference or smart home devices bogging down the connection, so this factor gives Z-Wave an upper hand in this round.
It seems that Z-Wave has a slight edge after all things considered, but as we always say, the decision is personal and it really boils down to your smart home needs and goals. If you're planning to add more devices to your smart home ecosystem, we highly encourage you to invest in a smart home hub that is compatible with different protocols to help connect all your devices together. Our top recommendations for smart home hubs are Wink and Samsung SmartThings.