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Sunday, November 25, 2018

ZigBee vs. Z-Wave: Choosing Between Two Big Smarthome Standards

ZigBee and Z-Wave are two of the main wireless protocols used in smarthome products. But they don’t connect together and for all their similarities, they have key differences, advantages, and disadvantages. Knowing what to use when is key to running a smooth smarthome.

If you haven’t purchased your first smarthome product yet, you need to make several decisions on which way to go. Which hub should you buy? What Voice Assistant should you use? ZigBee or Z-Wave?  As with the first two, we can boil down the choice between ZigBee and Z-Wave to a few key differences and specific scenarios. No one answer is right for everyone, because unfortunately, the smarthome industry is a mess.  Here are some differences and similarities between the two protocols to help decide which to chose.

RELATED: The Smarthome Industry Has Reached a Plateau. Here’s What’s Holding It Back

ZigBee Is an Open Standard; Z-Wave Is Not

There’s a better than even chance you’ve seen a ZigBee product in action, even if you didn’t realize it.  One of the strengths and weaknesses of ZigBee is that it’s an open protocol and nobody owns it. This is good in that the code can be checked and it’s probably not going anywhere. This is also bad in that anyone can take the code and change it to suit their needs. This is exactly what happened with Philips Hue, the first ZigBee product most people encounter. Because of changes Philips made to the protocol, Hue products need their hub even if you already have a ZigBee-compatible hub. But if you’re a big believer in open source, ZigBee is the winner here.

Unlike ZigBee, Z-Wave is a closed standard, owned by Silicon Labs. It has changed hands multiple times now, which could be considered an unstable factor. But as a closed system, generally the protocol shouldn’t be changed and specific device hubs shouldn’t be necessary. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. Z-Wave adds additional security by requiring every device to use a unique IDs to communicate with your hub providing for easy identification. Every Z-Wave device must meet exacting standards, avoiding problems that some “ready for ZigBee” products have seen when they won’t talk to each other as expected. If your general feeling is that closed systems are more secure, Z-Wave takes the win over ZigBee.

RELATED: Enough With All the Smarthome Hubs Already

Z-Wave’s Mesh Network Has a Longer Range

Both Z-Wave and ZigBee create a mesh network between the different devices you have in your home. Of course, they aren’t compatible with one another. Z-Wave will only mesh with other Z-Wave devices and ZigBee will only mesh with other ZigBee devices.

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