The smart home standards Zigbee and Z-Wave at a glance.
What you need to know about ZigBee and Z-Wave and what the differences between these smart home standards are.

With the increasing use of smart home devices such as Amazon Echo & Co. at home, we are seeing a number of competing smart home standards for wireless networking. This includes not only the familiar WLAN and Bluetooth, but also others like ZigBee and Z-Wave. What are the differences between these standards and can they be used in the same household or office?


The smart home standards Zigbee and Z-Wave at a glance.

Z-Wave

Together with ZigBee, Z-Wave is today one of the most widely used wireless smart home standards. The Z-Wave Alliance has more than 1,300 certified devices on the market and 35 million compatible devices sold. Both Z-Wave and ZigBee use symmetric AES-128 encryption as offered by some online banks to protect communications. The devices are easy to set up and do not require cabling. Major brands such as Honeywell or manufacturers such as ADT and Fibaro work with Z-Wave.

Fibaro's smart home products

The Z-Wave Standard is the only technology on the market that provides application-level interoperability and backward compatibility across all versions. If something is Z-Wave certified, it works with any other Z-Wave product, no matter how old or new the device is. However, there is a catch: American Z-Wave devices cannot connect to European devices, as in America a different radio frequency is used. So always make sure for which market the hardware was made to avoid communication problems.

Z-Wave products include a range of smart locks, thermostats, sensors, hubs, and lights. Since Z-Wave uses a low-frequency radio band, the devices do not disturb the Wi-Fi network. However, there may be problems with cordless landline phones.


However, Z-Wave is relatively slow with data rates up to 100 kilobits per second (kbps). In comparison, its competitor ZigBee can reach up to 250 kbps at certain wavelengths, while the latest version of WiFi (which also consumes significantly more power than ZigBee or Z-Wave) can reach 1 gigabit per second – 1 million kbps.

ZigBee

Unlike the Z-Wave standard, ZigBee is an open smart home standard based on the IEEE 802.15.4 wireless data specification. Manufacturers of ZigBee devices include GE Appliances, LG, Logitech, Philips Hue Lights and Samsung. (Some of these manufacturers also use Z-Wave, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.) ZigBee is also used by Comcast and Time Warner Cable in home gateway routers and satellite receivers.

Amazon Echo Plus
Amazon's Echo works with the ZigBee Smart Home Standard. (Source: amazon.com)
Amazon's Echo works with the ZigBee Smart Home Standard. (Source: amazon.com)

The Zigbee frequencies are around 868 MHz, 915 MHz and 2.4 GHz in the unlicensed ISM bands, which allows for low power consumption but limits the data to 40 kbps or to the 2.4 GHz frequency, resulting in up to 250 kbps but could interfere with Wi-Fi networks. ZigBee products include the Philips Hue intelligent light bulb, the Logitech Harmony Ultimate One, Bosch motion detectors and Indesit washing machines. ZigBee also supports battery-powered devices, some of which can be run on a battery pack for up to seven years.

Because the two protocols communicate differently, ZigBee and Z-Wave devices are often incompatible. Many smart home hubs, such as Lowe’s Iris, Wink’s Hub and Samsung SmartThings support both protocols, though this is not the case on the packaging.

As mentioned above, ZigBee is slightly faster than Z-Wave and is generally cheaper to implement for device manufacturers. ZigBee currently has a range of 10 – 75 meters, while with Z-Wave 30 -150 meters can be achieved.

Our conclusion

From the consumer’s point of view, it does not matter which smart home wireless standard you choose, especially since ZigBee and Z-Wave are practically identical in terms of functionality and power consumption. The power consumption of the bridge is always minimal, but compatible devices must be in standby, e.g. to remotely comtrol by smartphone. The more devices you integrate, the more power is consumed.


The best way to decide which smart home devices you want to use is to see how many of them are available on one standard or the other. Fortunately, many brands of smart home network hubs are already compatible with two or more of these smart home standards.

Will there ever be a general smart home standard? That remains the big question of the future. Experts in the industry say that ZigBee and Z-Wave have had 10 years to form alliances and certify devices, with the result that thousands of compatible devices are on the market. It is thought that it will be another 10 years before we see a consolidation.


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