home Automation

Comparing Home Automation Communication Protocols – Zigbee vs Z-Wave vs Everything Else

Even though some might think that home security is all about having the best camera out there, nowadays there’s a lot more to it. Home security systems have evolved significantly, and we’re seeing them become integrated with home automation and other smart home devices, which does add quite a bit to their functionality.

That being said, when you’re looking at investing in a good system, you’ll come across various communication protocols and not all of them are compatible with each other.

This is a pretty big problem in the entire industry and unless you go for a single manufacturer that makes all your devices, you might be left with a system that doesn’t communicate well among itself. This is no way of incorporating a proper home security system.

In the past couple of years, manufacturers have started moving towards unifying these systems and making sure all devices work with each other, regardless of the manufacturer, and regardless of what kind of device we’re talking about.

This is where Zigbee, Z-Wave and other similar protocols come in – a device that uses one of them can communicate with all other devices who use the same protocol.

So, if you’re going to invest in such a system in the next couple of months, here are a few things you should know about Zigbee and Z-Wave.

They Both Use Very Little Power

Aside from compatibility, this is the other key benefit of going for one of these two protocols, and why they’re better than most, if not all, others – they use very, very little power.

Compared to what you’d need for a Wi-Fi device, it’s just a fraction. A single coin cell battery can keep some devices running for a few years, while Wi-Fi devices will kill such a battery in a matter of hours or days.

They Both Work in a Very Similar Way

What both Zigbee and Z-Wave have in common is that they’re both mesh networks.

A mesh network has a signal that starts from a central hub, but all the devices that are a part of the network can communicate with each other. This allows them to pass the signal to other devices, work around obstacles and cover large distances.

Even if you can’t reach a specific device from another specific device, you can use other neighboring nodes of the network to transfer the signal.

Now, this isn’t perfect, and you’ll come across some limitations.

For example, a Z-Wave network will only let you do four hops from the main controller in order to get to your final device. It will also give you a total limit of 232 devices, which is still quite a bit more than you would have in a home.

On the other hand, Zigbee has no hop limitations, and you can (theoretically) use it with up to 65 thousand devices. You won’t be able to, that’s why we said theoretically because you’ll come across bandwidth problems before you even get close to 65 thousand devices.

That’s Where the Similarities End, Though

While these two are the key similarities, there are also some glaring differences between both, such as the limitations we spoke about.

Then there is interoperability, the very problem the protocols are attempting to solve. In this regard, Z-Wave gets ahead. Being a proprietary technology, a single alliance has control over certifications for devices, so any Z-Wave certified device will work with any other Z-Wave device.

Comparing Home Automation Communication Protocols - Zigbee vs Z-Wave vs Everything Else 1

Copyright: Unsplash | CC0 Public Domain

If you’re wondering how Zigbee deals with this, you should know that while the Zigbee Alliance maintains the protocol, it’s an open standard. You have two levels of certification, one of which deals with software, while the other deals with hardware. Therefore, there are some products that have certified hardware, but not certified software, so that compatibility you were hoping for might not work so well.

Which One is the Best?

We don’t say “better”, because there are other similar protocols that try to solve these same issues.

However, it’s Zigbee versus Z-Wave, because they’re the top two options at the moment.

While the interoperability issues are real with Zigbee, there’s also the fact that there is a project being worked on that would make Zigbee the go-to option for home automation.

With companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and the Zigbee Alliance backing this project and working on it, it’s going to become a reality rather soon, and we’ll have device compatibility increase significantly. Therefore, while Z-Wave is the better option at the moment, that’s changing in no more than a couple of years.

If you’re looking to invest now, it’s a matter of choice, but if you’re going for a future-proof home, Zigbee is the way to go.

About the author

Aman Bisht

Aman bisht has played a crucial role in making TechGeekers He is a passionate tech geek and a part time blogger. He has contributed many article for TechGeekers.

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