So, you're trying to decide what wireless protocol you want to use for your smart home, but you can't quite make up your mind. That's exactly how I felt when I first started to buy my smart devices, so I know how time consuming it is.
I researched for hours going through multiple websites to find all of the information I needed and that's why I created this in-depth guide that will teach you everything you need to know about Zigbee and Z-Wave.
If you want to know what protocol I recommend, I would say use both Zigbee and Z-Wave together. They both offer similar features that aren't too different from each other and the fastest way to get started building your smart home is to get a Samsung SmartThings 3rd Generation Smart Hub from Amazon.
I own this smart hub and it makes adding new smart devices easy without me having to worry about if a device is compatible with Zigbee or Z-Wave. This way I can spend less time deciding what wireless protocol to use and more time finding products that can make my life more efficient.
If you're still looking to learn about these two protocols, then you've come to the right place. Let's start with the basics and learn what these wireless protocols are and how they work.
Zigbee is a wireless protocol based on an IEEE 802.14.4 standard that commonly operates on the 2.4 Ghz frequency. It's fast data speeds (20-250 kbps), 65,000+ connected devices, and low power consumption makes it a great choice for home automation, but it's shorter range and compatibility issues can sometimes be a problem.
Zigbee's indoor signal range can be anywhere from 10-50 feet (3-15 meters) depending on what materials your house is made from, the thickness of your walls, and line of sight. Zigbee uses a mesh network that solves this small range problem by hopping between other Zigbee based smart devices that are placed in your house about 10-30 feet (3-9 meters) apart for the best results.
These other non battery powered Zigbee devices will act as extenders to increase the range of your mesh network and make it easier for your smart hub and other smart devices to communicate with each other without range being an issue.
Z-Wave is a wireless protocol that commonly operates on the 908.42 MHz frequency in the United States. It's long indoor signal range of 50-100 feet (15-30 meters), compatibility with all other Z-Wave devices, and low power consumption makes it reliable choice for smart homes. This longer signal range comes at the price of slower data speeds (9.6-100 kbps), and it's only able to support 232 connected devices.
Z-Wave also uses a mesh network, but unlike Zigbee's unlimited hops, Z-Wave can only travel between 4 other devices. To make up for this, Z-Wave's signal is larger than Zigbee's so placing your Z-Wave extenders around 50-100 feet (15-30 meters) apart from each other will give you the most distance when trying expand your mesh network.
Z-Wave Plus is a certification program which notifies consumers that devices with this certificate are part of the 500 series or the 5th generation Z-Wave. Z-Wave Plus is backwards compatible with all other versions of Z-Wave and it comes packed with new capabilities such as easier installation, increased signal range, longer battery life and more.
The Z-Wave Plus Features include:
While you can use older versions of Z-Wave with Z-Wave Plus devices, to get the most benefits, you're smart home would have to use all Z-Wave Plus devices in order to take advantage of all of these features. You can identify which products are Z-Wave Plus certified by looking for labels on the product or product packaging that says Z-Wave Plus on it.
Your Z-Wave controller or smart hub would also need to have support for Z-Wave Plus in order to gain all of these features or your devices (Z-Wave and Z-Wave Plus) would default to using regular Z-Wave.
A mesh network is a collection of nodes that are connected to each other that send and receive messages to other nodes on the network. In the case of smart devices, nodes represent each smart device on the network. Non battery powered Zigbee and Z-Wave devices also function as repeaters (extenders) to increase your protocol's range.
This allows the devices to transmit data to any device that can receive it's data, thus extending the range of the mesh network as the number of extenders increase.
Some protocols such as Z-Wave may be restricted to a set number of hops that it can travel between other devices. This hop feature can play a big role in allowing you to get a good signal range in a huge house that has multiple floor levels.
Here’s a Zigbee specifications chart that will show you the strengths and weaknesses the wireless protocol.
|Network Type:||Mesh Network|
|Frequency (USA):||2.4 GHz|
|Power Consumption:||Low Power|
|Data Rate:||20-250 kbps|
|Range:||30-328 Feet (9-100 Meters)|
|Max Connected Devices:||65,000+|
Here’s a Z-Wave specifications chart that will show you the strengths and weaknesses the wireless protocol.
|Network Type:||Mesh Network|
|Frequency (USA):||908.42 MHz|
|Power Consumption:||Low Power|
|Data Rate:||9.6-100 kbps|
|Range:||50-328 Feet (15-100 Meters)|
|Max Connected Devices:||232|
Zigbee uses a mesh network, but unlike Z-Wave it can travel or hop between as many devices as it wants and is not limited. This means Zigbee's max range can be increased a lot farther depending on how you spread out your other Zigbee devices.
Keep in mind that most of the time only smart devices that are powered through electricity can act as repeaters or extenders. This means that most battery powered Zigbee devices won't be able to extend the range of your other devices.
With this type of configuration Zigbee would be ideal for huge houses that have multiple floors as long as you space out your devices about 30 feet apart from each other.
Z-Wave uses a mesh network, but unlike Zigbee it can only travel or hop between 4 other devices. This means that Z-Wave devices can only bounce information between at most 4 devices.
Even though Z-Wave's initial max range is larger than Zigbee's it will not be able to travel as far as someone who owns multiple Zigbee devices placed in strategic locations.
With this type of configuration Z-Wave would be ideal for people that don't want to have multiple devices placed 30 feet from one another.
Since Z-Wave is able to send data farther than Zigbee, being limited to 4 hops in a small to large house would be a perfect fit.
Here's a Zigbee frequencies chart to show you all of the Zigbee frequencies that each country / territory uses.
|COUNTRY / TERRITORY||FREQUENCY|
|Australia||915 MHz, 2.4 GHz|
|Europe||868 MHz, 2.4 GHz|
|China||784 MHz, 2.4 GHz|
|Japan||920 MHz, 2.4 GHz|
|United States||915 MHz, 2.4 GHz|
Here's a Z-Wave frequencies chart to show you all of the Z-Wave frequencies that each country / territory uses.
|COUNTRY / TERRITORY||FREQUENCY|
|Australia||919.8 MHz, 921.4 MHz|
|Brazil||919.8 MHz, 921.4 MHz|
|Canada||908.4 MHz, 916 MHz|
|CEPT (Europe)||868.4 MHz, 869.85 MHz|
|Chile||919.8 MHz, 921.4 MHz|
|Columbia||908.4 MHz, 916 MHz|
|Hong Kong||919.8 MHz|
|Japan||922.5 MHz, 923.9 MHz, 926.3 MHz|
|Malaysia||919.8 MHz, 921.4 MHz|
|Mexico||908.4 MHz, 916 MHz|
|New Zealand||919.8 MHz, 921.4 MHz|
|Singapore||920.9 MHz, 921.7 MHz, 923.1 MHz|
|South Africa||868.4 MHz, 869.85 MHz|
|South Korea||920.9 MHz, 921.7 MHz, 923.1 MHz|
|Taiwan||920.9 MHz, 921.7 MHz, 923.1 MHz|
|Thailand||920.9 MHz, 921.7 MHz, 923.1 MHz|
|UAE||868.4 MHz, 869.85 MHz|
|United States||908.4 MHz, 916 MHz|
With Wifi being known as a battery killer it’s surprising to find out that Zigbee, which commonly operates on the 2.4 Ghz frequency, uses a small amount of power. What’s even more amazing to hear is Zigbee is able to consume less power then even Z-Wave, which operates on a lower frequency.
In order for a smart device to pass Zigbee certification, the device must have a battery life of at least 2 years.
Although the power consumption difference between Zigbee and Z-Wave is really small, it still deserves to be recognized as a little can go a long way. These small differences could add up over a long period of time and potentially give you days, if not months of extra battery life.
The technology behind Zigbee is truly amazing and it’s easy to see why more and more companies are deciding to go with Zigbee over Z-Wave.
If you are someone who doesn’t want to deal with the maintenance of changing multiple device’s battery every few months, then this protocol may be perfect for you.
Z-Wave also consumes a small amount of power, but beyond that it’s hard to find any information online about it’s true battery life.
Most companies claim their Z-Wave products will last 1-2 years, but some people have claimed that these same products died within 3-6 months while other stated they have gotten the full 1-2 years.
A lot of factors can affect battery life, but here’s what I do know. Z-Wave devices are always in one of two states, awake or asleep. When the device is asleep, it’s conserving it’s battery life efficiently, while awaiting information to be sent to it.
Once it receives data, the device wakes up and activates it’s radio. When this happens the device uses around 10,000 times more battery power compared to when it’s asleep.
So to get the most out of your Z-Wave devices you have to figure out how to keep your device in sleep mode the longest while still being able to perform your commands.
Zigbee’s data rate is 20-250 kbps which depends on the frequency it’s using as well as any obstructions that are blocking it’s path.
Zigbee sacrifices it’s range for faster data rates by operating at a higher frequency when compared to Z-Wave.
Z-Wave’s data rate is 9.6-100 kbps which depends on the frequency it’s using as well as any obstructions that are blocking it’s path.
Z-Wave sacrifices it’s data rate speed for a larger signal range by operating at a lower frequency when compared to Zigbee.
Zigbee’s max range can be a tricky number to find out because it depends on a few things such as line of sight, outdoors with no obstructions, or indoors with obstructions such as walls. Here’s some data based on what I could find online for each of these situations.
Z-Wave has about the same max range as Zigbee when it comes to unobstructed areas outdoors, but when it’s dealing with obstructions indoors it has better range. Here’s some information I found online about each of these situations.
When you start to mix obstructions with different types of building materials this is where the range of these protocols decrease significantly. Zigbee’s max indoor range can be expected to reach around 10-30 feet (~3-9 meters) depending on building materials and line of sight.
Z-Wave’s signal strength takes a hit when it’s indoors with walls between each device, but it’s not that bad. Z-Wave’s max indoor range can be expected to reach 50-100 feet (~15-30 meters) depending on building materials and line of sight.
From everything I can find online in an outdoor area with no obstructions Zigbee performs really well. Zigbee’s max outdoor range can be as high as 328 feet (~100 meters) with nothing obstructing it’s path.
From what I have gathered, Z-Wave performs just as well as Zigbee does when outdoors and nothing blocking the signal's path. Z-Wave's max outdoor range can be as high as 328 feet (~100 meters) with nothing obstructing it's path.
In order to truly maximize the distance that this protocol is capable of achieving, it is recommended to place your non battery powered Zigbee devices (repeaters/extenders) about 30 feet (~9 meters) from each other preferably with line of sight.
Since this protocol doesn’t have a cap on the maximum number of hops it can perform, setting up your mesh network this way will reward you with a much larger max distance.
This setup would be perfect if you own a huge house with multiple rooms and floors and have lots of Zigbee devices to act as repeaters.
In order to truly maximize the distance of this protocol you would gain the most advantage from placing your non battery powered Z-Wave devices (repeaters/extenders) anywhere from 50-100 feet (~15-30 meters) so that those 4 hops cover the most distance.
Where Z-Wave differs from Zigbee is that it’s mesh network is only able to hop between 4 other Z-Wave devices so in order to get the best max distance you have to place them strategically.
With Z-Wave already having excellent indoor range, using this technique could expand your mesh network even farther and would be perfect for small to large houses that don’t need many Z-Wave devices to act as repeaters.
When Zigbee was first created, it wasn’t designed with interoperability in mind and as a result some Zigbee products won’t work with other Zigbee products. Since then Zigbee has been working harder to make all of their devices compatible, but sometimes you have to be careful about which products you buy.
An example of this is the Philips hue smart bulbs. Even with a Zigbee hub you won’t able to control all of the features of these smart bulbs until you buy the Philips hue bridge. This makes dealing with Zigbee a little troublesome as you come to expect all Zigbee devices to work with one another without any problems.
Luckily, most Zigbee devices will get along with each other, but it’s good to be aware that sometimes you might come across some compatibility issues with other Zigbee devices.
Z-Wave was created by a private company who owns the rights of this protocol and decides who can make products for it. One of the main selling points for Z-Wave is it’s ability to work with every other Z-Wave product on the market.
This is because the company that owns Z-Wave always had a standard in place that made sure every device worked with each other before it could be released.
Z-Wave is very beginner friendly to people new to making a smart home and ensures that every Z-Wave product you buy will work with each other without causing any issues. Interoperability is key to building a smart home, and Z-Wave makes it so every device can work together and interact in harmony without any problems.
If you want to rest easy knowing that all of your smart device will work with each other, then Z-Wave is your best bet.
Zigbee theoretically supports up to 65,000+ devices that are simultaneously connected at the same time. So, if your smart hub could handle this many connections, it would be able to support itself and 65,000+ other Zigbee devices that are connected to it.
Although 65,000+ devices is an insane number of devices, this feature shouldn’t be a deciding factor when choosing which wireless protocol to use because 65,000+ is overkill.
Z-Wave supports up to 232 devices that are simultaneously connected at the same time. This means that the smart hub is able to support itself and 231 other Z-Wave devices that are connected to it.
For most people 232 devices is plenty and this feature shouldn’t be a deciding factor when you are choosing which wireless protocol to pick.
Here is a list of the most popular smart devices that are compatible with Zigbee:
Here is a list of the most popular smart devices that are compatible with Z-Wave:
If you're stuck deciding on which wireless protocol to use why not use both? With smart hubs such as the Samsung SmartThings 3rd Generation Smart Hub or the Wink Hub 2 you can spend less time trying to pick the best protocol and more time finding the smart devices that you want to add to your smart home.
I personally use the Samsung SmartThings 3rd Generation Smart Hub from Amazon and it works great. It's nice knowing that I can add a Zigbee or Z-Wave product to my existing setup and it will just work regardless of whatever protocol the device uses.
My name's Charles and I love how technology is making life easier and more convenient. I created this website to share everything I've learned about smart devices and show off cool ways to automate your life. If you're looking for in-depth information, tutorials, reviews and ways to make your life smarter, not harder, then you've come to the right place.