Wi-Fi vs ZigBee vs Z-wave Explained: What’s the Difference?

Wi-Fi vs ZigBee vs Z-wave

Every smart device you put your hands on is connected with some type of networks such as Bluetooth or Wi-fi. Seeing how smart devices are rapidly updating, you might think that your devices might have every important wireless protocol covered. But, sadly, no, there are a couple of other networks in smart home automation with similar names that are actually quite widespread in the consumer space, like ZigBee & z-wave. 

But what makes them different from WiFi? Cause you may notice most smart home devices are connected to wifi alongside Zigbee & z wave. In this article, we’ll try to find out which one is suitable for your smart home. 

The ZigBee & Z-wave are primarily focused on smart home applications rather than other kinds of data transmission. However, you might be wondering, Wi-Fi-controlled appliances work just fine. So why do you need totally different protocols to unlock your front door from your palm?

It turns out that Zigbee and Z-wave have real technical advantages that make them better performing and more reliable for home automation – a big one is power consumption.

You may already notice that your home wifi is incredibly versatile. Because it hogs a lot of power, which makes sense considering wifi is used for bandwidth-heavy applications like streaming videos & gaming. However, you simply don’t need a whole lot of bandwidth to tell your smart door to lock or unlock or control other smart appliances.

This means that you don’t need very much speed, which results in huge power savings. If you use a battery-powered doorbell or a security camera. However, both the ZigBee (250 kbps) & Z-wave (100 kbps) operate speeds below 300 kbps, meaning that they aren’t much faster than an old dial-up modem.

But the result is power savings, which is why many smart devices last for years without needing a battery swap. Now you might be thinking that Bluetooth is also quite a low power protocol, so why don’t we just use that?

Because a Bluetooth device only works fine when the main device, such as your smartphone, is in the Bluetooth coverage, and once you take away the device from the Bluetooth range, it will automatically lose its connection. This can be a vital problem if you’re trying to deploy smart home tech in something other than a small apartment.

However, ZigBee & z-wave work as a mesh network where each device acts as a node to deliver the signal to the target device. For example, if your Hub is on the downstairs and the thermostat you’re trying to control is on the third floor, your signal can be routed through your other smart devices to get there.

On the other hand, if we talk about the Z-wave (908 MHz) specifically, it operates on a lower frequency than wi-fi (2400 MHz), meaning longer ranges between nodes.

Zigbee operates on the more congested 2.4 gigahertz bandwidth, which WiFi often uses. However, it somewhat makes up for this limitation by being able to hop through as many devices as they need, whereas Z-wave is limited to just four hops.

And remember that whichever protocol you use, many battery-powered smart home devices aren’t designed to be used as hops since this would drain the battery faster.

On the subject of limitations, the biggest drawback for most people with either ZigBee or z-wave is the need for a central hub to control your gadgets.

Since neither typical routers nor smartphones or tablets come with Zigbee or Z-wave support built-in, you’ll need a hub of some sort that connects to your router so that your phone, tablet, or computer can talk to it via WiFi. And it will then send a Zigbee or Z-wave signal to the devices you’re trying to control. Even though they’re not as straightforward as WiFi, so many IoT devices have adopted Zigbee and Z-wave.

Well, the question may arise, which one is the best? To be honest, it depends on you. Most of the smart home appliances feature wifi connectivity but can’t integrate with each other. At the same time, z-waves have a longer range and better interoperability as a proprietary standard. And ZigBee has flourished in the commercial automation space but has been slower to ramp in the consumer smart home market. So, that was all about the Wifi vs. ZigBee vs. z-wave. 

Samiul Haque

Samiul Haque

Samiul Haque has always been fascinated by sci-fi movies, but more specifically by the hi-tech gadgets and devices that people use in those movies. And as smart home devices became more and more popular, Samiul Haque decided to become a dedicated content creator who uses and reviews everything from smart speakers, smart home appliances to the latest smartphones, smartwatches, etc.