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Friday, September 18, 2020

A complete guide to smart home wireless protocols

Smart homes deploy different devices to work together. This concept defines The Internet of Things (IOT). IOT products exchange information with other devices to trigger actions. To do so, they need to use the same smart home wireless protocols.

Traditional wireless protocols are already well known. These are:

  • Infrared: a simple one-way protocol that is most often used in remote controls.
  • Wifi: fast and reliable, with a range of around 20 meters.
  • Bluetooth: a short range protocol that covers a range of around 10 meters. It is most often used in phones and computers to connect wireless peripherals.

Smart Home Wireless protocols
These three smart home wireless protocols power the home automation industry.

The most popular smart home wireless protocols are Zigbee and Z-Wave. Zigbee is an open standard. Z-Wave is a closed protocol that requires a license to use.

The next most common is wifi. Wifi has a smaller range than Zigbee or Z-Wave. It is also vulnerable to hacking. If you use weak passwords, hackers could look in on your home video feeds, disable systems or worse.

This article looks at the basics of Zigbee and Z-Wave smart home wireless protocols. Both are ideal for home security, although each has strengths and weaknesses.

Today, the best home security hubs accommodate Zigbee, Z-Wave and Wi-Fi all-in-one. Learn about both protocols below. Then choose an appropriate all-in-one hub to enjoy limitless possibilities.

Z-Wave protocol

Z-Wave smart home wireless protocol

Z-Wave is a proprietary protocol managed and licensed by Silicon Labs. Licensed members become part of the Z-Wave Alliance. Principal Alliance members include ADT Security and Samsung SmartThings. Full members include Abode, Bosch and Sharp.

Silicon Labs maintains strict control over the protocol. This is to make sure that every Z-Wave device works with every Z-Wave controller.

Z-Wave uses a mesh network. This means that its signal is rebroadcast by other devices connected to the network. Note that Z-Wave mesh networks only use powered devices like smart plugs. To save power, battery-operated devices are not included in networks.

The maximum data transmission speed of Z-Wave devices is 100Kbps. This is more than enough to transmit simple commands like turning on lights.

The Z-Wave protocol supports up to 232 devices with a range of 40 meters. The latest Z-Wave chips can manage up to four nodes. This means that Z-Wave networks can cover most average sized homes.

Zigbee protocol

Zigbee smart home wireless protocol

Zigbee is a wireless protocol developed by the Zigbee Alliance. It is an open protocol that nobody owns. It has looser controls than Z-Wave, so not all Z-Wave devices are certain to work together. Also, Zigbee comprises several protocols. One covers home automation. Another covers home hospital care. Another focuses on Smart Energy Management.

In other words, the Zigbee platform is more fragmented. It is also developed more loosely than Z-Wave. Because it’s open code, it is more accessible for startups and prototype builders. Thus a lot of the more creative smart home products tend to be Zigbee based. Check out Zigbee compatible products on the Zigbee Alliance website.

Like Z-Wave, Zigbee uses a mesh network. This means that connected devices serve as signal repeaters. Zigbee devices run in the 2.4GHz band with a range of around 20 meters. It has a data transfer speed of 250Kbps, plenty fast enough to control a standard smart home. In total a single Zigbee network can manage up to 65,000 devices.

Zigbee vs. Z-Wave comparison

Many high end smart home hubs accommodate both Zigbee and Z-Wave platforms.

While you can technically combine platforms in a single home system, it’s not ideal. Mixed platforms require more processing power and longer response times.

This section breaks down the strengths and weaknesses of Zigbee and Z-Wave.

Both protocols share market domination

Zigbee is compatible with around 2,500 products from the 400 members of the Zigbee Alliance.

Z-Wave boasts 3000 supported devices from 700 members.

Z-Wave has a bigger range

The standard Z-Wave protocol has a range of 30 meters, or 100 feet. Zigbee’s range is 20 metres, or 66 feet. This means that Z-Wave is the better choice for large houses and buildings.

Zigbee can connect more devices

Zigbee can support up to 65,000 devices on a mesh network. Z-Wave can only handle 232 devices. On paper this might sound impressive. In reality, most smart homes use less than 20 devices.

Z-Wave is slower but more stable

Z-Wave uses the low frequency 918/960 MHz band, while most Zigbee devices run in the 2.4GHz band. This makes Zigbee faster, with data rates averaging 40-250 kbps. In comparison, Z-Wave transfers data at 9.6-100kbps.

On the other hand, Z-Wave’s 918/960 MHz band has minimal interference, while Zigbee’s 2.4GHz band suffers some.

Cross Platform Hubs

Today, a growing number of smart home hubs can accommodate both Zigbee and Z-Wave protocols.

Remember that each protocol works as a private mesh network. By running both protocols at the same time, your system will run slower. It will also complicate your network management. You will need to run both Zigbee and Z-Wave apps and manage each separately.

Buying a hub with cross-platform protocols gives you limitless options for add-on devices. After buying one, build your system using either Zigbee or Z-Wave but not both.

Sticking to one will keep your operation simple – without compromising extendability.

The following hubs are compatible with Zigbee, Z-Wave and Wi-Fi. They also work with voice assistants like Amazon Alexa. Each also adds a few proprietary protocols as well.

Samsung SmartThings V3 Hub

Samsung SmartThings V3 Hub

The Samsung SmartThings v3 is one of the most popular hubs on the market. It connects with thousands of devices across all the main protocols. Connect smart lights, cameras, door locks and more using an intuitive app. Mix them together using automations or IFTTT recipes. The possibilities with this hub are endless.

  • Traditional protocols: Wi-Fi
  • Smart home protocols: Z-Wave, Zigbee
  • Voice Assistants: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant
  • Non Z-Wave products: Philips Hue, Ring, Arlo and more

SmartThings Hub v3 on Amazon $69.99

Vera Plus Smart Home Hub

Vera Plus smart home wireless hub

The VeraPlus Smart Home Hub includes four wireless protocols: Z-Wave, Zigbee, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth. This allows it to work with almost all smart home and security products. Thus you can build a system choosing from thousands of devices from hundreds of top brands.

  • Traditional protocols: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
  • Smart home protocols: Z-Wave Plus, Zigbee
  • Voice Assistants: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant
  • Non Z-Wave products: Nest, Schlage, Yale, kwikset and more

Vera Z-Wave Plus on Amazon $99.95

Securifi Almond+ Router and Smart Hub

Securifi Almond+ smart hub

The Securifi Almond+ is a long range wireless 802.11ac router with Dual Band Gigabit Wi-Fi. It also serves as home automation hub. It comes with a touchscreen for super easy setup and control. You can also control the router and security functions on your phone using the Almond+ app.

  • Traditional protocols: Wi-Fi
  • Smart home protocols: Z-Wave, Zigbee
  • Voice Assistants: Amazon Alexa
  • Non Z-Wave products: Philips Hue, Nest

For a full list of compatible products, check out the Almond compatibility page.

Almond+ on Amazon $188.73

Conclusion

As of this writing, the divide between Zigbee and Z-Wave devices is getting smaller. This guide covers three popular cross-platform hubs. Many popular smart speakers can also also support both platforms. For example, the Amazon Echo Plus has Zigbee built-in, and can also connect to external Z-Wave hubs.

This means that with most high-end systems, you don’t need to limit yourself to either protocol. That’s because most top systems let you access both.

As already mentioned, even when you can access both, its best for simplicity to only use one. If you want faster data transfer rates, choose Zigbee. If you want access to a larger range of products and more reliable connections, chose Z-Wave.

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