Zigbee vs Z-wave: Which is best for your smart home? – Reviewed
Zigbee and Z-Wave are low-energy, low-bandwidth wireless mesh networking protocols used for smart home devices like light bulbs, smart plugs and switches, thermostats, and other devices. Either choice is a great way to add locally-controlled smarts to your home without having a bunch of devices clogging up your Wi-Fi network. Whether you should go with Z-Wave or Zigbee (or wait for Thread—more below) depends on the devices already in your home and which services you use to integrate them.
What are the advantages of Z-Wave and Zigbee?
Credit: Reviewed / Rachel Murphy
Sensors for doors and windows are ideal for use with Zigbee and Z-Wave hubs.
Smart home devices that support Zigbee and Z-Wave respond faster than those reliant on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. They also use much less energy and tend to have more reliable connections. The devices don’t connect to the internet or to the rest of your home network directly, but instead to a hub or bridge (which then connects to your internet or to the rest of your smart home setup).
Because Zigbee and Z-Wave are both mesh protocols, each connected device only needs a strong-enough wireless signal to communicate with the next one in the network. Both protocols have low maximum data rates (up to 250kbps for Zigbee, and up to 100kbps for Z-Wave) that are ideal for sensors, locks, lights, and other smart devices that don’t need to transfer much information.
What are the differences between Zigbee and Z-Wave?
Zigbee and Z-Wave aren’t interchangeable—they operate using different protocols, on different frequencies, and they have different technical limitations (though most of those limitations won’t matter at the single-household scale).
The most meaningful difference between Z-Wave and Zigbee is that Z-Wave devices must be certified (look for the logo in a product’s packaging) to work, while Zigbee is a set of protocols that manufacturers can implement in various ways.
Many Zigbee hubs only work with a tiny subset of devices, and many Zigbee devices have limited features with third-party hubs.
The Z-Wave Alliance says that any Z-Wave hub should be able to control any Z-Wave device, which makes it easier to integrate multiple Z-Wave devices. Conversely, while any manufacturer can make a Zigbee hub or device, those devices don’t have to be compatible with the rest of the ecosystem. Many Zigbee hubs only work with a tiny subset of devices, and many Zigbee devices have a limited set of features with third-party hubs.
If you use Google Assistant or Alexa to control your smart home, you can use either Z-Wave or Zigbee for deadbolts, smart plugs, light switches, and sensors.
Will Matter make Zigbee or Z-Wave obsolete?
Credit: Connectivity Standards Alliance
The Matter logo will be displayed on products that work with the smart home alliance.
Matter, the perpetually almost-here unified smart home networking platform, won’t replace Zigbee or Z-Wave. It’s designed to let smart home devices from different manufacturers interoperate, and Amazon, Google, Apple, and Samsung SmartThings are all partners. Matter is run by the Connectivity Standards Alliance, which used to be called the Zigbee Alliance, so Zigbee is involved.
The Z-Wave Alliance isn’t part of Matter, but Z-Wave hubs will be able to add Matter support, and Samsung has committed to adding it to its SmartThings system.
When to consider Z-Wave devices