Z-Wave vs ZigBee vs WIFI - Choosing a Standard: Your Smart Home Questions Answered
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Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Wifi all have their merits when we talk about smart home devices. As a result, it can be difficult to choose a (or multiple) standards for your smart home or home automation setup. You can cause yourself a lot of grief in the future with the wrong choices when you're first designing your smart home. You can also cause yourself a lot of grief in the future when you go out and buy the wrong devices.
With Z-Wave, you get a 800-900 MHz carrier frequency, which means lower bandwidth than the other standards. With that carrier frequency comes very little interference from other devices, unless you own an older cordless phone (some were in the 900 MHz band). This lower frequency also means a longer distance than the other standards/protocols (up to 100 meters). The network is also a "mesh" network, which means the devices connect to each other.
With Zigbee, you get a 2.4 GHz carrier frequency, which means a higher bandwidth than Z-Wave. With that carrier frequency comes the chance for interference from Wifi signals in your home. However, Wifi can now be 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz, so you can for the most part, eliminate interference as a problem. This higher frequency also means a shorter distance than the other standards/protocols (10-30 meters is generally accepted). The network is also a "mesh" network, which means the devices connect to each other.
In terms of security, all three standards or protocols have pretty good encryption. All require at least 128 bit encryption at least. Z-Wave is limited to 232 devices, while Zigbee is only limited by bandwidth because it could conceivably have 65 000 devices on a network. Wifi is variable based on your router and your ability to have a mesh system in your home.
When I'm advising people in terms of smart home protocols, I've now started to shift my tune away from Z-Wave. The reason is simply because of the lower bandwidth of Z-Wave and the unlikely ability to, in the future, have all the data I (and you) want to be moved around your home. Truthfully, even with all the advances in Zigbee and the new 3.0 standard, I think there's only one standard capable of handling the internet of things we're about to have in our homes.
That standard is Wifi, and the new 802.11ax standard. You see, the new standard gives us increases on a magnitude of anywhere from 2 to 16 times more bandwidth and devices managed on one router. In a mesh system, that number will improve even further. So where you used to have 10-20 devices on one inexpensive router, you could now look towards 300 devices very comfortably on the same Wifi network.
Overall, here's what I suggest:
1. People who own Z-Wave systems should begin the transition away. Get a Samsung SmartThings or Wink Hub 2 to bridge the gap and then begin to transition towards Zigbee, but more Wifi.
2. People just starting should do the same in terms of buying a Samsung SmartThings, Wink Hub 2, or an Echo Plus. The reason for that is Zigbee capability, but also the ability to build out a Wifi system. You could buy Z-Wave products if you wanted with Samsung or Wink, but my suggestion is that you keep that to a minimum.
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