Updated: Jun 4
Your Ultimate Guide to Understand Which Communication Protocol You Should Use for Your Smart Home Automation System
The top three wireless smart home technologies are WiFi, Zigbee, and Z-wave. They are very different from each other in numerous aspects. There are several methods to use these technologies to establish a smart home automation system. Some might choose to build an entire system on one of these technologies, or you can also link them together through multi-tech hubs.
The importance of WiFi, Zigbee, and Z-Wave cannot be understated because they play a critical role in connecting the modern systems that we love to use and enjoy. Rapid technological and networking advancements allow more and more devices and systems to be connected with each other to provide a wholesome experience to the home owners. A vast majority of people are familiar with WiFi. Zigbee and Z-Wave are also important wireless protocols as they are the two leading alternatives to WiFi. What are the differences between WiFi and Zigbee?
In this article, you will learn about everything that you need to know about WiFi, Zigbee, and Z-Wave, including the differences between these three leading wireless protocols. So let’s start by discussing each of these technologies one of by one:
What is WiFi?
WiFi utilizes radio frequencies to offer efficient network connectivity. It operates on a 2.4 GHz network communication standard. A router is necessary to use the Wi-Fi can establish a local network for smart home devices. Every device on the local area connection can easily communicate with each other because they are connected to the same network.
Contrary to Zigbee vs Z-Wave, WiFi is not a mesh network technology. Hence, smart devices do not repeat signals, and every device must be under the direct range of the router. Furthermore, WiFi is very battery-consuming technology. Small battery-operated devices have much lower battery life than Zigbee or Z-Wave devices.
What is ZigBee?
Zigbee Alliance developed the Zigbee technology in 2003. It was standardized in 2004. It is similar to Z-Wave due to the fact that it is considered to be a low-power mesh network technology. The majority of the Zigbee-based devices operate on a much higher band than 2.4 GHz. Zigbee technology overcomes a lot of hub and product range issues by using the line of sight range that is usually specified. Both Zigbee vs Z-Wave target similar applications and want to lead the wireless smart home automation industry.
What is Z-Wave?
Zensys developed the Z-Wave wireless protocol in 1999. It started becoming popular in the early 2000s, particularly in North America. The initial purpose of Z-Wave was to help large organizations in connecting a massive number of devices to a particular network. With the passage of time, Z-Wave has tremendously evolved. It now targets the smart home automation industry by being of the most efficient wireless protocol to connect wireless smart home devices.
Z-Wave is a low-power mesh network technology. It operated in the range of 800-900 MHz band. Compared to WiFi and Zigbee, Z-Wave has the greatest non-line of sight range because it has a lower frequency. It means it sacrifices bandwidth to achieve short sight range. Slower data transmission does not significantly impact the messages sent by the devices using Z-Wave because most of such messages are small. However, if Z-Wave is to be implemented on a larger scale, it can become a considerable limitation.
Now that you have become familiar with the basics differences between WiFi, Zigbee and Z-Wave, let's discuss the significant differences between these technologies in terms of application, products, and protocols.
Home Automation Protocols
Zensys was the initial owner of Z-Wave. After a few years, it was bought by Sigma Design. Every Z-Wave device and protocol is under the complete control of Sigma Design. Such a kind of total ownership is rare in these technologies. Any smart device that has the label of Z-Wave on it, it means the manufacturer of that device had to comply with the strict protocols of Sigma Designs and get it licensed by them. Moreover, Sigma Design even controls companies that are producing Z-Wave chips.
On the other hand, Zigbee is an open wireless standard. It simply means that any company can implement Zigbee devices without following any standard rules like the one enforced by Sigma Design for Z-Wave devices. The advantage of totally controlled and regulated Z-Wave technology is every Z-Wave device will be able to communicate with each other accurately and connect to the hub. Moreover, the entire protocol is standardized, which facilitates the entire process. Zigbee devices can face issues in proper implementation due to non-standardization.
Compared to Zigbee vs Z-Wave, WiFi is extremely different. The majority of smart devices use standard wireless 802.11n. It is an open protocol that can be implemented by any manufacturer. The protocol itself has stringent rules for communication with the network.
Zigbee and Z-Wave are mesh networks that can expand the signal range by transmitting information from one device to the next. However, WiFi devices do not behave this way. They communicate directly with the closest access point. Moreover, they do not relay information between the connected devices.
The Reliability of the three technologies
Nominal Range (0 dBm)
10 - 100 m
30 - 100 m
Maximum Data Range
40 - 100 Kbit/s
It is important to discuss these three technologies' reliability because they are quite different from each other. Both Zigbee and Z-Wave are comparatively lightweight protocols than WiFi. Hence, you can expect less data redundancy in Zigbee and Z-Wave.
It is a clear advantage over WiFi because lightweight protocol means that the devices will have to transmit less data than a WiFi device. It also increases the battery life of the Zigbee vs Z Wave devices. A WiFi sensor running on a battery will drain the batteries much faster than a Zigbee or Z-Wave sensor in terms of battery.
However, the fault tolerance of Z-Wave and Zigbee is extremely low. Typically, a Z-Wave network does not have massive traffic that can cause problems. However, excessive traffic can disturb the entire network due to low fault tolerance.
Z-Wave is a proprietary system. Other companies do not have many opportunities to develop devices based on Z-Wave technology. The manufacturers must pay a certain fee to Sigma Design to use this technology. It means the overall cost of the Z-Wave devices is much more than Zigbee and WiFi devices. Comparatively, Zigbee has joined forces with several tech giants like Apple, Amazon, and Google. Lack of partnerships of Z-Wave can cause serious issues in the future.
Basics differences between WiFi, Zigbee and Z-Wave features:
Zigbee vs WiFi and Z-Wave have different features with their own pros and cons. These are:
WiFi is wide-ranging as it operates through a router on the universally-accepted 2.4 GHz. Similarly, Zigbee also operates on the universally-accepted 2.4 GHz band. It facilitates the manufacturing process as the same chip can be used to distribute products around the world.
On the other hand, Z-Wave products can only communicate in a certain range of government frequencies. In the USA, the Z-Wave products use 908 MHz while in Europe, 868 MHz is used. Numerous other frequencies are available in different parts of the world. Most of the manufacturers produce only limited Z-Wave products for the US and Europe.
Most of the WiFi is interoperable, especially the ones that use the same networking protocols. Some manufacturers provide company-specific integrations. Major companies like Amazon and Google provide their own WiFi integration like smart speakers and other smart home products.
All of the Z-Wave products are interoperable because a single organization, Sigma Design, certifies them. The entire certification process ensures that all of the products are compatible with the whole Z-Wave ecosystem. The large-scale interoperability has helped the Z-Wave in quickly increasing its industry adoption. According to an estimate, there are more than 3,000 Z-Wave certified products available in the market.
On the contrary, Zigbee has suffered a lot due to its failure to implement interoperability standards. Zigbee had to face a lot of fraudulent activities, especially in its starting years. In 2007, Zigbee Pro standard was introduced to increase the interoperability and prevent fraud. Zigbee 3.0 products have very impressive interoperability now.
Out of Zigbee and Z-Wave, WiFi is the only smart home automation that is supported by all three major platforms: Amazon, Google, and Apple. You can also add a multi-tech hub that will offer more flexible and efficient features. It is very easy to integrate WiFi products with most of the companies because it is a very well-known technology.
An extensive range of multi-tech hubs like TUYA support Zigbee. Moreover, many open-source programs also support Zigbee devices. However, Zigbee computability is certainly much less than WiFi devices. On the other hand, almost every multi-tech hub and home software program support Z-Wave. However, Amazon or Google smart speaker does not support Z-Wave.
Which Automation Protocol Should You Use?
The features, advantages, and disadvantages of Z-Wave, Zigbee vs WiFi are quite different from each other. It can be quite challenging for people to make the best choice between them. However, you can choose the best smart home wireless technology by considering the following things:
Z-Wave is a suitable choice if you are going to purchase many products at the same time. It means you will not have to spend a significant amount of money on buying other products and hubs because Z-Wave devices are all interoperable. Furthermore, the more products you buy, the better your mesh network will be, making the network more efficient and reliable.
Zigbee devices also form mesh networks like Z-Wave. However, it is quite different from Z-Wave due to the fact that if you have Zigbee devices from different companies, some devices will form separate meshes that can interrupt the entire main Zigbee mesh.
WiFi is completely different from Zigbee and Z-Wave; it does not form mesh networks. Instead, there are two primary ways of using Wi-Fi devices.
Firstly, you can buy the WiFi products and use them by simply connecting them to Google Home, Amazon Echo, or any other such as smart home technology. This method is considered to be the most straightforward and user-friendly way of using smart home products. However, it does not offer much security.
Secondly, you can use WiFi devices by using them only in local communication. But it requires technical knowledge for implementation due to which the second method is unlikely to be adopted by most of the smart home products manufacturers.
Wireless communication between smart home devices is surely a complicated procedure which makes it challenging for the people to choose the best wireless communication protocols for their implementation. Since both Z-Wave and Zigbee require hubs, they can be quite difficult to implement, especially if you are using different companies' products. WiFi, on the other hand, is the simplest technology available because it does not require a hub. All you have to do is install a device and connect it to the network. Therefore, everyone should carefully analyze their own requirements and the type of smart home devices before choosing suitable technology.