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Smart Home Technologies: Z-wave vs Zigbee vs Bluetooth vs WiFi


First let's understand what are Z-wave, Zigbee, Bluetooth, WiFi when it comes to Smart Home. All these are wireless protocols which allow your connected devices to “talk” to each other. Wi-Fi or short-range Bluetooth are power-intensive while Zigbee and Z-Wave use low-energy radio waves to allow the devices to remain connected to each other within your smart home. Now let's look at features, pros and cons of each of these.

Z- Wave: Runs on “mesh” networks - it makes use of a central hub connected to the internet and the signals are shared across devices without a Wi-Fi connection. Every device acts as a repeater, so the range grows based on the number of devices you have in your network. All your Z-Wave products are interoperatable (communicate with each other) regardless of how they look, how old they are, their country of origin, manufacturer, brand, or version of Z-Wave software. Z-Wave has a larger range – at 30m (100 feet) so it works better for larger houses and buildings. It can only support 232 devices. Z-Wave runs AES 128-bit symmetric encryption. Z-Wave's data rate is 9.6-100kbps . Z-Wave’s radio frequency range is 800-900MHz. It’s less likely to experience interference at that frequency. Z-wave runs on a separate radio frequency wave (908.42 MHz in the US) than Zigbee, WiFi and Bluetooth which can eliminate the lag you may get if there is a lot of congestion on your WiFi/2.4GHz band. Z- Wave products are more costlier than Zigbee and WiFi based products. Z-Wave devices are programmed with their particular countries radio frequency, if you relocate to a country which does not support the frequency the device is programmed to, it will not work.

Zigbee: Also runs on “mesh” networks like Z-wave. Zigbee uses the IEEE’s 802.15.4 personal-area network standard to keep your Zigbee devices connected. It runs at 2.4GHz frequency which could lead to interference from everything else running at that frequency. Zigbee is broken up into several protocols so different protocols can't exactly talk to each other well, making it less interoperable. But Zigbee 3.0, unifies all these protocols so that they can work together. Zigbee is faster with data rates at 40-250 kbps. Zigbee can support more devices – 65,000+ devices on the mesh network. Zigbee's range is 10-20 metres (33-66 feet). It uses AES 128-bit symmetric encryption to keep your data shared from device to device secure.

Bluetooth: Everyone is familiar with Bluetooth. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a power-conserving variant of Bluetooth designed for Smart home devices. It makes use of bluetooth mesh - each device can pass the information forward to other Bluetooth Low Energy devices creating a "mesh" effect. It supports data rate upto 1 Mbps while consuming just 0.01 to 0.5 watts.

WiFi: Everyone is familiar with WiFi as well. It also runs on the 2.4GHz frequency and hence can cause interference issues. These are less expensive and you will find many WiFi products in market today making them a popular choice. But remember there are lots of things that can go wrong on Wi-Fi networks; dead zones, slowing speeds, connection drops, limited range, router crashing etc. Also battery operated Smart Home Products will suffer due to the power hungry nature of WiFi.

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