Both Zigbee and Z-wave are mesh networks. These are meant to help the smart devices talk to each other over long distances without using extra power—a Zigbee or Z-wave hub to connect the devices. If the device is close, the hub will speak on its own, and else the hub uses other smart home devices that work as ‘repeaters’ to pass the message unless it reaches the end device. This process is termed as ‘hopping’ and is used by both the protocols. Both of them use AES-128 encryption to ensure that messages are not safe. The hubs and devices use unique network IDs so you can rest assured that there is no interference from neighboring networks. However, there are differences, as well.
Zigbee and Z-wave each use different frequencies. It is like each protocol speaks a different language so that they can’t understand each other. The two are not interchangeable. However, there are devices and hubs for home automation that are created to be ‘bilingual’ so that they can work with either of the protocol. However, if they are tuned to a particular operating frequency, they should continue to use it.
Z-wave protocol has a proprietary code. Still, it is widely used in thousands of products. Leading security companies prefer to use this technology. The unified standards ensure that all the devices using Z-wave will work with all the devices released with this tech. It also means that there are no incompatibility issues. Zigbee protocol, on the other hand, is designed as an open-source. It means any device maker can use it to create devices compatible with Zigbee. Numerous device makers and thousand of companies are using it. With the release of Zigbee 3.0, there is a unified standard that works like the Z-wave.
Zigbee works in the 2.4 GHz frequency or a low power 915 MHz frequency. The former is more powerful and works much faster. However, it can interfere with the Wi-Fi network or the microwave. In the latter mode, the power consumption is less, but the performance is slow in this mode. Z-Wave works on the frequency 908.42 MHz, and it will not interfere with Wi-Fi. However, there could be some interference issues. It delivers up to 100 kbps speed.
Z-wave supports a maximum of 232 smart devices on the meshwork. However, Zigbee can handle 65,000 devices which makes it a better option where large set-ups are needed. Z-wave allows only 4-hops between the device and a hub while there is no such restriction in the Zigbee. Most homes can be automated with 4-hops. At the same time, an extensive business may need unlimited capacity offered by Zigbee. A Zigbee Z-wave hub is centric to the implementation of mesh networks.
Both Zigbee, as well as Z-wave, create strong mesh networks for home automation. If there is a need for unlimited expansion and longer range, Zigbee is a better choice. Large offices and spaces with a lot of smart wireless devices must go for Zigbee. Although slightly expensive, Z-wave will remain the choice for smaller set-ups. The devices are likely to remain compatible even if there is a technology upgrade. Z-wave is also very user-friendly.