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Wi-Fi vs. ZigBee and Z-Wave: Which is better?



  A digital smarthome control screen on a wall.
Zhu Diffeg / Shutterstock

ZigBee and Z-Wave were the predominant communications protocols for most of the modern smarthome era. But now Wi-Fi is a strong competitor and more Wi-Fi smart gadgets are added every day. So, which one should you use? The answer is complicated.

Wi-Fi conquers the world

We've written a lot about Z-Wave and Zigbee, which causes each protocol and why you choose one over the other. However, in the past, Wi-Fi as a complete smart home solution was not a serious consideration. We even warned that Google and Amazon have tried to shut down the Smarthome hub and have addressed the difficulties you might encounter with dozens of Wi-Fi devices.

Until recently, Z-Wave or ZigBee was your best bet if you wanted a smarthome. You have selected a protocol and tried to keep it. Most smart hubs support both, so you can use both at home if you need them. Wi-Fi devices did not have much support or central hubs to tie all devices together.

However, this changed that year ̵

1; a fact that became apparent at CES. It appeared that every smarthome maker was promoting the integration of Google and Alexa and focused on Wi-Fi radios instead of Z-Wave or ZigBee. Now there is a Wi-Fi alternative for every Z-Wave lock on the market, often from the same manufacturer. But not all things are the same between the protocols.

Z-Wave and ZigBee: The kings of local processing.

  The Hubitat Hub.
Hubitat

When you build a smarthome, you have to wonder how much you want the cloud involved in. All Wi-Fi smarthome devices only work in the cloud. You need dedicated apps, and you're most likely to sync your devices to Alexa or Google.

However, with the right hub, such as Hubitat, Homeseer, or OpenHab, you can create a smarthome that does not. Rely on the cloud. This means that you can control your smart home even when the internet is unavailable. And if you control your smarthome locally, it works faster too. You will notice a dramatic difference between the time you send a command and the time it occurs, for example, the time it occurs. B. turning on the light.

Z-Wave has less congestion problems than either Wi-Fi or ZigBee. This is because Z-Wave runs on a different radio frequency (908.42 MHz), while ZigBee and most Wi-Fi smarthome devices communicate over 2.4 GHz. It is easy for the 2.4GHz spectrum to become crowded and cause problems.

Z-Wave completely avoids this problem because it only struggles with itself, even as you add more and more Z-Wave devices.

Z-Wave and ZigBee are single sources of error

  A man's hands use a tablet to control the smarthome devices in an app.
Alexander Kirch / Shutterstock

Even if you use a cloud-dependent hub like Wink or SmartThings, Z-Wave and ZigBee products benefit from enterprise clouds involved in the process. Your hub does all the work. If the company that manufactures your Z-Wave bulbs or ZigBee Smart Lock bulbs terminates, your devices will continue to work.

Wi-Fi devices are dependent on multiple clouds. The manufacturer of the gadget provides a cloud and a dedicated app. And if you control your smarthome with Alexa or Google, their cloud is also involved. Unlike a smarthome hub, Alexa and Google Assistant do not control Wi-Fi devices directly – the different clouds communicate with each other.

This means your device will also quit when either page calls. We saw this recently when Best Buy decided to leave the smart home business. Insignia brand plugs, light bulbs and even a smart freezer have lost all their smarthome features. With Wi-Fi, everything in your Smarthome can break, which in turn can cause to break everything in your Smarthome.

However, ZigBee and Z-Wave have a gigantic and unique source of error: the hub you use to control them. If this fails, either because the company quits or because it just breaks down, your entire smarthome agrees.

Wi-Fi Devices Have a Lower Entry Barrier

Smart hubs can be challenging to learn how to use. Unfortunately, this is unavoidable because they are incredibly powerful and allow for advanced automation. However, this is not necessarily the case with Wi-Fi devices. You can pair them with Alexa or Google Assistant, designed to be as user-friendly as possible.

Google Assistant and Alexa routines may not be as powerful as some smart hubs, but good enough for an average smart home. If you need something more complicated, IFTTT and Yonomi work well with Alexa (but unfortunately not with Google).

It's more likely that your family and friends found the Google Assistant or Alexa app than a more esoteric Smart Hub app. This familiarity gives you the opportunity to learn how to interact with your smarthome.

Wi-Fi devices tend to be less expensive

  A TP-Link Wi-Fi lamp hangs over an open book and a mobile phone on a desk.
TP-Link

Due to the low barrier to entry, Wi-Fi devices often cost less than their counterparts Z-Wave and ZigBee. When you compare Wi-Fi plugs with Z-Wave plugs, Wi-Fi lights with ZigBee lights, and Wi-Fi light switches with Z-Wave light switches, you'll see a noticeable difference in price.

That's not the case, Z-Wave and ZigBee are always more expensive – the Schlage Z-Wave lock actually costs less than the Wi-Fi lock. But often this is because the Wi-Fi version is newer – when the Z-Wave-Schloss hit was released, it was sold at the price the Wi-Fi lock currently sells.

Building a smart home does not have to be expensive, but it can add up. Distributing your purchases over a longer period will mitigate the impact. However, the choice of Wi-Fi due to the lower cost is also useful.

Z-Wave and ZigBee devices do not work with every hub

Just because you buy a Z-Wave or ZigBee device and have a Smart Hub works with both, that does not mean they'll work together , For this reason, hubs are constantly releasing updates to ensure compatibility with new devices.

However, if your hub does not add new devices (such as Wink) or publishes updates slowly, you may be unlucky. You can try programming the device as a generic device, but it does not always work.

For Wi-Fi devices, you do not have to wait or see if it works with your favorite voice assistant. Instead, the compatibility effort shifts from the "hub" (Alexa or Google Assistant) to the device manufacturer.

Wi-Fi device manufacturers can rely on APIs from Google and Amazon for everything to work together. This is less work overall, as they have to consider at most two scenarios. Z-Wave and ZigBee hubs often differ significantly, and the workload for synchronization changes from hub to hub.

If you want to make sure the devices you own are always working in your smarthome, you can now use Wi-Fi, which has a definite advantage thanks to Google and Alexa.

So, Wi-Fi or Z-Wave and ZigBee?

Whether you choose Z-Wave and ZigBee or Wi-Fi depends on what's more important to you when it comes to your smarthome experience. If you want everything to work with Google or Alexa and you do not have problems with the Smart Hub, Wi-Fi devices are the best option.

However, if you want a local, cloudless controller – and a smart home, you can vote on the latest specifications – ZigBee and Z-Wave win.

Once you know what you want in your smarthome, the choice becomes obvious.


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