echo plus
Amazon

If you’re a smart home owner, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the words Zigbee or Z Wave on items you’ve purchased. That doesn’t mean you know what either of them really are. If you do, it could be unclear how they differ. In short, your wireless smart devices need to co-exist, and they can’t do that if they all run apart from one another.

Zigbee and Z Wave are wireless protocols that allow your connected devices to “talk” to each other. Rather than using power-intensive Wi-Fi or short-range Bluetooth, Zigbee and Z Wave connect within your smart home using low-energy radio waves.

Read more: What is a smart home?

That being said, they aren’t exactly the same, and you may find that one is better suited for your smart home needs than the other. So let’s dive in. In the Zigbee vs Z Wave showdown, which is the best for your money?

Zigbee vs Z Wave: Basic specs

Philips Hue Hub and Bulb
Both Zigbee and Z Wave run on “mesh” networks. This means that, while both make use of a central hub connected to the internet, a signal can be shared across devices without a Wi-Fi connection.

Zigbee uses the IEEE’s 802.15.4 personal-area network standard to keep your Zigbee devices connected. With AES 128-bit symmetric encryption, it keeps your data (shared from device to device) relatively secure. It runs at 2.4GHz, which is pretty good, but could lead to interference from everything else running at that frequency. At data speeds of 250kbps, it also responds pretty well to your instructions.

Z Wave also runs AES 128-bit symmetric encryption. Z Wave’s 800-900MHz radio frequency range puts it slightly ahead of Zigbee, as it’s less likely to experience interference at that frequency than its competitor.

Zigbee vs Z Wave: Range and compatibility

Z Wave has a range of 100m between points of contact. That’s pretty long, and will probably work fine in an average home—unless you want to connect with the shed in your backyard or just have widely spaced out devices in a larger home. Even if that’s the case, Z Wave’s SoCs (system on a chip) allows you to place additional sensors in buffer zones to boost your signal.

Zigbee’s range, in contrast, can be as low as 10m, so you’ll need your devices to be a little closer together. That range can extend as far as 30m though, depending on your wall materials and line of sight. So it’s still in the running, you’ll just want to keep that in mind for larger, spaced out homes.

Z Wave taps out at 232 devices, while Zigbee allows 65,000 devices or more. That’s a huge difference. However, it really shouldn’t affect your choice much, unless you’re one of the 0.1% of smart home owners who somehow have over 232 smart devices. Then again, given the pace of the tech sphere, you’ll probably want that much connectivity within a few years.

Zigbee vs Z Wave: Devices

Philips SmartSleep Light daylight sunset zigbee
Kris Carlon / Android Authority
Device compatibility might decide for you. Zigbee supports slightly more devices than Z Wave, but the difference is pretty negligible (about 2,500 brands versus about 2,400, respectively). The number of devices is probably less helpful than the specific brands, as you might be more interested in what is supported rather than how much.

So what does each company support? You can check out lists of the Zigbee and Z Wave devices at the links below.

Admittedly, you’ll find more of the major smart home brands at Zigbee, like Philips Hue lights, and Amazon Echo speakers. Having said that, the best choice will depend entirely on the specific devices you prefer for your own home.

Read more: How to set up Amazon Echo speakers

Zigbee vs Z Wave: Final champion

Zigbee and Z Wave have become some of the most ubiquitous wireless protocols for smart home connectivity. Which is better? As with so many product showdowns, the answer isn’t simple. Hopefully, we’ve given you enough details to pick your own champion, specifically suited to your family’s smart home needs. The answer will largely depend on the range you need, the number of appliances you have, and the brands you prefer.