Move aside WiFi: much like the Zigbee protocol, Z-Wave is an alternative way to control your smart home devices. It operates on a mesh network, doesn’t require a lot of power to function, and is constantly growing its network of brands that are compatible with it.
One of Z-Wave’s best features, is that it operates on a different frequency than WiFi. Because of this, it won’t interfere with the functioning of Wifi-enabled devices.
Coupled with the fact that it uses such little power, cutting energy costs tremendously – Z-Wave is becoming more popular with larger businesses that operate multiple smart devices simultaneously.
Z-Wave is therefore usually more expensive because Z-Wave members have to pay membership fees, and agree to produce their devices in a particular way so that they are all compatible with each-other.
If you’re quickly scrolling through Amazon, Z-Wave devices can often appear as a ‘rip-off’ on Amazon. For example compare the following two products – one is Z-Wave based, the other is WiFi based. One has a much higher price… but yet both appear to do the same thing:
So what is it about the Z-Wave protocol that makes it more valuable to the average consumer?
As it becomes more well-known, more smart home device manufacturers are joining forces with the Z-Wave Alliance, thereby making their devices compatible with this communication protocol that is specifically designed for smart devices and home automation.
Some of the brands and devices that are compatible with Z-wave include:
- Samsung SmartThings: This is used as a hub in order to control your Z-Wave devices. You simply go into the app, and choose to ‘Enable Z-Wave Module’ to get started.
- Yale: They have several Z-Wave compatible lock mechanisms available. For a fee of $49 for the Z-Wave module, you can integrate them with Samsung SmartThings, Hubitat, HomeAssistant and other smart hubs.
- Kwikset: Similar to Yale, this smart lock producer has plenty of options for pairing with other Z-Wave smart devices and hubs.
- Vivint: the Vivint SkyControl “Panel” (i.e. hub) supports a limited amount of Z-Wave devices; typically those they sell and integrate into your security system themselves. If you want to purchase your own device, make sure to check with them to see which Z-Wave devices are compatible.
- Honeywell Thermostats: Devices such as the T6 Pro Z-Wave thermostat are compatible.
… along with thousands of other devices!
Important note if you own an Amazon Echo: If you’re already using Amazon Echo, you cannot use Z-Wave directly with it. However, you can connect your Amazon Echo to Samsung SmartThings, then use your Echo along with your Z-Wave smart home devices.
The wide range of smart home devices that are compatible with Z-Wave make it easier to integrate this protocol into your own smart home.
But even WiFi lets you connect several devices throughout your home – so what makes Z-Wave smart devices so special, and expensive? Let’s explore some more of its unique features.
Just like Zigbee, Z-Wave utilizes a mesh network that employs the use of a hub in order to control the smart home devices. This mesh network allows for each device on the network to route traffic amongst themselves, instead of constantly having to send traffic back to the central hub.
However, unlike the Zigbee protocol, the network is a little more restrictive. It allows connection between a maximum of 232 devices. Whilst this may sound restrictive, this should be more than enough for the modern smart home – especially since many smart bulbs run off Zigbee not Z-Wave.
Z-Wave utilizes an 800-900 MHZ radio frequency, making it almost impossible for it to interfere with the operation of any WiFi devices you may own. Because of this, it tends to be more reliable than Zigbee – which operates on the same frequency as WiFi.
Z wave devices can communicate with each other up to 300 ft apart; better than Zigbee’s effective range of about 100 feet. This is convenient for nodes on the network that are spaced further apart – such as outdoor smart home devices (i.e. lights, motion sensors, locks, etc).
The range offered by Z-Wave makes it that much easier to control every smart home device around your home – very convenient!
When it comes to WiFi, we’re used to thinking speed is everything – so we typically opt for the highest speed our ISP has to offer. But did you know? The advertised router speed is somewhat deceptive.
Let’s say your ISP advertises speeds of up to 1000 mbps and that it can handle 10 or more devices. What they don’t tell you, is that those 10 (or more) devices have to share that 1000 mbps.
So if you have 10 devices sharing 1000 mbps, that’s about 100 mbps per device! Not so fast after all, is it? And that’s if your particular region even supports the full 1000 mbps – it could be significantly lower, giving you even less internet speed to go around.
Plus each WiFi device will have to route its traffic back to the internet router, meaning that the router often acts as a bit of a bottleneck within the network.
Now consider Z-Wave.
This is where the mesh networks get even more appealing. Because devices can route data between each other (instead of constantly having to ‘route back’ to the Z-Wave hub), there isn’t a big speed bottleneck.
This is part of what makes the slightly higher price tag worth it. Imagine you’re using about 20 smart home devices. Using Z-Wave, each device can project speed consistently across the network, with no one lagging behind because they have to wait with another device.
Some might argue that Z-Wave’s speed (which could average around 100 kbps), doesn’t compare to WiFi’s speed. Whilst this is true, Z-Wave devices tend to use very little internet data, plus they’re using very little power (so no energy-consuming lag!), meaning that every smart device is operating quickly and efficiently.
Formed in 2005, the Z-Wave Alliance is a global consortium of over 300 companies dedicated to advancing the use of Z-Wave.
They tend to be strict when it comes to making sure all Z-Wave-enabled devices work together. This means there is almost zero chance that you’ll encounter an interoperability issue when it comes to using one Z-wave device with another.
This compares to WiFi devices which often require you to download yet another phone app to control them. This can become cumbersome very quickly, especially if you have smart devices from 10+ different companies. Whilst projects like Connected Home over IP may resolve these issues, this could be years away. Until then, Z-Wave means having significantly less smartphone apps.
Becoming a member of the Z-Wave Alliance is not cheap, and so this cost at times will trickle down to the end user:
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However, this is often considered a small price to pay for seamless connection and operation.
The Z-Wave Alliance is very strict when it comes to the security of the network. To that end, Z-Wave technology utilizes encryption similar to that of online banking, ensuring that your information will be kept very secure.
Even if your neighbor happens to also use Z-wave products, the signals won’t cross. This is in part because each mesh network repeats a signal over a specific frequency and encryption key; one that is unique to your own devices, and practically impenetrable.
Because of this, if you have neighbors that also operate Z-Wave smart home devices, you won’t be able to affect their devices – and they won’t affect yours. Peace of mind – check.
Whilst this can be true of WiFi devices, there’s no guarantee that WiFi smart tech is constantly using end-to-end encryption. In-fact, a 2020 report found that 98% of IoT traffic is unencrypted. Whoops!
Z-Wave operates with a remarkably low amount of power. This is of particular concern to those that are energy-conscious and want to leave as little of a carbon footprint as possible.
It’s also convenient if you operate a large amount of smart home devices simultaneously. You don’t have to worry about excessive energy being consumed by your devices and signal connecting them.
Anyone using Wifi can attest to the fact that Wifi devices use a lot of energy; it can quickly drain the smart device’s battery, and even cause network lags.
Z-Wave’s low-powered network means longer lasting battery life for your smart home devices, and less device-charging for you to worry about.
While using Z-Wave can’t completely take over the functions of traditional WiFi – it can definitely help!
WiFi is useful when it comes to connecting devices that are miles away, via the internet. If you want to control your smart home devices while you’re, let’s say, on vacation – or simply at work, WiFi is your best option.
Z-Wave, however, is designed for a closer range of control; as in while you’re at home. Even then so, it can still take some of the strain off of WiFi and your wallet. How?
To control multiple smart home devices throughout the inside and outside of your home, you would most likely have to upgrade your internet service, or even your router if your bandwidth or signal isn’t up to par. This can cost anywhere from $60 and up, depending on your ISP. Take into account most routers require a monthly rental fee, and you can quickly see the costs add up.
However, if you use Z-Wave for your smart home devices, they won’t be using WiFi, and will enable your WiFi bandwidth and speed to be used on other things – like your phone, tablet, or computer, allowing you to keep, or even downgrade your service – should you choose.
So even though Z-Wave devices can cost a bit more up-front, in the long run they can actually save you quite a bit of money.
While there is usually a notable price difference when it comes to Z-Wave smart devices vs. WiFi smart devices, this isn’t always the case.
Take for example, most Kwikset Smart Locks, which can be compatible with both Z-Wave and Wi-fi, and retails for $90-150.
This compares to August Smart Locks which are often $100-200, and require a separate $80 August WiFi Bridge to unlock the full functionality.
Fewer retailers have partnered with the Z-Wave Alliance, so although options are limited at times, there are still quite a variety available – and they aren’t as expensive as one might think!
Like Zigbee, Z-Wave’s mesh network can prove to be a very cost effective and useful option for controlling smart home devices in the modern smart home.
Its slightly higher price tag oftens ends up being a small sacrifice in comparison with the convenience of better connectivity, security, and savings on WiFi.