Just five years ago, amenities like high-end kitchen appliances and in-unit laundry wore the crown as the apartment features most likely to lure potential tenants. Now, smart home technology is steadily climbing the charts of the most in-demand amenities. Property managers are noticing the trend: in fact, 30% are investing in tech-savvy technology this year alone. As more and more residents ask you about intelligent thermostats and smart locks, it’s likely you’ve started to research how to get it done. Two terms you’ve likely encountered are Z-Wave and Zigbee. So what’s the difference when it comes to Z-Wave vs. Zigbee? How do these technologies impact your smart apartment and home automation system? 

What Are Z-Wave and Zigbee? 

Simply put, Z-Wave and Zigbee are the languages a smart home speaks. Known as “protocols,” they’re the radio waves that whirr through the air to control low-powered smart home devices like locks and lights. Compared to more well-known wireless protocols like WiFi, they ride the lower end of the radio frequency spectrum. They are how a light switch hears the signal to flip “on” or a thermostat receives instruction to cool to a comfortable 68 degrees. Here’s how they stack up:

  • What is Z-Wave? On the quieter end of the spectrum is the hushed and more reserved Z-Wave frequency. You can picture Z-Wave taking the side streets to completely avoid the more congested lanes hoarded by WiFi. 
  • You can find Zigbee in the slow lane of the information superhighway, occasionally crossing paths with some of the more sluggish WiFi commands. 
  • WiFi is a workhorse frequency, burning rubber at high speeds to churn out high-definition, power-hungry commands like streaming your third Game of Thrones rewatch or hosting a fourth-grade remote learning session.

Why is it important to know the difference between Z-Wave and Zigbee? Manufacturers of smart devices are language loyal. Just like a spoken language, both Z-Wave and Zigbee have their own dictionary of words, making it impossible for the two protocols to communicate with one another. Luckily, we share some hot tips at the end of this post, highlighting how property owners can customize their system to listen for both languages. 

Z-Wave vs. Zigbee: How are How are They Similar? 

You can picture Z-Wave and Zigbee as a different style of WiFi, with their own unique superpowers that make them the ideal communication protocols for a network of smart apartment devices.

They can both create a mesh network

One leading benefit of Z-Wave and Zigbee is their ability to form a mesh network. Every device on a WiFi network follows a strict chain-of-command, receiving information exclusively from their superior officer—the router. Gaming consoles, smartphones, and Friday night movies all phone home to the router to receive their instructions, with no communication roaming between devices. 

Devices that speak the Z-Wave and Zigbee language are far more sociable: they’re able to chatter amongst themselves to create what is known as a mesh network. A mesh network distributes its signal across far distances like a rousing (and accurate!) game of “Telephone,” allowing each device to propagate, or hop, a signal to the next. A Z-Wave mesh network can support a healthy 232 devices, while Zigbee can house a staggering 65,000 devices. Ultimately, this cross-communication can boost the range of your network, making Zigbee and Z-Wave the go-to choice for smart apartment protocols. 

They’re both locked down by high-end encryption standards

Both Z-Wave and Zigbee operate under AES-128, a nearly unbreakable Advanced Encryption Standard that collectively defends nearly 50% of the planet’s data. If you’re worried about hackers unlocking smart deadbolts—it’s virtually impossible. Security experts estimate it would take a malicious actor 1 billion billion years to crack the code, giving both you and your residents peace of mind. 

Z-wave vs. Zigbee: How are They Different?

While both Z-Wave and Zigbee manifest the power of mesh networks and share powerhouse security measures, they each have a set of distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Speed and Frequency

As previously mentioned, Z-Wave minds its own business, steering clear of the louder, more powerful frequencies like WiFi and even Bluetooth. It finds its home around 908.42 MHz, well below the GHz-level bands commandeered by smartphones and laptops. Comparatively, it runs at a 100 kbps whisper, the perfect speed for sending simple commands to front doors and overhead lights like on/off, open/close, lock/unlock. 

Zigbee ups the ante, sending its commands along the 2.4 GHz band at speeds of 250 kbps, one often responsible for carrying hefty WiFi signals as well. While this gives it more speed and power than Z-Wave, it makes it more prone to interference. 

Range

Z-Wave and Zigbee are experts at the game of Telephone, able to sustain signal strength as the command hops between devices. The main differentiator is the number of ears they’re able to reach: Z-Wave can hop four ears away from central command, while Zigbee can propagate an unlimited number of hops. 

Z-Wave makes up for it with a greater range of motion. Z-Wave signals can stretch about 100 feet from one device to another, while Zigbee is limited to a 40-foot stretch. This means that more Zigbee devices are necessary to guarantee coverage in a large mesh network, while Z-Wave can cover the same area with fewer devices. 

Source Code

Z-Wave is a proprietary language with stringent conventions. To create Z-Wave–enabled devices, manufacturers must follow precise coding parameters, eliminating the probability of miscommunication between devices. Similar to the Zigbee Alliance, the Z-Wave Alliance consists of 700+ companies partnering up to ensure their devices always communicate seamlessly with one another. 

On the other hand, Zigbee is an open-source platform, meaning that manufacturers have full freedom when it comes to designing Zigbee-enabled devices. This has the potential to create a Wild West of Zigbee devices, where manufacturers can adjust code at their discretion. A downside to open-source codes are that all Zigbee devices may not speak the same dialect of Zigbee. In recent years, a consortium of 400+ smart tech leaders have come together to standardize code and ensure all Zigbee devices can work together in harmony. 

Do I need to choose just one?

As a property manager interested in adding smart apartment features to your multifamily complex, there are a few tricks you can use to create a vibrant ecosystem of Z-Wave and Zigbee devices. 

Using a smart hub, you can break down the language barriers imposed by the two protocols. Smart hubs can create a virtual United Nations, creating a centralized command center that can communicate in both Z-Wave and Zigbee simultaneously. You have more flexibility to customize your smart setup, selecting locks from one vendor, and a thermostat from another. Hubs lift the restrictions on what devices you can select from, allowing you access into any manufacturer’s full portfolio of smart devices. 

 

This is just the beginning: by selecting a flexible smart apartment partner from the outset, you can freely mix-and-match devices. This gives you the immeasurable power of a future-proofed smart system that doesn’t hinge on mercurial trends. Z-Wave and Zigbee, you’ll always be able to select your ideal device to create the most tenant-attracting suite of smart tech amenities.