ZigBee and Z-Wave: Wireless Home Control, Monitoring, and Automation

ZigBee and Z-Wave are both short-range wireless technologies used for remote control and monitoring. They are both being used in the emergence of HAN (home-area networks).

They both operate in the unlicensed wireless bands. However their applications and specs are different.

In North America, ZigBee operates in the 2.4 GHz frequency range and has a maximum speed of 250 kilobits per second (kbits/s). In Europe it uses 868 MHz at 20 kbits/s. It uses a very low power rating of only 1 milli Watt (1 mW), 0 dBm, so the range is only about 30 feet (10 meters). It can definitely have and/or cause interference issues with WiFi and bluetooth.

ZigBee has very specific applications such as telecommunications, smart energy, home automation, building automation, remote control, and some retail services.

Z-Wave operates in the 900 MHz wireless spectrum and creates a wireless meshed network. Basically each “node” can talk to other nodes by relaying through adjacent nodes or if they are close enough, they talk direct. You can have up to 232 devices. The maximum speeds are very slow at either 9.6 kbits/s or 40 kbits/s. The signal strength is also only 1 mW (0 dBm). It is possible in open space to go up to 90 feet (30 meters).

Z-Wave is more typical in control and monitoring devices such as door locks, security/smoke sensors, controlling your lights and climate, and other home and small facility applications.

If you go to Home Depot or Lowes and buy some wireless home control products, they are probably using Z-Wave technology even though they don’t state it. It is the simpler of the two and more common. ZigBee is more versatile however much more complex resulting in more difficult development. If you google search either of these, you will find a variety of interesting products available.

The reason I became aware and interested in these technologies is due to a Kickstarter project I came across, the Almond+. This WiFi router is compatible with many Z-Wave and ZigBee sensors allowing you to control them including with your Android or iPhone smartphone.

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13 thoughts on “ZigBee and Z-Wave: Wireless Home Control, Monitoring, and Automation

  1. Sorry, computer acted weird and posted already.

    Very interesting article, I’ve learned about Zigbee and how it can be used as sensors in a HAN. I know it also has other applications for example keeping track of the filled spots in a parking garage. But to make it effective, shouldn’t you have to buy and use a lot of zigbee/z-wave nodes to create an effective network?

    And if you need a lot of these things it will cause major interference with your wifi-signal i’d imagine?

  2. Long and great article.

    When reading your blog you’re learning step by step everything you need to know about IT. Even some topics that aren’t “mainstream” will be part of at least one article.

    Thanks for this, David, though it is not something that affects me (right now).

  3. Glad to see that Almond+ has been funded enough and more. It’s a very interesting concept that people can play with. I’m also glad that we’re finding other uses for routers other than to provide internet connection to wireless devices.

  4. This is definitely an interesting way to start down the path of “smart homes”. This reminds me of Bill Gates’ house which is has a property-wide tracking system that allows guests to adjust temperature, music and lighting based on a pin that they wear. It’s pretty interesting and definitely a cool feature to have in your house, but you have to wonder if it’s really necessary.

  5. Wow, ZigBee and Z-Wave capabilities are very exciting. It’s kind of like the home automation of “The Jetsons” is coming to life finally.

    But beyond the cool factor, I think this technology will also be very helpful for the disabled and the elderly who want to live independent lives at home. I will be curious to see the developing trends and the products and services that will help this population group.

    • You make good points about this being effective for the elderly and disabled. I agree wholeheartedly. It is really effective for snowbirds (mainly the elderly) who travel in the winter but want to keep a watchful eye on their homes. I’m trying to talk my wife into getting this technology but she isn’t on board yet! I even linked her to this article.

  6. Wow, great article. This is the first time I’m reading about this. I thought this was only possible in scifi shows and cartoons.

    Great to see where technology has come and we finally have wifi connected homes. Hopefully one day they could become mainstream enough to be a standard instead of a luxury.

  7. I didn’t even now that this sort of technology existed. Good to know. I wouldn’t mind purchasing something like this to protect my home’s locks. There must be other companies that offer the service besides zigbee/zwave, I imagine. I agree that this is especially effective for the elderly and those with disabilities.

  8. I have heard about ZigBee before in a conference when I was still in college. At that time, it was bluetooth that has been dominating the wireless market and the speakers have discussed that although the two maybe both wireless technology, there application is much more different. They were able to discuss that ZigBee is being designed for Automation purposes and at the time, it was for Process Automation for Manufacturing companies and such.

    Its great to hear that we are able to slowly adapt this technology to our homes. But i haven’t heard about Z-waves yet so this article is a good to know.

  9. This is a pretty good tool for home monitoring and home automation. But I think there may be a flaw with this, especially Z-Wave, if it uses a mesh network. If you can pair another Z-Wave node into an existing network, and modify it to, instead of transferring info, like the state of a door (open or closed), to actually transfer false data to each node to confuse it essentially, and temporarily disable the systems for a bit, it could allow a newer, high tech way for thieves to break into a home without having to use force.

  10. I’m frequently taken aback by how far home monitoring systems have come and continue to increasingly develop its security and convenience. I don’t reside in a house yet, but one day when I likely will, I’m sure I’m going to be using some of the most advanced home monitoring technology out there. It’s mind boggling what it can already do to bring safety, comfort and peace of mind.