Zigbee vs. Z-Wave (Part 2)

In our prior post, we touched on what universal standards mean for the home control industry and where Z-Wave and Zigbee fit into that equation. Here, we’re going to try to add a bit more perspective on when, where, and how one technology might be more attractive than the other.

Availability

Thus far, Z-Wave has achieved a great deal of success in becoming a communication standard within the home, while Zigbee has gained the favor of utility providers. Officially, neither side has relinquished its claim to the other’s hard-earned territory, and both are intent on being the standard to usher in the smart grid.

Although Zigbee boasts notable endorsements from makers of smart meters and utility providers, it hasn’t received as warm a reception from consumer electronics makers. Not only is the number of devices certified by the Z-Wave Alliance is far greater than those on the Zigbee platform, they are more readily accessible.

A DIY-minded homeowner, for example, can mix and match Z-Wave products from online vendors to build a custom system. That same system is just as easily expandable.

It’s still not all that easy to go out and buy Zigbee products. At this point, homeowners must enlist the support of service providers for home control systems on this platform. Surely, this route also has a significant upside. But from the consumer’s perspective, getting these technologies into the home must look very different.

Scalability

One of the challenges confronting any wireless standard competing for real estate is that buildings come in all shapes, sizes, and constructions. Both technologies, utilizing a mesh topology, are really given the opportunity to shine in difficult installations. That is, both are capable of detecting obstructions and determining the most effective course for communication.
As more devices are added to the network, this process is made more efficient.

When it comes to large buildings; however, Zigbee may be the stronger solution. A single network can accommodate up to 8000 nodes, broadening its potential for energy management in tall buildings. These might include workspaces as well as multi-dwelling residential units. Z-Wave networks reach capacity at a still-impressive 232 nodes, but may not provide the scalability necessary for large projects.

Building and Energy Management is a Worldwide Trend

Whether born out of necessity or conscious, the current shift toward smarter, more energy efficient living is reaching every corner of the world. In this regard, wireless networking technology provides tremendous potential for smarter power consumption. Though not every country is ready to welcome these relative newcomers on their already crowded airwaves.

Japan, for instance, requires home automation systems to operate at frequencies below 1GHz, rendering Zigbee obsolete. Here in Korea, the wavelength at which Z-Wave operates is currently reserved for mobile communications. In this way, for example, relatively inflexible laws can make provide a local boost to one side or the other.

Conclusions

From where we are sitting, the standoff between these two popular home control standards doesn’t yet look like a zero sum game. Many companies, this one included, are betting that both will enjoy a great deal of prosperity as the demand for smarter homes continues to grow. The appropriate platform, at this point anyway, will largely depend on who the customer is, what they want to accomplish, and where they’re located.

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