Z-Wave explained: What is Z-Wave and why is it important for your smart home? (2024)

Everything you need to know about the smart home wireless standard

If you’ve been stocking up on top smart home kit, you’ve probably noticed a Z-Wave logo on many of the boxes of your connected devices. And chances are, you’ve wondered to yourself, “What is Z-Wave?”

If that’s the case, you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’ll explain exactly what Z-Wave is, why it matters and what you need to know in terms of your smart home setup.

So, what exactly is Z-Wave?

Z-Wave explained: What is Z-Wave and why is it important for your smart home? (1)

Z-Wave was born from an idea by Danish company Zensys in 1999, it came to the US in 2002. Z-Wave, like Zigbee, is a wireless protocol that essentially focuses on connectivity within the smart home.

Hold up: What is Zigbee?

As the smart home’s popularity explodes, more and more connected devices are being added to people’s houses. A lot of these devices – sensors, lightbulbs, heating controls, locks, plugs and the like – pack in Z-Wave to talk to each other.

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In fact, there are more than 100 million Z-Wave devices in smart homes worldwide, with over 4,400 certified Z-Wave enabled devices to choose from.

A much lower power alternative compared to Wi-Fi, but with a much bigger range than Bluetooth, Z-Wave operates using low-energy radio waves to communicate from device to device.

Also, keep in mind that another protocol called Thread is set to play a major part in the future of the smart home as the Matter smart home ecosystem takes hold.

What is Z-Wave Plus?

You may have seen the phrase “Z-Wave Plus” being used for the latest smart home devices. Essentially, it was a major upgrade to the platform that went live a few years back… but looks good on marketing material.

Z-Wave Plus, aka Z-Wave 500 series, took the technology that was launched way back in 2004 and added things like an increased range, extended battery life, OTA upgrading and additional RF channels.

If you’re buying a Z-Wave product nowadays, it’s highly likely that it will be Z-Wave Plus, although the recent Z-Wave devices will be operating on 700 series hardware.

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The Z-Wave Plus V2 certification program is the latest version. It includes enhanced S2 security framework as well as SmartStart, a setup feature that enables true plug and play for the consumer smart home.

Z-Wave’s 700 series, which actually went live in 2019, made things even snappier and longer lasting, with 64% less power used and far superior memory and processing power.

The Z-Wave 800 series is actually the latest framework, adding range, battery life and security updates. However, while there are some dongles and hubs running on the newest platform, it will be a while before we see mass adoption from device makers.

Getting technical for a moment, Z-Wave operates on the 800-900MHz radio frequency range, but the only reason that you might care about this is that, unlike Zigbee which operates on 2.4GHz (a major frequency for Wi-Fi), Z-Wave doesn’t really suffer from any major interference issues.

The actual frequency that a Z-Wave devices operates at is dependent on the country that it is being used in. For example, the US uses 908.40, 908.42 and 916MHz; whereas the UK and Europe uses 868.40, 868.42, 869.85MHz. So, it’s important to make sure you are buying a Z-Wave device that’s designed for your region.

Showdown: Zigbee versus Z-Wave, what’s the difference?

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Unlike Wi-Fi, where devices have to connect to a centrals hub (usually a router, or another access point), Z-Wave devices all link up together to form a mesh network.

The central smart home hub you use to manage your Z-Wave devices does connect to the internet but the devices themselves – sensors, bulbs and so on – don’t have Wi-Fi at all, they just use Z-Wave connectivity to talk to the hub, and that connectivity doesn’t have to be direct; the mesh network means signals can hop from device to device.

The technical term is “source-routed mesh network topology”. Stick that one in your locker if you want to impress your pals.

Not all Z-Wave devices can repeat a signal though, some can just transmit their own. That’s why Z-Wave repeaters are popular; essentially an ‘always-on’ mains powered device such as a smart plug that can receive and send on a signal from another node back to the hub.

What is Z-Wave LR?

Z-Wave Long Range will probably make repeaters a thing of the past though. Announced in September 2020, Z-Wave Long Range promising up to a 4x wireless range compared to regular Z-Wave signals.

You can have up to 232 nodes on a standard Z-Wave mesh network – that’s 232 devices to you and me. It’s a far cry from the 65,000+ nodes available on Zigbee, but we’d guess that it’s still enough for all your Z-Wave packing smart home kit.

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Z-Wave LR will bump this up to over 4,000 nodes on a network though, so it’s heading in the right direction.

Z-Wave Long Range promises a much further reach than regular Z-Wave which is limited to 100m per ‘hop’.

ZWLR has a specification capable of supporting up to several miles, according to the Z-Wave Alliance, and the first implementation from Silicon Labs features proven transmission range of a mile.

Unlike the normal Z-Wave mesh network, ZWLR devices function within a star network topology, wherein a central gateway/hub serves as the focal point, facilitating direct, point-to-point connections with end devices.

This configuration ensures a streamlined communication pathway, significantly reducing latency between the gateway/hub and end points.

Z-Wave LR SoCs (systems on a chip) could also be fitted into furniture and hard to reach places inside walls and so on, to make the mesh network even stronger. And the good news is that Z-Wave is completely backwards compatible, so new Long Range devices will work just as well with devices from years gone by and devices launching in the future.

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Described as “the safest, most secure ecosystem of smart devices on the global market”, Z-Wave uses the same AES-128 symmetric encryption as Zigbee. It’s not totally hack-proof (what is?) but most smart home vulnerabilities are down to login procedures on a device’s software, not their connectivity.

Who and what uses Z-Wave?

Z-Wave explained: What is Z-Wave and why is it important for your smart home? (2)

Z-Wave’s big win is that its devices are completely interoperable. All Z-Wave devices, without exception, work with other Z-Wave devices – and that’s down to the Z-Wave Alliance being owned and maintained by a private organisation.

Sigma Designs bought Z-Wave from Zensys back in 2009, and Silicon Labs recently acquired the business for a cool $240 million, and is responsible for signing off on the software and hardware of Z-Wave Certified devices.

The Z-Wave Alliance now boasts more than 700 members, with more than 4,400 certified products from these brands out there in the world.

There are a staggering 100 million+ devices on the market with Z-Wave inside; that covers 70% of the smart home market.

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In the Z-Wave Alliance 2023 State of the Ecosystem Report it was revealed that the most popular Z-Wave devices are:

  • Smart water shut-off valves
  • Smart security systems
  • Smart home control systems
  • Chair or ded pressure sensor
  • Flood sensors and/or leak detectors

The future

The big news for Z-Wave in the past year or so is that the Z-Wave Alliance is now a Standards Development Organization (SDO), opening up the Z-Wave network layer and communication protocol for the Z-Wave Specification, meaning more freedom for the Z-Wave Alliance.

“It’s a process getting there and the first process was really getting the Z-Wave Alliance, and Z-Wave in general, out as an independent platform away from Silicon Labs. You can imagine that was quite an effort. We actually achieved it in eight months, which is somewhat of a miracle,” Mitch Klein (Executive Director, Z-Wave Alliance and Director of Strategic Partnerships, Silicon Labs), told us recently.

“The next step is creating the Z-Wave open stack, which will enable other silicon companies to jump in.”

Z-Wave: Should you care?

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The good thing about Z-Wave is, while it will without doubt make your smart home setup more seamless, you don’t actually have to do a thing to make the most of it. Z-Wave devices will find each other in your home, creating a stronger mesh network, and it’s up to you if you want to take things further by linking different branded kit up using apps or the hubs mentioned above.

The rise of big name smart assistants built into speakers such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home also means that, thankfully, you don’t need to care too much about what protocols your smart devices are running on. There are some benefits to having all of your devices running on the same protocol – a single app being the biggie – but the reality is that’s extremely unlikely especially given how low-power Z-Wave is… it’s no good for HD video on security cameras, for example.

So, while it’s a good idea to look out for that Z-Wave Certified sticker on the box, there are always other ways of getting your connected kit playing nicely across different platforms.

There is set to be a major shift in terms of communication and compatibility, thanks to the Matter smart home initiative.

Z-Wave and Matter

Looking from the outside it may seem that Z-Wave could be a casualty of this shake up as it is not a communications protocol the new initiative is making use of and Matter is an initiative essentially run by Z-Wave’s long term rival Zigbee, under its new guise of the Connectivity Standards Alliance.

However, rather than seeing Matter as a Thread, Z-Wave is seemingly enthusiastic at the prospect of more interoperable smart home.

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Avi Rosenthal, Managing Partner of Bluesalve Partners, who currently sits as Chairman of the Z-Wave Alliance’s board recently explained to us:

“Do I see Matter as competition? Absolutely I do. Do I also see Matter as an opportunity? Absolutely I do.”

Rosenthal was keen to extend an olive branch to the CSA in order, he believes, for everyone to harvest the fruits of those opportunities.

“We’re willing to help; we’re willing to be part of the conversation.” he explained. “We don’t see it as an us and them scenario, we see it as an opportunity for everybody to work together.”

The Z-Wave Chairman of the board went as far as stating that he hopes 2024 would be the year we see a Matter to Z-Wave bridge, and he even laid out the process of what would need to happen to make that dream a reality.

“They have a set of rules and Z-Wave has a set of rules and between them there are connection points. What hasn’t happened yet is that we haven’t defined those connection points – but that is an easy conversation.”

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Z-Wave hubs and apps

Although Z-Wave kit talks to each other across the network, many systems with it baked inside are still very separate and have their own apps and hubs. However, there are a load of great Z-Wave options out there, both hardware and software, for getting everything running under one roof.

On the hardware hub side, the Aeotec and Samsung SmartThings hubs do a great job of not only throwing all your Z-Wave devices together, but they are also Zigbee compatible, so can offer some cross-platform automation options too.

For specific Z-Wave hubs, check out the Aeon Labs Aeotec Z-Wave Z-Stick – which simply plugs into your PC’s USB port – or the VERA Edge.

Because of the open nature of Z-Wave, many of the brands with Z-Wave kit have great apps that not only control their own native devices, but also third-party Z-Wave tech.

Check out the big names such as Aeotec, Samsung, Insteon and Abode, but also consider openHAB, Homey, Zooz, Home Assistant Companion and Imperihome.

Z-Wave devices to try

  • Fibaro Flood Sensor
  • Kwikset Obsidian Smart Lock
  • Ring Door/Window Sensor
  • Oomi Dual In-Wall Switch
  • Logitech Home Harmony Hub Extender
  • August Smart Lock
  • Homey Pro
  • Ezlo Secure
  • Zipato Bulb 2
  • Aeotec SmartThings Hub
  • Abode Gateway
  • Yale Keyfree Connected
  • D-Link mydlink sensors
  • Somfy ILT Series blinds
  • ADT Security Hub
  • GE Lighting Control

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Z-Wave FAQs

Is Z-Wave complicated to set up?

No, Z-Wave devices are very easy to install and connect without needing an electrician, you simply need a Z-Wave hub to pair them to.

Will my Z-Wave stuff work with other brands?

Absolutely. That’s the beauty of Z-Wave – different brands play together as long as they carry the Z-Wave badge.

Is Z-Wave secure?

Security is a priority with Z-Wave, especially with the latest Z-Wave 700 and 800 series featuring improved encryption to keep your smart home safe.

Does Z-Wave work with Matter?

Not natively, no – but you can always group Z-Wave and Matter devices using a hub that supports both like the Homey Pro or a SmartThings hub.

Z-Wave explained: What is Z-Wave and why is it important for your smart home? (2024)

FAQs

Z-Wave explained: What is Z-Wave and why is it important for your smart home? ›

Z-Wave is a wireless communication protocol used primarily in smart home networks, allowing smart devices to connect and exchange control commands and data with each other.

What is the Z-Wave smart home system? ›

It is a mesh network using low-energy radio waves to communicate from device to device, allowing for wireless control of smart home devices, such as smart lights, security systems, thermostats, sensors, smart door locks, and garage door openers. The Z-Wave brand and technology are owned by Silicon Labs.

What is the use of Z-Wave in today's wireless communication home and business? ›

Z-Wave is a type of wireless network that acts as a hub to connect smart devices. To enable communication between devices, Z-Waves uses a low frequency that is different from that of Bluetooth or WiFi. The benefits of Z-Wave include higher manufacturing standards, easy integrations, and low power consumption.

Should I use Wi-Fi or Z-Wave? ›

ZWave operates at a lower frequency (around 900 MHz) compared to WiFi (2.4 GHz or 5 GHz). This lower frequency can more easily penetrate walls and other obstacles, providing better range within a home.

What do I need to use Z-Wave? ›

You will need to have a Z-Wave hub/gateway in addition to your phone to control our Z-Wave devices. If you want to know what app to download for you hub, please reference your hub manual or call your hub manufacture for support.

Is Alexa a Z-Wave? ›

Is Alexa a Z-Wave Device? No, Alexa communicates over Wi-Fi, but it can control Z-Wave devices through a compatible Z-Wave hub.

What is the point of the Z-Wave? ›

Using Z-Wave enables you to easily create a modern home automation system, giving you control of your lighting, appliances, heating, security and multimedia at the touch of a button.

Does Z-Wave interfere with Wi-Fi? ›

Z-Wave is the leading smart home technology found in millions of products around the world. It is a wireless technology that will not interfere with your Wi-Fi signal and operates on low power.

Does smart things use Z-Wave? ›

The SmartThings Hub is a Z-Wave certified central static controller.

What are the disadvantages of Z-Wave? ›

Pros and Cons of Z-Wave

There are a few downsides to using this technology, the primary of which include: Compatibility – The technology isn't compatible with as many smart home devices as Wi-Fi. Hub Requirement – You'll need to purchase a hub to use Z-Wave devices.

Can Z-Wave connect to Wi-Fi? ›

Zigbee and Z-Wave are low energy, mesh networks that allow devices to communicate with each other without using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. However, both Z-Wave and Zigbee protocols require a separate receiver somewhere on your WiFi network in order to send and receive signals between devices.

Why is Z-Wave more expensive? ›

Cost. Cost is an important factor in decision-making, and Zigbee devices tend to be more affordable than Z-Wave's. However, Z-Wave's higher price comes with the assurance of compatibility, interoperability, and its strict certification process.

What is the difference between Z-Wave and Bluetooth? ›

Bluetooth has slower speeds but performs well in short-range communication. Z-Wave and Zigbee typically have lower speeds but are sufficient for controlling smart home devices and transmitting sensor data.

Is there a monthly fee for Z-Wave? ›

Z-wave Hub that is Standalone, Always On, Affordable , and Doesn't Require Subscription?

What devices can interfere with Z-Wave? ›

Common sources of radio interference:
  • 900 MHz cordless telephones.
  • Wireless speaker expanders or extenders.
  • IR to RF remote control extenders.
  • Older baby monitors.
  • Computers.
  • Microwaves.
  • Transformers.
  • AV equipment.

What is the app that controls Z-Wave devices? ›

You can use the Homey app to add, control, monitor and automate your Z-Wave devices, along with all other 50,000+ devices Homey supports. Choosing the right controller is the most important part when automating your home: it determines what you can and cannot do, and what interfaces you'll use for this.

Does Z-Wave require internet? ›

A Z-Wave thermostat receives commands from a Z-Wave controller. This means that the user must have some way of providing the command to the Z-Wave controller so that it can be sent to the Z-Wave thermostat. This does not require an internet connection.

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