When it comes to smart homes, your customers have more options than ever.

Wi-Fi, the old IEEE wireless standard, is still the most ubiquitous and least expensive approach. But for some homes, Wi-Fi might not be the most advantageous, especially if a lot of devices need a stable network to connect with each other.

Setting them up with a smart home hub might be the solution. There are devices like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Samsung SmartThings, but only certain ones come with new protocols optimized for wireless smart home communication. These protocols, primarily Z-Wave and Zigbee, control most of the market, and can be found in SmartThings, Hubitat Elevation, and Amazon Echo Plus (only Zigbee), among others.

How do these hub protocols stack up against Wi-Fi, and each other? You’ll want to consider these five key factors: power, speed, interference, cost, and compatibility.

Why switch from Wi-Fi?

For most residences, Wi-Fi is fine. Even low-end routers from your friendly neighbourhood ISP can handle as many as 250 devices.

But Wi-Fi is limited to short distances and is often blocked by walls and between floors. It also consumes electricity. Wi-Fi-based devices may drain their batteries overnight, which is why smartphones require daily charging. Z-Wave and Zigbee are lower-power technologies, and batteries will last longer.

For a truly smart ecosystem, a hub can provide total control of a home’s temperature, lighting, security, audio, video and more. Whereas, communication between Wi-Fi-connected devices is limited.

A hub device can be relatively inexpensive, from $50 to $150.

Z-Wave vs. Zigbee

Both Z-Wave and Zigbee operate as mesh networks. In a mesh network, all nodes (wireless touchpoints) connect and work together to route data efficiently. The signal originates from the central hub just like the star configuration of Wi-Fi, but devices don’t need to communicate directly with the central control. The more devices added, the stronger the connection becomes.

Because of its lower frequency range, Z-Wave extends farther than Zigbee, up to 300 feet (100 meters), and is good for rural locations. But it has less bandwidth than Zigbee or Wi-Fi. Zigbee operates at a higher frequency and can transfer data faster, though within a closer range, about 35 feet. Wi-Fi can reach about 150 feet, although range extenders can increase that number dramatically.

Zigbee can handle as many as 65,000 nodes (connections to smart devices, bridges, and switches are all nodes), and Z-Wave can take on 232. Each of the protocols uses AES-128 symmetric encryption, which is simple, effective, and does not require any elaborate setup.

For more on choosing between Z-Wave and Zigbee for a smart home, visit thesmartcave.com.

One platform to connect them all

Wi-Fi has been around since 1997, Z-Wave since 2001, and Zigbee since 2004.

Like Wi-Fi, the Zigbee protocol is in the hands of many, while Z-Wave is proprietary-owned. Because Z-Wave is proprietary, manufacturers must comply with the Z-Wave Alliance to make sure their devices meet their specifications. All Z-Wave devices must pass technical and market certification before they receive the certified stamp of approval. Currently, the Z-Wave Alliance consists of more than 700 companies which have developed over 3000 certified devices.

Zigbee compliance is more limited. Rather than being overseen by one company, like the Z-Wave Alliance, the Zigbee Alliance is composed of a group of companies. There are more than 2500 Zigbee certified products on the market.

It’s also possible to connect devices that are not compatible to your hub. However, this requires additional hardware. Working around the compatibility issue can be difficult and frustrating. For a guide to compatible devices for each protocol, visit the-ambient.com.

To troubleshoot compatibility problems for Z-Wave, visit stacyoniot.com.