When linking smart home devices, you’ll likely use Z-Wave and Bluetooth. Both communication protocols have been around for nearly 25 years, but not many know much about either. For instance, how do Z-Wave vs Bluetooth compare? What are their intended uses? And what sets the two protocols apart? Let’s look at all there is to know about Z-Wave vs Bluetooth, beginning with a side-by-side comparison of the two.
Side By Side Comparison: Z-Wave vs Bluetooth
|Standard||The Z-Wave Protocol||IEEE 802.15.1|
|Primary Use||Home automation||Exchanging data over short distances; building PANs|
|Founded By||Zensys||Ericsson Mobile|
|Wave Type||Radio wave||Radio wave|
|Owner||Silicon Labs||Bluetooth Special Interest Group|
|Number of Enabled Devices||4,000 products total||4.7 billion units annually|
|Bandwidth||< 1GHz (low bandwidth)||2.402-2.48 GHz (high bandwidth)|
Z-Wave vs Bluetooth: Key Differences
Z-Wave and Bluetooth are two different protocols; what’s unique about each? In this Z-Wave vs Bluetooth comparison, the differences come down to three things: primary usage, the standardization process, and bandwidth usage. Allow us to elaborate down below.
Developed in 1999, Z-Wave is best suited for smart home setups and other forms of home automation. Its status as a mesh network helps boost its signal and keep in touch with devices throughout the home.
Bluetooth, by comparison, is suitable for data exchange between devices over short distances and building personal area networks (a.k.a. PANs) within a person’s workspace or other small areas with interconnected devices (such as a laptop and keyboard or television and soundbar).
Another point of departure between Z-Wave and Bluetooth is standardization. The former is standardized by the Z-Wave Protocol, overseen by the Z-Wave Alliance. Its latest standard is the Z-Wave’s 800 series chipset, released in 2021. Bluetooth was once standardized by IEEE 802.15.1. However, after the formation of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, the latest versions of Bluetooth no longer follow this former standard. Instead, they set their own. The latest is Bluetooth 5.3.
Thirdly, we have a difference in bandwidth between Z-Wave vs Bluetooth. Z-Wave operates between the 800 and 900 MHz range. Never higher, never lower. This makes it a low-bandwidth communications protocol. On the other hand, Bluetooth operates between 2.402-2.48 GHz on average. This is much higher than Z-Wave — not to mention in the same realm as Wi-Fi, leading to some disruption issues. It’s a high-bandwidth communications protocol, unquestionably. However, we know that both are, nonetheless, radio waves.
5 Must-Know Facts About Z-Wave and Bluetooth
- Communications protocols abide by topologies to define their network structures. For example, Wi-Fi’s topology is called a star network, which means Wi-Fi devices only send and receive information with the Wi-Fi hub.
- Z-Wave’s topology is called a mesh network, which means each Z-Wave device on a Z-Wave network can boost the Z-Wave signal to other devices. Bluetooth can be either a star network or a mesh network.
- Despite so many distinct specs, Z-Wave and Bluetooth rely on radio waves to work. This is one thing that will always unify these two communications protocols.
- Radio waves allow Z-Wave and Bluetooth to go without the need for line-of-sight. Whereas infrared technology needs to “see” where it’s sending its signal, Z-Wave and Bluetooth signals can travel around corners and through walls.
- On their own, Z-Wave signals travel up to 600 feet. When linked via a mesh network, however, those Z-Waves can be boosted far further than just 600 feet. The true size of a Z-Wave network can be seen in the maximum number of devices each Z-Wave network can support: over 200 in all.
Origin of Z-Wave
The Z-Wave vs Bluetooth debate emerged in 1999 when Zensys — a Danish software company — first established the Z-Wave Protocol. Originally intended to be an automated light control system for the home, it soon became apparent how much potential Z-Wave Protocol had beyond one simple use. Zensys got to work on expanding and evolving the Z-Wave Protocol. Eventually, they ended up with a fully functional system on a chip (SoC) known as Z-Wave.
Zensys’s first iteration of Z-Wave operated via a radio frequency ranging between 800 to 900 MHz. Subsequent chipsets using Z-Wave Protocol remained within this range. The first updated chipset, the Z-Wave 100 series, was released in 2003. 200 series chipsets followed in 2005. This 200 series, with its updated efficiency and increased performance at an affordable cost, allowed the Z-Wave Protocol to catch on outside of Zensys applications. This was also the point when the Z-Wave Alliance came into existence.
Five companies (in addition to Zensys) formed this so-called Z-Wave Alliance to utilize better and promote the benefits of the Z-Wave Protocol. At this point in Z-Wave’s history, only six products across those five companies supported Z-Wave. By 2022, that number had risen to 4,000. The new and improved Z-Wave Plus, released in 2013, helped Z-Wave fit into the digital age of smart homes and smart devices. Z-Wave Plus boasts four times the memory, a superior wireless range, and a 10+ year battery life.
The History of Bluetooth
Work on Bluetooth technology began years before Z-Wave, way back in 1989. At the time, it was known to developers simply as short-link radio technology. Researchers and developers at Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson Mobile were behind this radio technology, initially trying to create a commercial wireless headset. The folks at Ericsson Mobile began designing and developing a prototype headset in 1994. In 1997, the minds at Ericsson had done more than perfect the headset, inadvertently creating what would soon be called Bluetooth.
Later that year, some heads of production over at IBM caught wind of what Ericsson Mobile had been developing. They wanted to get their hands on this short-link radio technology for their upcoming laptops. So, they asked Ericsson if they’d be interested in combining their short-link communications tech with their notebook tech. Since neither brand was necessarily a market leader, the two thought it best to deem Bluetooth an open industry standard. This allowed it to reach far and wide throughout the tech industry of the time.
With this move, IBM and Ericsson soon had other major tech brands on board. In May 1998, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group was officially formed. It comprised IBM, Ericsson, Nokia, Toshiba, and Intel. Subsequently, the first Bluetooth device — a wireless headset — was released in 1999. Soon after, mobile phones, laptops, notebooks, and other consumer electronics followed suit. Today, Bluetooth is in its fifth generation. Dubbed Bluetooth 5.0, the latest version of the standard is Bluetooth 5.3. It’s one in a long line of standards dating back to 1998’s Bluetooth 1.0.
Z-Wave vs Bluetooth: Pros and Cons
|Pros of Z-Wave||Cons of Z-Wave|
|Little risk of interference||Communicates over short ranges|
|Signal-boosting mesh network||More expensive to adopt than Bluetooth|
|Uses a range of bandwidths||A limited number of devices it can support|
|Increased security compared to other protocols||Z-Wave cannot connect devices to the Internet|
|Pros of Bluetooth||Cons of Bluetooth|
|Cheaper than Z-Wave and Wi-Fi||Only works over very short ranges|
|Capable of multiple topologies||Bandwidth is close to that of Wi-Fi|
|Low consumption of power||Not very secure|
|Frequent updates keep up-to-date||Connection can be spotty|
Z-Wave vs Bluetooth: Which Is Best?
So: Z-Wave vs Bluetooth. Two unique communications protocols, both reliant on radio signals but ultimately very different technologies at their cores. Is there a way to say which is truly superior? Looking at the pros and cons of each, it seems fair to say that Z-Wave is objectively the superior technology. With its enhanced security, lower frequency with fewer interferences, and wide range of bandwidths to operate via, Z-Wave comes ahead of Bluetooth as a top communications protocol.
Recent Technology Updates for Z-Wave and Bluetooth
Since February 2023, there have been technological advances for Z-Wave and Bluetooth. Some improvements that have been made to Z-Wave since February 2023 include:
- Security: Overall security has been improved for Z-Wave, making it more secure from cyberattacks.
- Range: The range of Z-Wave was extended, making it possible to use Z-Wave devices in large homes or across longer distances.
- Power efficiency: Power efficiency was improved, making it possible to use Z-Wave devices longer on battery.
Additionally, Bluetooth saw some improvements since February 2023, including:
- Bluetooth LE (Low Energy): Bluetooth LE is a low-power version of Bluetooth that helps devices that need to run on batteries for a long time. This includes fitness trackers and smartwatches.
- Bluetooth 5.2: Bluetooth 5.2 is the latest version of Bluetooth which offers faster speeds and better security.
- Directional Bluetooth: Directional Bluetooth allows Bluetooth devices to determine the direction of other Bluetooth devices. This is used for indoor navigation and gesture control.
Possible Technology Advances for Z-Wave and Bluetooth
While planned technology advancements have not been announced for Z-Wave and Bluetooth, it is likely that you may see some or all of the following in the next six to 18 months:
- Improved mesh networking: We can expect to see improvements to Z-Wave and Bluetooth which will make both technologies more reliable.
- Enhanced security: Z-Wave and Bluetooth security are constantly improving. We can expect to see even more security advancements to make Z-Wave and Bluetooth more secure from cybersecurity attacks.
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