Wi-Fi is one of the most common communications protocols in the world. As a result, we tend to prioritize Wi-Fi. However, it’s far from the only communications protocol around. As a matter of fact, it might not even be the best. What about Z-Wave, for instance? Let’s compare Z-Wave vs Wi-Fi, explaining the differences between the two and outlining which communications protocol is best overall.
Z-Wave vs Wi-Fi: Side By Side Comparison
|Standard||The Z-Wave Protocol||IEEE 802.11|
|Primary Use||Home automation||PCs, phones, smart devices|
|Founded By||Zensys||The Wi-Fi Alliance|
|Wave Type||Radio wave||Radio wave|
|Owner||Silicon Labs||The Wi-Fi Alliance|
|Number of Enabled Devices||4,000 products total||3.05 billion products per year|
|Bandwidth||< 1GHz (low bandwidth)||2.4GHz (high bandwidth)|
Z-Wave vs Wi-Fi: Key Differences
Now that we’ve outlined these primary specifications above, it’s worth taking a closer look at what sets apart Z-Wave vs Wi-Fi. How do their primary uses differ? And what do their varying standards say about these two protocols? What about their differing bandwidths? Understanding these questions is key to understanding the Z-Wave vs Wi-Fi debate.
Firstly, there’s a major difference in primary usage between Z-Wave vs Wi-Fi. Since Z-Wave’s inception, it has been viewed as the best way to link together smart devices for a smart home configuration. Wi-Fi has only recently begun to be incorporated into smart home setups, and even then, it’s not the ideal communications protocol for these sorts of setups. Z-Wave is much better for smart home setups for its fewer issues with interference. Wi-Fi, by comparison, is best suited for connecting smart devices to the Internet.
Secondly, we have two completely different standards for Z-Wave vs Wi-Fi. Z-Wave is standardized by the Z-Wave Protocol. This protocol ensures all certified Z-Wave devices are interoperable, backward compatible with previous Z-Wave generations, and pass all the particular specifications for power consumption, range, and reliability. Wi-Fi, by comparison, is standardized by the IEEE 802.11 standards. This standard states that Wi-Fi-enabled devices can do two key things: wirelessly connect to the Internet and wirelessly communicate with other Wi-Fi-enabled devices.
Z-Wave operates anywhere between the 800 and 900 MHz range. Nothing more than 1GHz at most, as Z-Wave qualifies as low bandwidth. Wi-Fi, comparatively, operates exactly at 2.4GHz. No more, no less. This puts its bandwidth in the same range as Bluetooth, microwave ovens, phones, AV equipment, and numerous other devices. As a result, this makes Wi-Fi far more susceptible to signal interference than Z-Wave.
5 Must-Know Facts About Communications Protocols
- Z-Wave is a mesh network, which means Z-Wave-enabled devices on a Z-Wave network can boost the Z-Wave signal to other Z-Wave-enabled devices. Wi-Fi, by comparison, is a star network. That means Wi-Fi-enabled devices operate via a point-to-point system, connecting and communicating only with a central hub and not other devices.
- Wi-Fi operates on a high bandwidth 2.4GHz signal. This is the same as numerous household appliances, including the microwave. This can notoriously lead to some interference.
- For all their differences, Z-Wave and Wi-Fi rely on radio waves, unlike Li-Fi, which uses light instead of radio waves.
- The latest generation of Wi-Fi — dubbed 802.11be, or Wi-Fi 7 — will be four times faster than the previous. Wi-Fi 7-enabled devices will launch in the spring or summer of 2023.
- Though Z-Wave signals can only travel up to 600 feet at most, interlinked Z-Wave networks can help send a signal even further. Each Z-Wave network can also support more than 200 different Z-Wave devices.
History of Z-Wave
The Z-Wave protocol began as an in-home light control system. However, Zensys soon saw the potential Z-Wave had to evolve into a full-fledged system on a chip (SoC). Zensys’s proprietary home automation protocol relied on an unlicensed frequency between 800 and 900 MHz range. The Z-Wave 100 series chipset debuted in 2003. Its 200 series emerged in 2005. This is the year the technology started to gain traction for its high performance at such a low cost.
At the time, just five companies had adopted Z-Wave. They formed the Z-Wave Alliance: a group of businesses and manufacturers dedicated to promoting Z-Wave. All the certified products from these five companies were interoperable. At the time, the number of interoperable products was only six. By 2012, that number had risen to 600 in the U.S. alone. By 2022, that number had risen to 4,000. Z-Wave’s 500 series chip — which the Z-Wave Alliance dubbed “Z-Wave Plus,” debuted in 2013.
Z-Wave Plus had four times as much memory, a much better wireless range, greatly increased battery life, a superior security framework, and more. Z-Wave’s 700 series chip debuted in 2019. It improved upon these specs even further, extending battery life up to a decade and extending range up to 800 meters. This same year, the Z-Wave Alliance announced the Z-Wave Plus v2 certification. This certification was optimized for the 700 series. The following year, they released the Z-Wave Long Range (LR) specification. This was followed by the release of the 800 series chip in 2021.
How Wi-Fi Came to Be
To understand the origins of Wi-Fi, you must first understand the origins of the IEEE 802.11 family of wireless network protocol standards. Typically reserved for wireless networking — specifically the exchange of data between nearby devices via radio waves —the inaugural version of the 802.11 protocol debuted in 1997. This first iteration offered link speeds of 2 Mbit/s or less. Two years later, an updated protocol — dubbed 802.11b — boosted the link speeds up to 11 Mbit/s. The same year, the trade association labeled The Wi-Fi Alliance was formed. They alone hold Wi-Fi’s trademark.
Similar to the Z-Wave Alliance (and interesting to note, given our Z-Wave vs Wi-Fi debate), the Wi-Fi Alliance exists to regulate and supervise the use of the term “Wi-Fi Certified.” This term is reserved exclusively for certified products that pass Wi-Fi interoperability testing. By 2019, more than three billion Wi-Fi-enabled devices from more than 800 companies in the Wi-Fi Alliance were being shipped annually. Of all companies, Apple was the one credited for popularizing Wi-Fi. Their use of Wi-Fi in their 1999 iBook laptops made theirs the first mass product to support Wi-Fi connectivity.
Today, Wi-Fi is covered by numerous parts of the IEEE 802 protocol family. At its heart, the protocol standard works with its wired counterpart: Ethernet. All Wi-Fi-enabled devices are built to connect via wireless access points (WAP — not to mention with the Internet and other wired devices. While Wi-Fi is far from perfect, prone to being blocked by physical obstructions and cross signals from other devices and even home appliances, it remains the standard for wireless networking in computers and smart devices.
Z-Wave vs Wi-Fi: Pros and Cons
|Pros of Z-Wave||Cons of Z-Wave|
|Less interference than Wi-Fi||Relatively short range|
|Mesh network boosts signals||Cannot connect to the internet|
|Lower bandwidth than Wi-Fi||Limit of 232 devices per network|
|Pros of Wi-Fi||Cons of Wi-Fi|
|More affordable than some Z-Wave tech||Prone to interference|
|Fast internet connection speeds||Limited range|
|Wireless connectivity||Less secure than Z-Wave|
|3 billion Wi-Fi-enabled devices shipped annually|
Z-Wave vs Wi-Fi: Which Is Best?
At this point, you now have a better idea of the differences between Z-Wave vs Wi-Fi. So, which is the best? The answer truly depends on what you’re trying to do. If you want to connect your computer or your phone to the Internet wirelessly, then Wi-Fi is your only bet. You have some options if you want to connect your smart home devices to a smart hub. For its lower frequency, increased security, and lesser interference, Z-Wave is the winner in this regard.
Recent Technology Updates for Z-Wave and Wi-Fi
Since February 2023, there have been technological advances for Z-Wave and Wi-Fi, including:
- Mesh networking: Both Z-Wave and Wi-Fi have seen improvements to mesh networking and becoming more common.
- Security: Improvements have been made to Z-Wave and Wi-Fi to make them more secure from cyberattacks.
Possible Technology Advances for Z-Wave and Wi-Fi
While planned technology advancements have not been announced for Z-Wave and Wi-Fi, it is likely that you may see some or all of the following in the next six to 18 months:
- Improved mesh networking: Z-Wave and Wi-Fi mesh networking is constantly being improved to make networks more reliable with connectivity to other devices.
- Enhanced security: Wi-Fi and Z-Wave are always improving their security, making these networks more secure from cyberattacks.
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