Talking to each other in a Smart Home – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we talked about Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. If you haven’t read that yet, feel free to head over. I’ll be waiting…

As promised, today we shall cover the remaining items on the list:

3. Zigbee/Z-WAve
4. Other proprietary technologies

3. Zigbee/Z-Wave

Now this is where it starts to get complicated. Fred not, for I shall try to make this as simple to understand as possible. Wish me luck!

Before we begin, let’s make some sense of the two: Zigbee and Z-Wave are wireless protocols (think: languages) developed for the smart home environment. They are two of the most popular languages used in the industry. It overcomes the shortcomings of the Bluetooth technology (distance) and avoid network congestion of Wi-Fi. In addition, it consumes even less power than Bluetooth, which means you can have a presence/motion sensor that runs on a tiny coin cell battery that fits into a baby’s palm and yet run for years without having to change the battery! People have reported that it lasts up to 4 years!

A Zigbee Motion Detector that runs on a coin cell battery.

DIFFERENCES

Let’s not make this too complicated. At this point, think of it as Coke vs Pepsi, Bluray vs HD DVD (if you still remember this), Playstation vs Xbox, iOS vs Android, VHS vs Betamax….. and the list goes on. In other words, they do the same thing but are created by different groups of companies.

CONNECTING THEM

In practice, connecting these devices are is very similar to Bluetooth. However these devices will require their own hub that speaks the right language. In other words, you must pair a Zigbee device to a Zigbee hub, and a Z-Wave device to a Z-Wave hub.

Zigbee/Z-Wave Connection at home is very similar to a Bluetooth set up shown in Part 1 of this series.

Like humans, there are of course hubs that speak multiple languages, however as with most humans well, the downside is these “multilingual” hubs may sometimes not be as “proficient” as native speakers who speak only that one language. This can translate into pairing issues, lack of certain advance features or even compatibility issues.

Some companies that manufacture Zigbee/Z-Wave devices include Aqara, Xiaomi, Philips Hue, and Samsung Smart Things.

ADVANTAGE

  1. Small, tiny sensors that can operate for months without having to change batteries
  2. Able to reach every corner of your house (with the right set up)
  3. Does not cause network congestion on your Wi-FI
  4. Probably the most established protocols for Smart Home/Home Automation

The advantage of Zigbee/Z-wave set up has the benefit of the above, and specifically overcomes the distance issue with Bluetooth. How exactly that happens we will talk about that in our next post.

Another advantage of using devices from these 2 protocols is that they are matured and probably the most widely adopted standards throughout. Think of it this way: if you’re trying to learn a new, useful language, you’ll probably want to learn something that is widely spoken, like Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, French or Arabic (top spoken languages according to CIA world factbook).

DSIADVANTAGE

  1. Require speciality hubs that supports Zigbee and Z-Wave
  2. Some Zigbee/Z-Wave devices, while technically are Zigbee/Z-Wave, do not work with hubs from other manufacturers

As mentioned earlier, because Zigbee and Z-Wave are both protocols (or “languages”), you will require a hub that speaks these languages specifically. Also, some products like Philips Hue or IKEA TRÅDFRI, although technically are Zigbee devices, however they may not work with Xiaomi gateway (also Zigbee).

4. Proprietary Systems

Although Zigbee and Z-Wave are proprietary, I do not group them as such because they are standards that anyone that adopt. They are also the most common and ‘open’, so that sets them apart. This list shall attempt to consolidate the other more common systems out there that you may come across:

  1. Tuya – Backed by Alibaba group, this isn’t Zigbee/Z-Wave equivalent. It is a platform that can support Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Bluetooth etc.
  2. FIBARO – a relatively big player with an extensive product range. However their products will not work with Zigbee, Z-wave, Wi-Fi devices etc.
  3. Other professional systems. These aren’t DIY friendly. They probably work best, but probably also cost the most too.

Conclusion

I hope you survived. While these are quite dry, this list isn’t exhausive. The world of home automation is vast and ready to be explored. Bookmark these two pages so that you can always refer back whenever you need to refresh your memory!

Link to Part 1 – Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
Wi-Fi vs Zigbee/Z-Wave coverage – coming up next!

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