“If people had the right skills and intention to communicate well, there would be no conflict. The better we are at communicating, the better our lives will be.”  

-Yama Mubtaker

A person has to skillfully communicate to others, for them to understand and act upon it as intended.. So, it is not false to say our language and the way we communicate is critical for you being socially accepted. Likewise, the competency and efficiency of your smart home are based on the communication protocols or the communication method (language for us) they are programmed to speak. Therefore it makes sense to set up the language for your framework (your smart home) before gathering the neighbours (smart home devices). 

To help you choose the right communication protocol for your home, the article that ensues will list out the popular smart home devices in the market and provide a characteristic comparison that will help you figure out which protocols to go for.

Popular Communication Protocols for Smart Homes

For anyone new into the smart home scene, it can be intimidating having all these technical terms. But it is relatively simple and easy to understand once you get to know them. Even though there are multiple Communication Protocols in the market, WiFi, Zigbee, and Z-wave are the most pronounced and the best options for your smart home.

WiFi

If there is one communication protocol more popular than the other two on our list, it is the WiFi. The devices function through this protocol, use wireless internet networks as their form of communication with other WiFi compatible devices or a WiFi-compatible hub. Regardless of owning a smart home or not, every regular person has at least one experience with WiFi automation. 

Z-wave 

Z-wave is the next most popular communication protocol used in smart home automation. Z-wave uses wireless network radio networks to communicate with other Z-wave compatible devices or Z-wave compatible hubs. It is a “Mesh Network” which uses a group of devices to act as a single WiFi network, and the data transmission is done relaying the data among the connected devices. They are the proprietary tech that is run by the company Sigma designs.

Zigbee

Zigbee is an open wireless standard .i.e. IEEE 802.15.4-based specification. This high-level communication protocol can be used to create a private area network for projects like smart home automation. These are also similar to Z-wave uses wireless radio waves to communicate with other Zigbee compatible devices or Zigbee compatible hubs. The networks created are Mesh Network as well, much like Z-wave. 

WiFi vs Z-wave vs Zigbee

Frequency

All home communication protocols use radio frequency which is the lowest in the electromagnetic spectrum. Irrespective of the discomfort the term “electromagnetic” might bring, low energy waves such as radio waves with just 0.433 to 2.45 GHz are non-ionizing and are harmless. High frequency means high energy, and low frequency means low energy. So, the fast data transmission of 5.8 GHz WiFi needs more energy than the lesser frequency of Z-wave and Zigbee. Also, networks with fast data transmission have high attenuation (which is the loss of the wave strength while travelling through solids. Z-wave with only 0.9 GHz will have the greatest non-linear sight range compared to the 2.45 GHz of the Zigbee, WiFi, Bluetooth. But due to their lower frequency, Z-wave will fall back when it comes to high-resolution sensors.

Fault Tolerance

It is the ability of a device to continue normal operation in the event of transmission failure or data failure. WiFi network which uses TCP/IP communication for this purpose has better fault tolerance than the other two, and at the same time, WiFi is less lightweight when compared, as it requires more validation and handshakes. Therefore the high network capacity of WiFi makes their devices have less battery life.

Price

Z-wave has strict rules in place for interoperability, and all Z-wave chips are only manufactured by Silicon lab (Sigma design’s parent company). This makes Z-wave more solid than Zigbee on the network but also makes them expensive. And their strict rules also make smart device companies join Z-wave for their innovative new product. That being said, Zigbee, with its open network, has the challenge of connecting smart devices from different manufacturers. 

Reliability

Let us first walk through an example of the data transmission design and components in Z-wave, Zigbee and WiFi to find out the gaps in security of all the three communication protocols.

Example –  

Assume that you want notification when your door opens,

In case of  data transmission in Zigbee and Zwave:

  • Step 1: Sensor become aware of the door being open
  • Step 2: Data is send to the powered device neighbour in the mesh (considering the hub is far away and so the relay of information happens until the hub)
  • Step 3: Data reaches the Hub (Smart things)
  • Step 4: Data reaches the Cloud
  • Step 5: The Data finally is received by you smartphone app and you are made aware of the open door through the alert

Here the data vulnerability can be eliminated by using local hubs like Hubitat elevations and Home assistant (with USB dongle).

In case of data transmission in WiFi:

  • Step 1: Sensor become aware of the door being open
  • Step 2: Data reaches the Hub
  • Step 4: Data reaches the Cloud
  • Step 5: The Data finally is received by you smartphone app and you are made aware of the open door through the alert

Even though WiFi has more risk for your personal data, the risk can be mitigated to a reasonable degree by replacing the cloud firmware with custom firmware.

To wrap it up

If you find yourself with more questions about choosing the communication protocol for your smart home, worry not. Here is our simple answer, on condition that you have enough budget, are going to buy a lot of smart devices in one go and have many rooms to install them, we recommend Z-wave. The WiFi communication protocol is our recommendation for homeowners who want an easy and user-friendly setup. And Zigbee for those you are looking for a cheap and diverse setup for their smart home devices. 

If you have further questions or are still a bit confused, “The Smart Hive” has been helping homeowners and builders ensure convenience and efficiency for their smart home with the right daily smart products. 

Equip and build your homes with these security features and witness a shorter sales cycle, more buyers, increased property value and greater customer satisfaction. 

To know more about security devices for your homes, do read our blogs. For any questions, enquiries, feel free to contact us. We are just a call away!

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