One of the easiest ways of explaining an unfamiliar technology is to compare it with something people already understand. That's why you might hear things like: "It's like Wi-Fi, but…" or "It's similar to Bluetooth, but…" when talking about Z-Wave. And it's true that all three technologies have a lot in common. They're all wireless, and each has its role to play in the future development of the smart home. But that's where the similarities end.
Like Wi-Fi, Z-Wave relies on wireless technology to send information through the air in and around your home, from one point to another. Like Wi-Fi, it relies on advanced security to make sure that those bits and bytes aren't intercepted bad actors. And like Wi-Fi, it ties together a larger network of devices, so that each can communicate with the other.
While your Wi-Fi network probably sends and receives large chunks of data around your home—giant email attachments, streaming audio and video, and all of the two-way data sent and received by multiplayer video games—Z-Wave doesn't have to carry quite so heavy a load. The information sent back and forth over a Z-Wave network consists mostly of tiny commands, like "turn on this light" or "adjust thermostat to 74°," along with small status updates, such as "this light is current at 45% brightness" or "this door is locked."
As such, Z-Wave can operate at much lower frequencies, and with much less power. What's more, whereas every new device added to your Wi-Fi network makes it weaker and less responsive, the mesh-network capabilities of Z-Wave means that every new device added to your smart home actually makes your Z-Wave network more robust and further-reaching.
All of which makes Z-Wave sound a lot more similar to Bluetooth, right? Well, not quite. It's true that the two share a good bit in common. Simpler pairing than Wi-Fi, for example. Z-Wave and Bluetooth also require less power and have lower bandwidth.
Unlike Z-Wave, most Bluetooth devices don't yet support mesh networking. And although that will certainly change in the future, it's uncertain right now how many Bluetooth devices you'll be able to connect to a single smart home control system. Z-Wave, meanwhile, is capable of supporting dozens of connected devices. Hundreds, in fact, as Z-Wave is inside the most robust controllers available in the marketplace today.
It's for those reasons, and many others, that Z-Wave remains the best wireless technology for reliable, far-reaching, energy efficient smart home control. But committing to one doesn't necessarily mean you're locked out of other wireless options. Some Z-Wave hubs, like SmartThings and Wink, include built-in support for Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth (although the full potential of the latter may not be unlocked just yet). The point remains that different technologies have different purposes – so don't let the this OR that story get you down.
Z-Wave, learn about, smart home, smart hub, SmartThings, Wink
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GE Z-Wave Plug-in Outdoor Smart Switch
Linear - Z-Wave Wall Mount Switch
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GE Z-Wave - On/Off Switch
FIBARO Home Automation System
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