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Z-Wave vs. Z-Wave Plus: What’s the Difference?

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Z-Wave vs. Z-Wave Plus: What’s the Difference?
April 24, 2020
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Z-Wave vs. Z-Wave Plus: What’s the Difference?

What is Z-Wave Plus? Learn about the latest certification

standard for Z-Wave—the wireless communication protocol that links smart home

networks together.

If you’ve joined the smart home revolution, or even if you’re just thinking about it, you may have heard of Z-Wave. It’s the communication technology that allows you to combine a variety of smart devices into one integrated smart home system. Because these devices are all wireless in nature, they need a protocol that allows them to “talk” to each other without a physical connection. This is where Z-Wave comes in.

Naturally, there’s plenty of technical detail to explore when it comes to something like Z-Wave. But the long story made short: the technology was first developed in 1999 as part of a system to control home lighting wirelessly—a function it still performs today. After two decades of improvement and refinement, however, it can now do a whole lot more.

Z-Wave coordinates the activities of equipment like smart thermostats, smart light bulbs, and smart security systems. It makes home life more comfortable, more convenient, and unquestionably more secure.

Stronger

than Bluetooth, more energy-efficient than Wi-Fi

Z-Wave is often compared to two familiar technologies that are likely already at work in your home—Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. All of them are wireless protocols that allow electronic devices to exchange information. If you watch streaming services like Netflix, the signal most likely travels to your television via a Wi-Fi connection. If you listen to music on wireless headphones, you’re probably using Bluetooth. Both of these technologies do those sorts of jobs well.

When it comes to smart home systems, however, Z-Wave makes the most sense. Currently, there are more than 2,600 products on the market that use Z-Wave technology. There’s a good reason for that.  Z-Wave was explicitly developed for use with small appliances like light switches and motion sensors. Lean and efficient connections don’t have to carry a lot of data like streaming high-definition video or hi-fi audio feeds. All they need to do is transmit the simple electronic instructions that tell your smart devices what to do and when to do it.

It’s certainly possible to use your home’s Wi-Fi network to operate various smart devices. However, Z-Wave is measurably superior in several ways. When it comes to a competition between Z-Wave vs. Wi-Fi light switches, for instance, a Z-Wave connection uses significantly less power—and it doesn’t depend on a wired power supply to do it. That’s because, as noted, Wi-Fi is configured to carry many gigabytes of data in addition to small signals to your smart devices.

Also, the Z-Wave signal transmits on a dedicated frequency, meaning it is less susceptible to interference than Wi-Fi. Z-Wave is also less vulnerable to interference than Bluetooth, and it has a more extended range, as well.

Z-Wave

lets you create a DIY smart home network

A Z-Wave-based smart home network is composed of the smart devices you select for your home, plus a small device that serves as a control panel, or “hub.” One of the great things about this arrangement is that you get to select the type and number of components—you don’t get stuck with products you don’t need or can’t use. Just assess the individual requirements of your home and purchase accordingly. These custom-assembled packages that have easy installation are sometimes referred to as DIY smart home systems. “DIY,” of course, means Do-It-Yourself.

Wireless smart home security system components powered by Z-Wave last for many years, and you’ll probably end up using them in different configurations. You may move from one residence to another with an entirely different layout, for example. This means you might need to buy an additional smoke/heat sensor to cover a larger floor plan. Or, if your new home features a lot more windows, you may want to add one or more glass break sensors to guard against burglars.

And if the time does come to move, transferring a Frontpoint smart home security system is easy. Just pack up your existing components, carry them over, and set them up. The Z-Wave connection will pick up right where it left off, and there’s no need to reprogram or start from scratch.

Frontpoint offers components on an a la carte basis, or you can choose from several bundled packages. As your needs change, you can add or subtract devices at will. This critical flexibility comes from the fact that all Z-Wave devices are “interoperable”—all of the smart motion sensors you buy two years from now will function seamlessly with the hub and smart bulbs you purchase today. Not only is Z-Wave designed to work that way, but the technology is now open-source. That means that all device-makers have full access to the Z-Wave source code so they can integrate it into their products freely. This is good news for the consumer. It means more flexibility and more functionality for Z-Wave products. And basically any third-party product that uses the technology can integrate with and be controlled by your Frontpoint system, from smart water shut-off devices to smart thermostats.

Picture of the Frontpoint Hub and KeypadPicture of the Frontpoint Hub and Keypad
The Frontpoint Hub (shown with Keypad) forms the nucleus of a Z-Wave-powered smart home network.

Z-Wave

creates a wireless mesh network

When you begin assembling your smart home network, it all starts with the hub (aka “control panel”) that ties everything together. As you add each new component, you link it to the hub in a few quick and easy steps. No typing in individual passwords.

This lack of passwords does not mean that Z-Wave connections are open to hackers. In fact, Z-Wave is protected with strong AES 128-bit encryption. Once you’ve paired your new device to your central hub, it’s extremely difficult for anyone to unpair it and take control; security experts have estimated that it would take billions of years to break AES 128 encryption.

After devices are linked, they can communicate easily, creating what is known as a “mesh network.” Now, all of the devices connected to your hub via Z-Wave technology begin to work together. For example, if a fire triggers your smart smoke and heat sensor in the middle of the night, the hub can tell the smart light bulbs in the house to switch on. You'll be able to see a clear path to the exits without fumbling for light switches. Have a smart lock on your front door? You can set the system to turn on living room lights and disarm your interior motion sensors when you arrive home and unlock the door.

Z-Wave

vs. Z-Wave Plus: the next generation

Some Frontpoint equipment, such as Smart Door Locks and Light Bulbs, actually communicate with Z-Wave Plus. It’s simply the latest version of Z-Wave, a technology that has been continuously moving forward for more than 20 years. Unlike many other newer versions of longstanding technologies, it works perfectly well with components that use standard Z-Wave, with some upgrades.

Z-Wave Plus can link your devices over longer distances, boosting their connectivity range by up to 67 percent. The range extension is partially because Z-Wave Plus can carry more bandwidth over multiple channels. It also has the effect of speeding up and improving Z-Wave’s already impressive performance.

Other Z-Wave Plus bonuses include a somewhat smaller hardware profile. This means up to a 50% longer battery life. Looking to the future, Z-Wave Plus can also carry over-the-air updates (Over The Air upgrading (OTA)) for smart home devices. Just like your laptop or smartphone, you’ll be able to add new features and functionality within minutes.

Z-Wave

and Z-Wave Plus: two sides of the same coin

We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg for what Z-Wave and now Z-Wave Plus can do. And the beauty of this technological revolution is that all components work together seamlessly, now and in the future. Standard Z-Wave is entirely sufficient to link up most smart home devices and will continue to be relevant for years. Z-Wave Plus—plus future generations of the technology—make incremental improvements.

Whether a product uses standard Z-Wave or Z-Wave Plus protocol, it will have a full range of functionality and integrate smoothly with your smart home network, with no compatibility problems. The smart home options using this wireless technology are virtually limitless.

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