Ah, so you’ve heard of ZigBee? Perhaps you haven’t, but the alternative means of Internet connection has been around for a long time. But first, before diving in the differences among each of these Internet protocols, let’s define what they have in common.
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and Z-Wave all produce and enable wireless Internet connections. That much we know. The difference lies in how they go about providing Internet: each use unique types of radio waves and differ in range, speed, frequency, and cost. Let’s dig deeper by answering a handful of common questions pertaining to each.
How and Why Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi is the strongest of all these technologies because it’s used to provide long-distance and wide-range coverage. Think up to 250 feet without interference – or your whole house. Plus, Wi-Fi provides users with the highest capacity for data. That’s why you’re so familiar with Wi-Fi. It’s been around for ages as a whole-home network with the capacity to power Internet-streaming and browsing.
Your router –that device which sends and receives the cell tower signals from your Internet service provider – acts as its own little tower which transmits Internet throughout your home, throughout coffee-shops, and throughout huge office buildings. But what if you have no interest in powering an entire office? That’s a hefty job which consumes a lot of energy. Maybe you just need a little bit of energy to perform small tasks. That’s why Bluetooth we created Bluetooth.
Why Was Bluetooth Invented?
The purpose of Bluetooth is to connect nearby devices, or, to provide a more efficient means of providing small data transfers. For instance, the most popular application for Bluetooth is wireless audio—headsets and hands-free connectivity to wireless speakers that stream music from your phone or table to your car. You don’t need the muscle of Wi-Fi to operate these smaller functions. Logistically, then, Bluetooth is more efficient that Wi-Fi for the simple tasks it provide.
Here’s a fun fact, straight from the mouth of Bluetooth, itself, to help you remember what it does. “The name Bluetooth came from a tenth century Danish King, Harald Blåtand or, in English, Harold Bluetooth. As the story goes, King Blåtand helped unite warring factions in parts of what are now Norway, Sweden and Denmark.”
So what? Well, Bluetooth technology connects disparate products and devices that are close-by. And it’s portable! If Wi-Fi is a fixed radio station within your house, Bluetooth is a Walkman. What’s simpler than a Walkman? These next two guys.
Why and What are ZigBee and Z-Wave?
Think of Wi-Fi signals as a ripple that loses strength the farther it travels from its source. ZigBee and Z-Wave signals use a mesh network to function. Its network connections are more like a series of lilly pads. Each lilly pad is a device with its own signal with a very short range. A device operating on a mesh network can extend its reach by jumping along from device to device – or lilly pad to lilly pad.
ZigBee and Z-Wave signals are low strength, low energy to begin with, which makes them perfect for very simple devices. Devices like lights or motion sensors which only require data connections to turn on and off.
Although we’ve lumped them together– know that ZigBee and Z-Wave signals and devices are incompatible with each other and require adapters to communicate. There are some technical differences that attract product developers to one over the other, but as a consumer, you needn’t worry about it.
What Do I Do With This Information, Exactly?
From the consumer standpoint, it doesn’t matter which smart home standard you select, as ZigBee and Z-Wave are virtually identical in function. And, as mentioned above, if you have an issue with connectivity, you’ll have to refer to a professional.
Your best bet is to choose your favorite devices and then compare how many of them operate using the same protocol standard. Fortunately, many smart devices are compatible with more than one standard. Again, these decisions may be overwhelming – so you can always consult your tech support provider.
Questions or comments? Chat with us live at Tech Help Boston! It’s in our name, we’re happy to help.