Why did Google, Apple and Amazon choose Zigbee and not Z-Wave?

Picture of Google Nest Home

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The smart home giants have all made their choice. How will Z-Wave respond to being left in the cold?

It seemed to come from no where. Suddenly Google, Apple and Amazon (and others) all release a joint announcement that they will agree to a standard of home tech communications moving forward.

Smart Phone with Smart Lock on a door.
Imagine all the devices working with all the things.

In the Smart Home space this is epic news. Not only that the three (and others) want to build devices that communicate across boundaries but that they will also add Zigbee in to their group as a mesh protocol to work with.

This really does means that Z-Wave is left in the cold at this time. They have responded quickly by throwing open their doors to tech dev companies to come and work with them. Time will tell if it works.

While Z-Wave might have missed this boat they still have a huge range of enterprise clients using Z-Wave for things like smart energy devices for reporting peoples Power/Electricity/Hydro use across North America etc.

There are also hundreds of thousands, if not more, smart devices in the world using Z-Wave now.

Why choose Zigbee and not Z-Wave?

Z-Wave is open source but ultimately owned by Silicon Labs who purchased it in 2018 for $240 million dollars. They are now challenged to answer this change in the industry and still make money.

Zigbee is open and the alliance as a group is not owned in the same way. Companies work towards a common goal within the Alliance, as does Z-Wave, but with less commercial outcomes required for the any one stake holder.

Both have alliances made up of very capable technology companies.

Do they have to choose? Is this a choice? Why can’t they coexist?

Yes, they can co-exist and be part of all this in some way but if you ask me, it is a choice and that choice has been made:

  • Both are mesh networks
  • Both have high security as a focus
  • Both can operate in an offline state

The reasons I can see to go with Zigbee and not Z-Wave are as follows:

  • Zigbee has one frequency globally
  • Zigbee isn’t ‘owned’ in the same way Z-Wave is

Z-Wave devices are region specific. Zigbee devices are not.

This is the big one in my opinion.

The challenge for Z-Wave is that the frequency their products communicate on are region specific. You can’t buy an American Z-Wave hub and use it with Z-Wave devices purchased in Australia. This is one of Z-Waves largest challenges.

Zigbee is standard world wide (does differ some places but home devices are still 2.4ghz). A smart lock purchased in America will work in New Zealand. A smart switch purchased in Canada will work in Australia.

If you were Apple, Google or Amazon you’ll be looking for the easiest way to make a product once, and have it universally used across the world.

If your power source is 120/240v (USB powered for most), your software can be updated to work anywhere and WiFi is standard worldwide – then the only thing left is your mesh/closed network hardware options for devices. This is where Zigbee comes in.

Why is this significant?

Remember in the old days when you would buy a DVD from overseas and go to play it in your DVD player only to have it say it was region locked? And then you needed to google relentlessly trying to figure out a DVD unlock code for your computer or DVD player?

This avoids all of that pain and suffering. It means that hardware devices will utilise IP protocols to work globally.

Z-Wave and Zigbee offline?

Both Z-Wave and Zigbee work offline so it’s smart for the larger tech giants to choose a communication protocol that offers increased security and the option to manage devices even where WiFi is offline, or doesn’t exist.

I can’t imagine any of these devices in future will operate exclusive of internet connectivity but it does give them all options.

What is the risk of this technology triumvirate?

It’s all good news when this sort of agreed standardisation takes place but there has to be some underlying concerns from the security minded folks out there.

I can only think of one main reason this unification could be tainted. That is, how will data be managed across devices and does it even need to be shared?

If I plug in a smart switch in my house now I can ask Alexa or Google Home to turn it on as it’s connected via my abode security system hub.

I expect what we will see in the future is Apple, Google and Amazon becoming their own hubs. The echo Plus already offers some hub capabilities as does the Apple TV and Google Nest products.

Apple have been fanatical about security so I can only hope they all place nice and hold each other accountable.

How will this change the future?

I predict in the future that Google, Apple and Amazon will start building Zigbee in to their hardware. This will give them WiFi and Zigbee communications allowing them to be the Hub.

This will threaten SamsungSmart things and other smart home hubs that exist on the market. Most we’ve covered in our Best Z-Wave Hub post.

Don’t get me wrong – Samsung and a huge range of other hardware makers are on this new board with Ikea, Somfy to name a few but if your one of the big three ecosystems and people are already bought in to your hardware then do you need another hub? Probably not.

While most home hubs on that list already include Zigbee, it reduces the need to have a separate hub as potentially future Apple TV, echo and google nest products may come preloaded with Zigbee.

The benefits of unified development moving forward

It’s exciting to think in the future you will be able to purchase smart devices and have them work. Go to Ikea and get a bulb. Buy some smart blinds from Somfy and not worry about if they are compatible. Get a smart lock from Yale and you’re good to go.

It’s an exciting move and an exciting time. It’s also good to know that all existing smart home hardware and devices will probably be compatible with what ever is developed in the future.

Z-Wave has a lot to offer, as does Zigbee. Most hubs offer both protocols built in so the good news is you probably don’t have to choose.

I have a house full of Z-Wave and don’t feel worried about the change.

Endless hours of experimentation, professional work, and personal investment in Home Theatre, Hi-Fi, Smart Home Automation and Headphones have come to this.

Former owner of Headphones Canada, a high-end headphone specialty retailer.

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