ZigBee vs Z-Wave & Google Home, Plus question abt Hue compatibility and LED options

Hi there,

Super excited about the new Google home! Hearing that it’s compatible with SmartThings wass the icing on the cake. Been waiting for this since May when it was announced at Google I/O. Cannot wait!

I have a question about home automation technologies/protocols. I’ve been waiting for a while to decide which Smart Home technology to go with. I’ve been hoping to go with the new Thread specifications but that’s been really slow in coming out. It’s my understanding that, typically, Zigbee isn’t quite as robust as Z-Wave so right now I’m looking at going with Z-Wave. However I noticed iHome makes a Wi-Fi smart plug that appears to be an interesting alternative. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Zigbee vs. Z-Wave vs. Wi-Fi in general and also specifically for smart plugs. I noticed Levitron and GE both make smart plugs, GE appears to make plugs using both the Zigbee and Z-Wave protocols. I definitely want interoperability moving forward with Google Thread specifications (and of course Google Home) but I’m hoping that perhaps the fact that Google Home works with SmartThings makes it a little bit less of an issue in terms of compatibility moving forward. Am I thinking about this the right way? Do you think Z-Wave is a pretty safe bet in terms of forward connectivity? Will it stay supported or do you feel that it will fade out in favor of “newer” options? What use your primary home automation “language” of choice? I was encouraged early on by forum members here to, as much as possible, choose one of the HA protocols and build out your system using as much if that as you can just to increase the strength of my mesh network. The truth is, I already have a decent ZigBee mesh simply due to my Hue lighting (plus the SmartThings hub combo included a couple if ZigBee “things” including sensors and a smart plug). However, since I need to get probably 5 or so answer plugs anyway, it would begin to build a Z-Wave mesh as well and I’d then have decent coverage for both. It should probably noted we live in a relatively small apartment not a huge sprawling house. What do you think? Would you go with Z-Wave for this or just stick to the ZigBee since I already have the Hue and ST things? Will the stronger mesh overcome the inherent limitations of “reach” of the 2.4ghz band vs the 900mhz of the Z-Wave? I guess I should also say that I’ll be eventually adding in other “things” as well such as water sensors, humidity sensors, other multi sensors, and potentially water shut offs and other similar type things. I’ll also add a smart lock that can tie into the HA setup and a connected thermostat when I can finally figure out what will be compatible with our heating system, which had been much more difficult than I ever expected. But that’s for another thread. :slight_smile:

My second question is around Philips Hue lighting interoperability. Will other bulbs like Osram or Cree and controllers like the Fibaro LED light strip controller work directly with Hue now or did they remove that functionality? I read they put it back but I’m just wanting to know what to expect before investing. I need to increase the lighting in our kitchen especially moving into the gloomier days of fall and winter. I’d like to be able to add several T connectors into the standard LED lighting strips to increase coverage and possible even put them both above and below the cabinets (all of which would be difficult and expensive with the Hue Lightstrips Plus - which I already have, and love, in other parts of the house). But at the same time, I’d love for these LED strips to still be usable with my Hue setup (including SmartThings with Alexa and soon Google Home support) which is why I’m looking for something like the Fibaro controller that I ran across on Amazon). If anyone could just confirm their more recent experiences with third party lighting and Philips Hue integration, if really be appreciative.

Thanks so much!

This is a very common question, understandably, since SmartThings gives you the choice of multiple protocols.

There are some FAQ articles on this that you might find interesting:

And from the community – created wiki:


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All of that said, it is very important to note that when you use a Hue Bridge (which is the only method officially supported by SmartThings for using Hue devices) you do not get to use the individual hue bulbs as repeaters for other zigbee devices attached to the SmartThings hub.

Instead, the devices attached to the hue bridge form their own mini-network and only repeat for each other. So they are irrelevant to the strength of your SmartThings – based zigbee network.


So right now your zigbee mesh probably consists of only two devices: the hub itself and the smart plug. (Battery-operated devices don’t repeat for either Zwave or zigbee.)

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The Fibaro device is Zwave. So it never could be attached to a hue bridge. It’s a completely different protocol.

As far as Crees and Osram bulbs, I believe they can now be connected to the hue bridge again, but it’s generally better to just stick with the Hue brand bulbs, particularly says the Hue whites have come down to $15 each and are competitive in price. For one thing, if you also want to use HomeKit, HomeKit will only work with the Hue brand bulbs at this time.

You could use Cree and Osram bulbs connected directly to the SmartThings hub, but right now there seems to be a problem where zigbee bulbs attached directly to the SmartThings hub can interfere with the repeating of messages to zigbee sensors. Because they get designated as repeaters, but then they don’t always repeat and so the messages get lost . It’s a weird problem, but it has affected more than one community member.

You can use the quick browse lists in the community – created wiki, look in the project section, and look either for kitchen projects or lighting projects and you’ll see quite a few different ways that people have handled LEDs. But I think most people end up choosing a Z wave controller and dumb LEDs, it’s just a lot cheaper.


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Oh my goodness! I had no idea @JDRoberts that was the case. That kind of wrecks my thought that I had a strong ZigBee mesh. Sheesh. That changes pretty much, well, everything I was thinking.

I’ll read through the links, thanks so much for sharing.

It’s actually your knowledge that I’ve learned so much from - and the reason that I’ve not moved ahead directly with Zigbee. Your info that the WiFI router can give problems to ZigBee as well as your understanding of the old Zigbee protocol, the new (or upcoming ZigBee Protocols), the Thread that is Nest and the Thread that is Google (or that’s as it was announced last year) all has be confused. Our family is really all in on the Google ecosystem, so more than anything I want to make sure that whatever protocol I go with it remains compatible with Google Home. If you were just starting out on your setup with this in mind, would you personally go with ZigBee, Z-Wave or wait (an indeterminate time…) for the Thread protocol to actually get some “things” released. I trust your knowledge and understanding and I also remember that we had discussed making a setup for people with physical challenges, and that this is something that you definitely understood the importance of.

One further question, in rereading your post on the Hue/Zigbee not working as a repeater, is there a way to use ST somehow so that the Hue bulbs become a repeater? Or do you lose functionality that the Hue Bridge would give? I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t missing something that may have been there between the lines.

Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I truly appreciate it!

Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I myself am quadriparetic (use a wheelchair with limited hand function), so I’m very aware of physical challenges.

Actually, for that reason I use iOS devices – – they are just miles ahead in supporting accessibility for those who are blind or have limited hand function.

But there are many different kinds of disability, and there are a lot of people who prefer android. I’m brand agnostic – – I’ll use whatever will solve a particular problem. But for handsfree phone and tablet navigation, right now iOS wins, hands down (pun intended :wink:).

As far as zigbee repeaters for devices other than smart bulbs , at this point I would recommend just not counting smart bulbs in that category. Smart bulbs definitely repeat for each other. But you just can’t rely on them to repeat for zigbee sensors or other zigbee devices.

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Ah, I guess I should have double checked to see if the Fibaro was Zigbee or Z-Wave. facepalm Great to know.

I was mostly thinking of using some controller with the LEDs for Hue in this particular instance, because there are more options for adding a greater amount of light in this setup. I love the Lightstrip Plus in other areas of our apartment. I guess then that there aren’t many Zigbee/Hue compatible controllers for LED strips? If I go this route, this means I’m pretty much having to have ST integrate the Hue and Z-Wave LEDs together. We use a Hue tap all the time and I’m realizing that I won’t be able to do that anymore - at least not for the LEDs that use the Z-Wave controller. Is there something else I could do as an alternative? My husband finds it much easier to have a physical switch just for in the morning, etc. I suppose I could simply set it up on a timer or perhaps add a motion sensor and have it turn on with motion in addition to the timer. That would eliminate the issue of not being able to turn it on with the switch. I guess I’m just troubleshooting and thinking out loud now, but I’m wanting to be sure that I’ve not missed something. :slight_smile:

I’d read through some of the project reports under kitchens. You’ll find a lot of interesting stuff there.

As far as synchronizing hue light strips and dumb light strips controlled by a Z wave controller, I don’t think I’d try it. Just go room by room and make a decision about which strips you’re going to use there.

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Thanks so much for sharing more about yourself, @JDRoberts . Many people try to avoid that vulnerability but I think it shows so much strength - and definitely helps other like myself. I was DX’d with a rare variant of a rare genetic disorder about 7 years ago and have had more than 45 surgical procedures since then including multiple brain and spine surgeries. I went from being a professional ballet dancer to disabled - and ironically, the genetic disorder that allowed me to be a good dancer is what is causing all the problems now.

Thanks for the clarification about the Zigbee bulbs. I guess that really means that I’m almost starting from scratch on my mesh network. The only “things” I have are the motion/multi sensor, two open/close sensors and one smart plug from the ST kit. I don’t know if those are enough to count towards much of a mesh base or not.

We’re firmly entrenched in the Android eco-sphere at this point. We own multiple devices and I really love the concept of open source software. I used to run Linux on all our family laptops (and would return in a nanosecond if they could come up with just a few missing pieces of software). I’m looking forward to seeing how Crossover for Chrome OS works now that it’s in beta. It should allow Windows software to run on Chrome OS, which would mean that with the addition of the Android app store, Chrome OS could run almost anything. The one thing that I do miss from the iOS is the fact that developers tend to love to develop for that platform first and things like smart locks appear more reliable on that system. But, then I’d miss the ability to customize the OS, etc. So, there’s give and take with anything. I’ll definitely keep that in mind about iOS, though, so that if things change for me, I could switch over. I think most of what I currently have (and would be adding soon) would work on iOS as well. I think the only thing I’d need to upgrade would be the Hue bridge as I still have version 1 which isn’t Homekit compatible. I’m really looking forward to seeing all that the Google Assistant can manage for voice control. Exciting times. :slight_smile:

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Battery-powered devices attach to the mesh and use it to send and receive their own messages, but the strength of your mesh is always in the “backbone” – – the mains-powered devices which can serve as repeaters.

these are generally wall switches, in wall outlets, plug-in sensors, pocket sockets, and in wall relays. Z wave light bulbs can also act as repeaters while they are powered on. (Zigbee lightbulbs really only reliably repeat for each other.).

Ideally you’d have two repeaters for each protocol per room, but most people don’t want to spend that much money. You need one for each protocol about every 40 feet for zigbee and about every 60 to 75 feet for Z wave plus, depending on the exact architecture of the home and other obstacles like refrigerators and stuff.

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Haha! I’m probably in luck then as our apartment isn’t that large. :slight_smile: In all seriousness, from what you described, I can probably get decent coverage with either one.

I didn’t realize that only the mains powered devices - rather than battery - would be the primary item repeating. I guess I should have but it just never crossed my mind that the mesh would do all it could to avoid constantly waking up the battery powered units like the ST sensors and using up all their battery life. Makes sense.

Grrr. I just want to try to be as future-proof (or at least future-resistant) as possible. I don’t want to invest in z-wave only to have it disappear. I don’t want to go with zigbee only to have problems or have Thread supersede it and not have it work any longer. It’s hard to prognosticate the future when you only have a basic understanding of the technology to go on.

Since I rent, we likely won’t be installing wall sockets or light switches at this location. That’s part of why we went with Hue as we could get smart lighting without any installation that would have to be left or reversed. Perhaps at our next place. So, I’m looking at some plug in smart plugs, for now (rather than in-wall).

Thanks for sharing the approximate distance we should expect for each protocol. That helps for planning and realistic expectations. I’m so grateful for you sharing all of your knowledge. :slight_smile:

What attracted me to the ST Hub was the support for multiprotocols in case one dies out. Overall it seems like Z-wave is catching on with larger vendors (ie. GE, Leviton) and therefore more available at hardware stores. Building your z-wave or zigbee mesh is an important to reliability of sensors.

The Iris Smart Plugs can act as a Zigbee and Z-wave repeater. I recently installed a few to bolster the zigbee mesh within my two-story house. The first step was to move the ST Hub to the first floor (from the basement) where it has more centralized coverage of all three floors. Then added a plug or two on each floor near the center of the home. As my devices grow, I’ll add smart plugs to help propagate the signal to the hub. If you have a floorplan of your home, planning can be as easy as drawing circles representing the RF coverage from the Hub and each potential repeater.

Planning the RF coverage has many similarities to planning enterprise Wi-Fi coverage. As HA comes out of the “hobbyist” phase, hopefully someone will come up with an affordable site survey / planning tool which takes into consideration building material and furniture with respect to RF propagation.


Zigbee and zwave

As mentioned in the wiki post, zigbee is the protocol of choice for high end Home automation systems, including Control 4. Lots of reasons, but being able to add more than 230 devices and have messages go more than four hops are two. If someone paid more than $25,000 for a home automation system, it’s almost certainly zigbee-based. And since they’ve made an agreement with the thread group, it’s not likely to disappear. (It’s also used for set top cable boxes, lots of security systems, and smart meters. You probably already have two or three zigbee devices in your house that you don’t know about.)

But those are all systems which are professionally installed and maintained.

Again, as discussed in the wiki post, the reason why Z wave became very popular for low-cost DIY home automation is because it doesn’t run into interference from Wi-Fi. So it’s definitely easier for fixed position devices like door locks and light switches. But easier doesn’t necessarily mean better. You have a limit of four hops for relaying messages, and a limit of about 230 devices, which sounds like a lot until you start putting in lights or have a house of more than 2000 ft.². Network heals are also somewhat less efficient.

That’s why the brands that sell one switch at a time like zwave. Their customer support costs for the DIY crowd are lower than they would be with zigbee. But professional installers who sell whole house systems have a lot of reasons to like Zigbee. :sunglasses:

Right now, Z wave is kind of out there on its own. Very popular with manufacturers of DIY devices. But there are plenty of zigbee devices out there, they just aren’t usually sold one at a time.

Home Automation as a DIY Service

I made the decision last year that I wasn’t going to try to futureproof my home automation. Instead, I treat home automation like a service. I set aside a certain amount of money each month to cover costs. When I buy a device I expect to get three years out of it. If I get more, that’s great, but if I don’t, it’s like a cell phone. I buy newer tech when it solves more problems for me.

Because of that decision, and my own practical needs for home automation, I don’t go for whizbang stuff and I don’t make decorator decisions. I might only automate one switch in a room and there might be some rooms that I skip altogether. And I only buy things which solve immediate problems. I use some non-networked devices like a Lutron occupancy switch in the laundry room, because it was simple, reliable, cheap, and met all of our own particular requirements. And Mr. beams motion lights for the outdoor pathways.

I realize there are a lot of people who approach home automation differently. They want the Jetsons house, and they want it to be futureproof for 15 years. Which is very doable if you have the money for control 4. But if you want it DIY and you want it cheap I don’t think there any guarantees with any protocol. A lot of opinions, a lot of people with very strong preferences, but no industrywide consensus and no guarantees.

JMO :sunglasses:


@KC_703, @JDRoberts, thank you both SO much for those last two posts. I found them more helpful than just about anything else I’ve read.

@KC_703, I think I’m going to give the V2 Lowe’s Iris plugs a try and see how they work as they allow be to build out a mesh network for both ZigBee and Z-Wave Plus at no additional cost. Plus having a 90-day return should give me sufficient time to see if it’s going to cause any issues for me (with WiFi interference or who know what else) or if it will work well. Honestly, I couldn’t have thought of a better option for me to start with it doesn’t require me to commit to one protocol or the other and since I’ll have 5-8 plugs (haven’t fully determined yet) in an apartment that’s less than 1000sq ft, coverage should likely be quite good for both protocols.

@JDRoberts, your distillation of the differences in ZigBee and Z-Wave is exactly what I was hoping for. While reading basic info about the two is definitely helpful, hearing your comparison of each one and why they are popular helped me much more. I really appreciate you taking the time to share.

Just so I can be sure I understand, the Hue bridge effectively walls off the Hue bulbs from the larger ZigBee system, is that correct? And is this is also what doesn’t allow the Hue bulbs to act as ZigBee repeaters?

Many thanks again to both of you!

The hue bridge contains its own zigbee coordinator. It forms its own network with the hue bulbs and other devices paired with it. Those devices are then not available to join the SmartThings network, so they can’t act as repeaters for anything on the SmartThings network.

Even though the hue bridge contains a zigbee coordinator and the smartthings hub contains a zigbee coordinator, they do not communicate with each other by zigbee. Instead, they communicate with each other over the local area ethernet network.

So you end up with two completely independent zigbee networks. When smartthings wants a Hue Bulb to go on, it asks the hue bridge to turn that bulb on rather than talking directly to the hue bulb.

( it is technically possible, but not advised, to add a Hue bulb as just another zigbee device on the SmartThings network. But if you do, then that particular bulb becomes unavailable to the Hue bridge.)

To help avoid interference between the two networks, it’s a good idea if they are on different zigbee “channels.” You can’t easily change the zigbee channel that the SmartThings hub uses, but it’s very easy to change the hue bridge one through its own app. :sunglasses:

Definitely worthwhile to pick up one or two of the Iris plugs from Lowes to improve the Zigbee & Z-wave mesh. Best to establish the repeaters before adding too many devices.

In my home, I have a repeater per floor. I chose to locate them as close to the center of the floorplan. Has definitely helped the Zigbee devices on the fringes of the home… I keep a multi-sensor in the corner of the master bedroom upstairs to monitor temperature. Its probably the farthest Zigbee device from my Hub. Its behaved much better after the addition of the repeater (which happens to be in the far end of the room).

Never really had an issue with Z-wave in my home, so only one or two of the Z-wave repeaters are added. Since its a lower frequency, the range is better. Gets through drywall better… Overall, Z-wave devices seem more reliable for me, but Zigbee sensors trigger faster.

Though now that I’ve written that, its probably a good idea to join all the z-wave repeaters to the Hub. I guess a non-joined Z-wave repeater may be a potential “black hole”.

Not at all – – if you never join a zwave repeater device to your network, then SmartThings will just ignore it as will any of your other Z wave devices that are joined to your network. :sunglasses: That’s why neighbors in adjacent apartments can each have a Z wave network, no problem. It’s also why you can operate multiple Z wave networks in your home if you like.

Every Z wave device knows the identity of its controller (in this case the SmartThings hub). If two devices don’t have the same controller, they don’t attempt to talk to each other.

That’s good to know. A bit counter-intuitive, but smart.

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