What is Z-Wave? How does it work? 2021 Guide to Z-Wave

If you’ve taken even the first timid steps toward home automation, you’ve probably heard about Z-Wave and wondered what it’s all about. Today, we’ll look at how Z-Wave truly works, but first, let’s look at the fundamentals, starting with what does it even mean?

The Fundamentals: What exactly is Z-Wave?

Z-Wave is a wonderfully efficient and wireless home automation technology. Zensys Inc., a Danish start-up, developed the technology in 2001 as a low-cost alternative to Zigbee and introduced it in 2004, with the express goal of providing dependable communication between smart home devices from various manufacturers. Sigma Designs, based in California, purchased the company in 2009. Silicon Labs recently paid $240 million for the company. Because it uses very little power, there will be no interference with your WiFi connection. 

Unlike the 2.4GHz band used by your home WiFi network or the competitor technology Zigbee, Z-Wave uses the 900MHz band, which not only reduces interference but also provides a longer wavelength capable of penetrating obstacles such as walls and ceilings. The Z-Wave protocol uses low-energy radio waves to allow smart gadgets and appliances in your connected home to communicate.

Layers upon layers of Z-Wave

There are three layers to Z-Wave systems:

  • Radio
  • Network
  • Application

It’s the way these layers all operate together that makes the network so seamless and stable. It’s the application layer that counts in terms of how Z-Wave truly works – and we’ll get to that soon once the framework is built and all terminology is explained. The ability for smart home devices to communicate with one another is predicated on this layer. Before we go any further, there are a few terminologies that will help you better understand the fundamentals of a Z-Wave smart home system.

Additional Z-Wave Terminology

The whole range of Z-Wave devices can be divided into three categories:

  • Controllers: These are solely for controlling other Z-Wave devices.
  • Sensors are data-transmitting devices that use analogue or digital impulses to relay data.
  • Actuators are signal-switching devices that are controlled.


Controllers are of a variety of shapes and sizes. Some Z-Wave remote controllers are just universal remote controls with infrared capabilities. Z-Wave remote controls are also available for purchase. These have special keys for grouping, scene selection, and network functions in general. USB sticks or IP gateways can also be used to connect to Z-Wave networks from a PC. You can also remotely access your network through the internet if you utilize a gateway, which is not possible with a hardware controller for obvious reasons. Many Z-Wave devices may be controlled by an app on your phone.


Temperature and humidity are measured using analogue sensors. They’re also useful for determining gas concentrations, such as in carbon monoxide detectors. For motion detection, water leak detection, and any doors or glass shattering, digital sensors come in handy.


Electrical dimmers and motorized blinds are controlled by actuators using analogue signals. Digital signals are used by actuators for electrical switches and displays. Either form of a signal can be utilized for motor control and thermostat control. Now for the simple part: understanding how Z-Wave works.

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What Is Z-Wave and How Does It Work?

Z-Wave is a mesh network that is both wireless and secure. You can operate your gadgets with a controller, key fob, smartphone, tablet, or computer, as described above. A command is transmitted to a hub from whichever controller you’re using, and then it’s routed to the destination device. If you want remote access, you’ll need the hub. 

Everything happens in the background without any user interaction other than issuing the instruction, thanks to the 2-way system included in Z-Waves devices. Before devices can be controlled, they must be joined to the network – included. A Network ID is assigned to the network, whereas Node IDs are assigned to the devices. If your neighbor also has a Z-Wave system in their smart home, the independent network ID ensures that there will be no conflict or security concerns. We’ll now dissect the science of how communication works under the hood.

What Is Z-Wave

Classes of Command

Command classes are essentially collections of responses and commands related to how devices work. A binary switch, for example, is a normal on/off switch. This has three different instructions (SET, GET, and REPORT), thus the command is sent to the switch and then returned to the controller for reporting. A device can deal with all of these aspects using the command class binary switch. Different command classes are used by different devices. All devices implement a Basic command class that allows them to communicate even if they are unfamiliar with the unique functionality of the other devices.

Device Types

Device classes are used in addition to the Basic command class to allow devices from various manufacturers to function together. There are three levels to how device classes work:

Controllers, slaves, and routing slaves are the three basic device classes.

  • Generic Device Class: This device class refers to the basic functionality that the devices will provide as either a controller or a slave. Static and generic controllers, binary and multi-level switches, sensors, meters, and thermostats are all examples.
  • Specific Device Class: A multi-level power switch or a setback thermostat are examples of specific device classes that cut down the generic classes further.
  • Beyond the essential command classes listed above, there are other optional command classes. These classes, as well as any optional classes, are announced by the device during inclusion. This procedure ensures that all gadgets are optimized to their best potential. So, in plain English, that’s what’s going on beneath the surface of your Z-Wave network.

The Advantages of Z-Wave

We’ll highlight some of Z-primary Wave’s advantages so you can understand right away where this protocol excels.

  • Affordability: You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get started with a Z-Wave system. It’s simple to add products over time, so there’s no need to make a huge initial expenditure.
  • Installation is simple: You won’t have to worry about rewiring, and although some technical expertise is required, set-up is a joy.
  • Interoperability: Z-Wave is supported by the majority of major smart home companies. There are an estimated 2400 gadgets to select from, and with more than 90 million Z-Wave items currently installed in smart homes around the world, it’s a system that prioritizes interoperability.
  • Reliability: There are two ways to obtain reliability. To begin with, Z-Wave is well-established, having been in business for almost 15 years. Aside from that, the mesh network architecture provides an exceedingly dependable communication protocol with minimal interference, resulting in a win-win situation.
  • AES-128, which is utilized by banks and government agencies, provides strong encryption and security.

Advantages of Z-Wave

The only disadvantage worth mentioning is the limited number of nodes; nonetheless, as previously stated, support for 232 devices is more than adequate. It also helps if you know something about radio frequency, which is why we’ve brought this article to you. What about forming the Z-Wave Alliance? This is another one of those terms you may have come across without giving it much thought, but the premise is rather straightforward.

The Z-Wave Alliance is a group of people who work together to make it better. The Z-Wave Alliance was founded in 2005 with over 700 members producing 2400 smart home products. The Z-Wave Alliance is in charge of certification and ensures that all Z-Wave smart home devices meet stringent requirements. The Z-Wave Alliance has ensured that every Z-Wave controller will function with every Z-Wave device. Zigbee has a few flaws when it comes to total compatibility. When buying, all you have to look for is the Z-Wave Certified sticker to know you’re in good hands.

What’s the Difference between Z-Wave and Z-Wave Plus?

Even though it’s still utilized for marketing purposes, Z-Wave Plus is old news in certain ways. A few years ago, the platform received a major upgrade, with improved range and battery life as well as more channels. Z-Wave Plus, commonly known as the Z-Wave 500 series, will make up the great majority of Z-Wave smart home products now on the market. What do you need to get started now that you have a good understanding of how Z-Wave works? Fortunately, all you need are a few inexpensive devices and a controller to get started without spending a fortune.

Final Thoughts

We hope that today’s in-depth article on Z-Wave has given you a better understanding of how to use this dependable communication protocol in your connected home. For more details, talk to our experts today.

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