The trend toward connected devices and smart homes is upon us. But with 8.7 billion smart devices currently in use in 2017, according to Gartner, the electricity and networking demands these devices make is already high and growing every year. To mitigate the high electricity and network capacity demands of connected homes, engineers and developers have turned to lower energy options for smart home devices. These options include Bluetooth LE, ZigBee, and a technology known as Z Wave. Increasingly, smart devices rely on a Z Wave hub in your home to coordinate their actions.

The potential of Z Wave and other low energy technologies is vast and exciting. This article will explain what Z Wave is, how it works, and why you should consider a Z Wave hub for setting up your connected home. The Z Wave technology is proven over the past 16 years, and it’s now coming to prominence as a staple in modern homes. Soon, Z Wave will be as common a term as “Bluetooth” or “Wifi” is today.

Z Wave: What It Is and Its Rise to Prominence

Z Wave is not a new technology. A company called Zensys created the technology protocol in 2001 to transmit data between networked devices. Z Wave uses a lower bandwidth of frequencies to send its signals through the air than Wifi. As such it’s practical for low-energy simple networks of devices.

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Like Bluetooth and Wifi, Z Wave is not a physical technology. Instead, it’s a protocol for devices to use to talk to one another, and many brands of hardware use the same Z Wave technology to communicate. This means that many competing brands are all innovating on the Z Wave protocol. Fueling it’s rise to prominence as a viable networking solution.

Z Wave relies on low energy transmissions that can reach long distances. However, these transmissions can’t be very complicated to work on the Z Wave network. Z Wave can send commands like telling a light to turn on or off. It can even command locking or unlocking a door or turning down the volume on a speaker. It can’t send complicated information like internet connection or detailed data. This means its applications are different from Wifi or Bluetooth, but it is ideally suited to smart home applications.

Z Wave is a networking protocol that uses mesh networking. This means that there’s not one central hub for the network, but each node on the network shares in the work of transmitting information. This makes a huge difference over long distances. Mesh networks like Z Wave reach much farther than Bluetooth or Wifi networks.

What Is a Z Wave Hub?

If Z Wave is a mesh network, why would you need something called a hub? Isn’t the whole idea of mesh networking to avoid having a hub?

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While each device on a mesh network shares in the responsibility of creating the network, not every device can process new commands. A Z Wave hub is also called a Z Wave controller. It gives commands to devices on the network from a central point. Sometimes in order to reach a device that’s far away on the network, however, the controller may issue a “hop” command to one intermediary device. That device passes the command on to the intended recipient, thereby extending the maximum range of the network.

According to TIME, Z Wave is becoming one protocol of choice for low price, low energy, and low bandwidth networking between simple devices.

How a Z Wave Controller Coordinates Devices in Your Home

A Z Wave controller works much like your wireless router, only on a much lower bandwidth. A Z Wave hub may connect with dozens of devices throughout your home, like lights, appliances, and locks. As part of the network, the Z Wave controller now has access to turn these devices on and off based on the commands you give it.

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For instance, when you issue a command to lock your doors or turn off the lights, the command goes via the internet to your Z Wave controller. The controller processes the command and determines what signals to send. It broadcasts the signals to the intended devices, causing them to turn on or off. With Z Wave, it’s no longer necessary to hardwire smart devices into your home network. Now, everything is done wirelessly from your Z Wave hub.

Best Z Wave Hub Manufacturers

Based on reviews from PCMag and The Wirecutter, there aren’t many good options for comprehensive, easy-to-use Z-Wave hubs. The competition boils down to two top choices.

Reviews state that the Samsung SmartThings Hub is top rated. It’s highly capable, and offers great flexibility for setting up your smart home network. Technical knowledge is required to get started.

Slightly limited, the Wink Hub 2 is more Intuitive. For most users, however, the Wink Hub 2 is a great option. It offers easy setup, and wide compatibility with a range of devices. The Wink app is intuitive and helps you create autonomous actions your smart home can take on its own.

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