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Z Wave vs Z Wave Plus – Differences Explained in Plain English

Z Wave competes with Zigbee to be in every smart home across the country. Today, Z Wave enabled devices are in over 70% of American and European homes.

Is it better than the Z Wave of old? Do you need to upgrade or replace your current Z Wave devices? What are the differences between the two?

Differences between Z Wave and Z Wave Plus

I will answer all of those questions and more in this article. By the end, you will be a Z Wave expert, too.

What is Z Wave, Anyway?

Z Wave is a wireless protocol. It is similar to Zigbee, if you are familiar with that term. In essence, it is a wireless network for devices to communicate with each other through.

Think about your home internet. You have a hub that brings the internet into your home, and then it connects to a router. The router takes the internet signal and broadcasts it over a wireless protocol at 2.4gHz (or 5gHz for you, Mr. Fancy pants.)

Because this wireless signal is being broadcast throughout your home, you can connect a wireless device to the signal such as your cell phone, tablet or laptop computer.

Z Wave is very similar; it produces a low-frequency wireless network signal that connects devices together. The main difference is that you don’t need a hub or a router. The signal itself run on the 800 to 900mHz band.

This lower frequency isn’t strong enough to transport high-speed signals or high definition video (sorry Netflix). However, it is enough to activate devices such as light bulbs, door locks, thermostats, etc.

The 500 series, or Generation 5 (also known as Gen5, Z Wave 5th Gen and any other combination you can think of), is one of the latest (except for the 700 series) Z Wave technologies to hit the market.

The Z Wave signal is also encrypted using the AES 128-bit encryption method, so it is quite secure. Once a device is paired with a hub or central application, it is next to impossible to unpair it and sync to a different one. This makes hacking your system (to unlock a front door, for example) very difficult.

The last thing you need to know is that the Z Wave enabled devices will allow jumping from one device to the next. Because the range is less than your WiFi signal, but more than your Bluetooth signal, the ability for the signal to leap from one to the next creates a mesh network, allowing any device to talk to any other.

Oh, and you can have over 230 devices in this mesh network at one time. Cool!

Differences between Z-Wave and Z-Wave Plus 

I could write an encyclopedia covering every little difference between the two protocols. However, the need for such technical jargon isn’t really useful unless you plan to become a certified installer.

Instead, I will tell you what you, as a homeowner, need to know.

  • Z Wave Plus has extended device communication range. The new Z Wave protocol extends communication between devices from 40 feet to about 60 feet.
  • Z Wave Plus devices are smaller which require less power to operate. A typical sensor can last up to 10 years on a single disc style battery.
  • The Plus protocol has more bandwidth. More bandwidth means longer range, better performance, and quicker signal hops.
  • OTA Updates. Over the Air (OTA) updating hasn’t been available before now on Z Wave devices. Now, you don’t need to do anything except push the update through to have all of your devices updated.
  • There are three RF-Channels. The RF-channels work through the devices to improve security and increase bandwidth.
  • Z Wave Plus can “self-heal.” Self-healing, when something goes wrong, means your devices recover faster and run through a series of self-diagnostics to fix the problem, usually before you even realize there was one.
  • Z Wave Plus adds Plug-N-Play abilities. Now you just have to plug in a Z Wave Plus device, and it will automatically be added to the mesh network.
  • Backward Compatibility. This isn’t a difference, but needs to be noted. Al Z Wave devices are fully backward compatible with each other. This means your Z Wave classic (Series 300 and 400) will work with the Z Wave 500 series, and in the future (700 series and beyond) will all work with the 500 series.

It is All the Same From There

I won’t bore you with a three-mile-long list of everything they have in common. If it wasn’t listed in the previous section, it is safe to say that the Z Wave and Z Wave Plus are the same in every other way.

You can use all of the Z Wave devices with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Samsung SmartThings hubs. Device apps can now control more devices through third-party monitoring, so your Hue lighting and Sledge door locks can be controlled by a single app.

This won’t work for every device (at least not yet) but a central app, like SmartThings, will control about 90 percent of your Z Wave devices. This brings your smart home together easily and adds functionality.

Conclusion – Do You Need To Upgrade to Z Wave Plus?

In short. No. You do not. If you already have Z Wave devices, a Z Wave Plus addition will work just fine.

If you are just starting out, you should start with a Z Wave Plus kit, to get everything up and running. Then you can scour the internet sales for the older series models (which are selling sensor kits for pretty cheap) and add older units to save money.

Either way, you go, everything works together. Adding or replacing is up to you. It isn’t needed, though, just add the new devices and you are good to go.

2 thoughts on “Z Wave vs Z Wave Plus – Differences Explained in Plain English”

  1. I have a honeywell lynx security system/zwave hub; about 4 years old so i assume 300/400 series zwave. I bought a schlage lock w zwave plus lock; the lock does not load Completely into my lynx security! All works well except the lynx sees my unlock command from the phone but does not unlock the lock; after 30 sec the wall panel lynx just jumps back to the present situation: locked.
    If i just use the wall panel, it locks and unlocks normally!

    I loaded this lock 4 – 5 times but it always failed to complete the loading and just says failed! But it works fine except the phone not being able to unlock the lock!

    A zwave vs zwave plus problem? No one talks about 300,400,500,700 series z wave!
    I have no internet, just cell phone for zwave!

  2. I feel Jack’s pain (above comment) as well. I have a 2015-vintage Schlage Z-Wave door lock (not Z-Wave Plus).
    Short answer: All is NOT okay getting with a newer Z-Wave Plus hub talking to an older Z-wave device like my 2015-vintage Z-wave lock. While they (the industry) say things are supposed to be backwards compatible, the way vendors are actually implementing standards for Z-Wave Plus it is clear to me they are striving for “planned obsolescence” of older Z-Wave (non-Plus) devices, i.e. to force people to keep replacing everything as newer standards come along. We saw this for 30 years in the PC computer market, with the OS’s and user productivity software changes to force people to keep upgrading PCs hardware and then productivity software programs, thus driving money into the pockets of the hardware and software companies. Planned obsolescence.

    The bottom-line is if I want to integrate my door lock into a Smart Home setup today, one I can control via my iPhone aywhere, I have to replace my older Schlage lock, which should’ve lasted 20+ years, at < 6 years to the newer Schlage Z-Wave Plus version, or get their newer WiFi version and avoiding Z-Wave altogether. It's like tossing toss $300 cash onto a fire-pit.

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