Zigbee explained – What is Zigbee?

Updated 3 weeks ago 6 minutes

Zigbee is a term that pops up a lot in the world of smart home. So what is it? In short, it’s a wireless smart home technology. A lot of companies use Zigbee to make smart lightbulbs, plugs and other devices. That’s why it’s one of the six wireless technologies in Homey.

You can see Zigbee as a sort of Wi-Fi, but created specifically for home automation. It offers some advantages over Wi-Fi or other wireless technologies for home automation.

Pros and Cons of Zigbee

Zigbee is a popular technology for smart home, because it offers some distinct advantages over other wireless technologies:

For starters, Zigbee communication is two-way: devices confirm commands given to them. This makes Zigbee devices very reliable. It makes sure devices never miss a command, and allows your sensors to dub as a smart security system.

Zigbee is also relatively standardized, especially in lighting. Carried by big brands such as Philips Hue and IKEA, Zigbee has a universal basis for lighting control. That is why you can pair your lights from IKEA to a Zigbee hub from a different brand like Hue.

Another advantage is the fact that Zigbee uses the same wireless band as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth do: 2.4 GHz. This means that devices can be certified relatively simple and can immediately be sold worldwide. Z-Wave devices on the other hand need different frequencies, certifications and requirements for different regions.

Aqara Zigbee Door Sensor
Zigbee’s size and power-efficiency allows for beautiful, small devices like this door/window sensor from Xiaomi Aqara.

The technology also requires very little power. It allows very small devices like a Xiaomi Door Sensor to run on a single battery for years. It’s also fairly mainstream and affordable – Zigbee devices usually cost less than their counterparts on Z-Wave.

And last, but definitely not least: Zigbee is built as a mesh network. Mesh networks allow all the devices to talk to each other and repeat commands. In practice, it means range and reliability of the whole network improve with every Zigbee device you add.

Zigbee mesh networking explained
Mesh networks like Zigbee allow devices to talk to each other and relay commands

Disadvantages

Every technology has its trade-offs. For Zigbee, this is mainly range. This issue is solved partly because Zigbee uses mesh networking, as described above. When you do not have a mesh, however, the point-to-point range of Zigbee is fairly limited, especially when compared to technologies like Z-Wave or 433MHz. As Zigbee works on the 2.4GHz band and is energy-efficient, the direct range is often limited to 15-20 meter in open air.

Another thing in Zigbee is the quality and compatibility difference between devices. Where Zigbee lightbulbs and plugs are pretty evolved, some other products are less mature. An example is the 5 button dimmer from IKEA, which cannot be paired properly to a Zigbee hub like Homey.

Lastly, you cannot connect Zigbee devices directly to your phone. Your phone does not feature a Zigbee antenna. So you always need a smart home hub to connect with Zigbee devices. Luckily, Homey includes Zigbee, so if you have Homey you have nothing to worry about.

Homey Zigbee hub controller
You need a hub like Homey to connect to Zigbee devices

Conclusion

To sum up, Zigbee is a powerful, energy-efficient and affordable smart home technology. It’s widely used for lighting by big brands like IKEA and Philips Hue. Next to lighting, Zigbee is found in sensors, plugs, roller blinds and many more attractive products from a variety of brands.

Zigbee has less range than Z-Wave, but this is easily offset by building a good Zigbee mesh network in your home which will relay signals. And because Zigbee devices are cheaper, you can automate your home for less. More and more brands and devices are adopting Zigbee, but not everything is on Zigbee yet. That is why we recommend to combine Zigbee with another technology like Z-Wave if you want to fully automate your home.

Smart home lights on Zigbee work with Homey

Getting started with Zigbee

Building a Zigbee setup is quite easy. As it is a wireless technology, there’s obviously no wires to install. To get started, you just need Homey and a Zigbee device, for instance a Philips Hue lightbulb. The technology builds the mesh network itself when devices are added to Homey. There’s no need to enter passwords or SSIDs like with Wi-Fi, and the devices figure out the optimal routes for commands and messages themselves.

Now, Zigbee is a great technology, but not the whole world runs on Zigbee. There are several other wireless technologies out there powering Smart Home. That is why we recommend to stay versatile with Homey. Homey is not only a Zigbee hub, but can also control devices on your Wi-Fi, and via Bluetooth, Infrared, Z-Wave and 433MHz signals. All these technologies may not mean much to you, but basically they are all the ways to wirelessly control devices. And with Homey, you can control them all.

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