You’re interested in smart lights but just a little unsure what this Zigbee is, why something is Z-Wave compatible and how a light can connect via bluetooth or wifi.
We’re going to be breaking down the main ways you can connect your smart lights, so you can make sure you’re buying the right lights. Let’s start with a popular connection you’ve probably heard of.
When Bluetooth was created, smart lights didn’t even exist, so why did smart lighting companies start to adopt Bluetooth as a way to connect?
While Bluetooth has a few limitations like its short range, almost every modern laptop and more importantly phone, has Bluetooth built-in. So you can easily connect and control any Bluetooth enabled lights with your phone. That’s not to say lights that connect via Bluetooth are the best choice.
Bluetooth is a relatively stable wireless option, and it generally just “works”. For most people who only want to control their lights via a phone, or through a voice assistant like Alexa and Google Assistant - they can be a great option. Let’s sum up the benefits.
Smart lights that connect through Bluetooth can’t take advantage of the more preferred wireless technologies like Zigbee or even WIFI. You’ll be giving up a lot of automation options, which really makes a home feel smart. In no order there are their drawbacks.
If automation isn’t something you’re really into, you’d just like to control your lights through your voice or phone, with the added benefit of being able to dim or change the light colour - Bluetooth can be a good option.
Bluetooth isn’t a bad option - it just doesn’t have as many benefits as the next few options we’ll be talking about.
Generally speaking, WIFI connected smart lights are an ok option for some people - namely anyone who isn’t looking to kit out their whole home.
The fact they connect straight to a WIFI router, which I’m willing to bet most people reading this article have, making them easy to set up and use.
Most people will be able to quite easily set up and control their lights without having to purchase additional hardware, making WIFI lights hard to beat, they also.
One of the major drawbacks, which makes them a non-starter for anyone looking to kit out their home is the interference.
Introducing a bunch of WIFI connected devices into your home can not only cause interference issues with your phone and laptop - your router most likely won’t be able to handle all the devices.
When looking more into it, WIFI just isn’t the best option for many people, even though so many brands are creating WIFI only smart lights.
Potential interference issues alone should make anyone thinking about going for WIFI connected lights to think twice.
For a lamp here and there, or if you have a small flat (maybe), WIFI bulbs can be a more cost effective alternative. While Zigbee connected lights are still our top choice, for small small uses like above, WIFI lights can work well.
A newer technology compared to WIFI and Bluetooth, Zigbee was created to be a low powered wireless option, which makes it the perfect for smart home devices.
It has a lot of upsides and few downsides, though it does require you to purchase additional hardware (Zigbee enabled hub).
Also seen as a direct competitor to Z-Wave (for good reason), you’ll find a lot of companies are creating Zigbee enabled devices.
Mostly everything about Zigbee is positive when we talk about using it for smart lights, it’s low powered and allows you to control lights even when there’s no internet.
With the added benefit of creating its own “mesh” network - fancy way to say the lights talk to each other. So you don’t need to buy multiple Zigbee hub extenders around the home (unlike WIFI)/
While nothing is perfect, Zigbee does require you to purchase additional hardware before you can use your Zigbee lights. Most the drawbacks around Zigbee don’t directly affect smart lights, for example it has low data transfer - which honestly isn’t even an issue for a smart light.
Without sounding bias, Zigbee is the option we recommend to most people who are semi-serious about smart homes.
Amazon (and possibly soon Google) have incorporated Zigbee into their smart speakers. Leaders in the smart light space, like Philips Hue, opt to only support Zigbee and Bluetooth for their lights - as the benefits can’t be overstated.
An alternative to Zigbee, Z-Wave connect lights have many of the same benefits such as being low powered . (Z-Wave Plus)
Z-Wave Plus was also introduced as a major upgrade, providing better range and extended battery life for devices, which all new devices now include by default.
Similar to Zigbee, lots of the same benefits transfer over - resulting in a better option than say WIFI and Bluetooth for a lot of people. Here's some of the top reasons to go with Z-Wave.
Similar to Zigbee you'll need a hub to connect all your Z-Wave devices together and ultimately "control them". This is certainly an added cost, but one that isn't too expensive when weighed up against the cost of other smart home products.
A strong alternative to Zigbee that has similar advantages, which puts it ahead of both WIFI and Bluetooth connected lights. While Z-Wave supports more devices than Zigbee, it still appears mainstream brands are choosing to adopt Zigbee as their preferred choice.
Aside from bespoke and brand specific protocols, like the Lutron integration protocol there’s really only the above 4 main wireless options - that you need to know about.
That said be on the lookout for the new “Connected Home over IP” also called Project CHIP wireless option.
With an ambitious aim to create a better connected smart home experience, one where all your devices connect together in a simple plug-and-play manner. It’s shaping up to be the new gold standard for smart homes, with a lot of big players having input into its development.
Some of the companies that are helping shape Project CHIP
Anyone looking for a recommendation on which option to choose will find Zigbee has an edge over Z-Wave, WIFI and Bluetooth.
That’s not to say you can’t install different smart lights with different connectivity options in your home, but you’ll run into problems like getting them to work together.
This is where some smart home hubs and software like IFTTT can help - to make everything “play nicely”, but we’d highly recommend sticking with one brand where possible.
Zigbee has been adopted by the leading smart lighting brand, Philips Hue. You can even purchase an Amazon Echo Plus, which incorporates a Zigbee hub directly into it, in order to control other Zigbee devices without the need for a separate hub.
Once you have a Zigbee enabled Hub, like Samsung SmartThings you’ll be able to add most other mainstream Zigbee devices, not just lights.