Will Mixing Z-Wave and Z-Wave Plus Devices On a Network Cause Issues?

It's possible that mixing Z-Wave and Z-Wave Plus devices on a network may cause issues. These issues may include reduced wireless range and restrictions on bandwidth for transferring data. But you should understand that standard Z-Wave devices are compatible with a Z-Wave Plus network.

Z-Wave refers to a wireless communications protocol that is used with various smart home automation devices, including lights, door locks, thermostats, and more. Through the years, Z-Wave communication has seen numerous upgrades, such as transmitting signals across further distances, drawing less power, and supporting more bandwidth and data. And what's great about Z-Wave is that newer Z-Wave peripherals and hubs are always backwards compatible with older Z-Wave devices. However, it is possible that you may run into certain issues when trying to mix old and new Z-Wave equipment.

For the purpose of this FAQ, we will focus on two (2) distinct types of Z-Wave communication. The first is standard Z-Wave, which may also be referred to as classic Z-Wave, or 300-Series devices. The other type of Z-Wave communication we will focus on is Z-Wave Plus, which also refers to 500-Series devices. Z-Wave Plus is newer and more advanced that classic Z-Wave. But since all of this equipment is ultimately Z-Wave, there are no major compatibility issues that you need to be concerned about. That being said, mixing Z-Wave and Z-Wave Plus devices can present some issues that may prevent your network from achieving optimal performance and function.

At the center of every Z-Wave network is a hub, which may also be called a Z-Wave controller. Many alarm panels double as Z-Wave controllers so that the user can also set up a home automation network. Various Z-Wave devices will connect with this hub by enrolling into the associated Z-Wave network. Z-Wave devices are smart, and they can only be enrolled with one Z-Wave network at a time. If a Z-Wave device is enrolled with an existing network, then its old network information must be cleared before it can be added to a new Z-Wave network. The clearing process can be performed from any Z-Wave hub, even if you do not have access to the original hub.

A great aspect of Z-Wave devices is that they do not need to transmit or receive signals directly to or from the Z-Wave hub or controller. Instead, Z-Wave devices can transmit signals to other Z-Wave devices. Whenever a Z-Wave device receives a signal intended for another Z-Wave device, it repeats the signal and passes it along the line until the signal reaches the main hub or the device that it was intended for. The process of a Z-Wave device repeating the signal of or for another Z-Wave device is referred to as a "signal hop". A Z-Wave signal can make up to four (4) "hops" on its way to its destination.

As you add more Z-Wave devices, the wireless network will become stronger. This is because more Z-Wave devices are communicating with each other, and there are more pathways for signals to move to and from the hub. This is what is referred to as a "mesh network", and it plays a big part in ensuring that Z-Wave devices can always communicate reliably. If you have many Z-Wave devices placed in strategic locations, then it won't be as big of a deal if one Z-Wave device goes offline for whatever reason. This is because the other Z-Wave devices in the mesh network will be able to transmit their signals through the other nearby Z-Wave devices.

Where all of this matters is in the differences between classic Z-Wave and Z-Wave Plus. The wireless range for a Z-Wave Plus device is about 50 to 60 feet between hops. For a classic Z-Wave device, it is only 30 to 40 feet. Z-Wave Plus devices also use 50% less power then classic Z-Wave devices when communicating. As a result, Z-Wave Plus devices have a 50% longer battery life on average. Finally, Z-Wave Plus devices have 250% more bandwidth than classic Z-Wave devices. This makes it easier for Z-Wave Plus devices to quickly transmit large data packets and operate as efficiently as possible. Many users will also find that Z-Wave Plus devices are more resilient and are more likely to keep working if the network experiences issues.

When you look at various Z-Wave devices, you will likely see that some are labeled as "Z-Wave Plus", while others are only labeled as "Z-Wave". If you want to take advantage of the improved capabilities of Z-Wave Plus, then you will need to obtain certified Z-Wave Plus devices. You must also make sure that your main Z-Wave controller or hub is Z-Wave Plus. If your Z-Wave controller is only certified for standard Z-Wave, then all of the devices on the network will behave like standard Z-Wave devices. This is true even if you enroll devices that are certified Z-Wave Plus. Since the main hub is only standard Z-Wave, none of the devices on the network will be able to utilize Z-Wave Plus technology, even if they are labeled as being Z-Wave Plus.

But even if you have a certified Z-Wave Plus hub, things can start getting a little weird once you start mixing Z-Wave Plus and standard Z-wave devices on the same network. As we mentioned earlier, Z-Wave devices establish a strong "mesh network" of inter-connectivity between different devices. The Z-Wave devices will use this mesh network to establish the most optimal pathways for getting signal transmissions to and from the main hub. Recall that this is done using up to four (4) "signal hops" through other Z-Wave devices on the network. This is important because if even just one of these signal hops occurs through a classic Z-Wave device, then all subsequent transmissions will operate as though only Z-Wave classic devices were being used.

To make this easier to understand, let's imagine that you have a Z-Wave Plus network. Your main hub is certified Z-Wave Plus, and all the devices in your Z-Wave mesh network are Z-Wave Plus. Then let's say you stick a standard Z-Wave device right in the middle of your mesh network and enroll it into your Z-Wave network. Whenever any signals from your Z-Wave Plus devices "hop" through that classic Z-Wave device, all subsequent transmissions on that communication pathway will then operate as standard Z-Wave transmissions. These standard Z-Wave signal transmissions will occur any time that a command from the device is ultimately passed along to or from the main hub.

The big disadvantage to the scenario just described is that standard Z-Wave signal transmissions have a shorter wireless range than Z-Wave Plus signal transmissions. As a result, it's possible that you may experience communication issues on your network that you hadn't experienced previously. And since classic Z-Wave signal transmissions use up more power than Z-Wave Plus signal transmissions, you may also find that some of your devices have a reduced battery life. Finally, it may also be more difficult for your Z-Wave Plus devices to discover the best possible communication routes to and from the hub. This is because of the loss of explorer frames that are not used with classic Z-Wave.

With that in mind, the best way to avoid these issues is to only use Z-Wave Plus devices on your network. Then you will not need to worry about any signal transmissions "downgrading" to classic Z-Wave. Of course, this can be easier said than done. You might have an important device on your network that is classic Z-Wave, and replacing it would be difficult. If that is the case, then just continue to strengthen your Z-Wave mesh network by adding more Z-Wave Plus devices nearby. Z-Wave Plus devices use explorer frames that help them find the optimal transmission pathways for getting signals back to the main hub. By adding more Z-Wave Plus devices, it is more likely that your Z-Wave Plus devices will be able to find pathways that only include other Z-Wave Plus devices for signal hopping.

Remember, Z-Wave Plus devices and classic Z-Wave devices are ultimately compatible. At the end of the day, any issues that you experience when using Z-Wave Plus devices and classic Z-Wave devices on the same network will likely come down to wireless range and battery life. There is also the concern that Z-Wave Plus devices are more "refined" and less prone to causing problems on the network. But if all your devices are working correctly and you aren't stretching range limits, then you shouldn't experience problems when using Z-Wave Plus devices and standard Z-Wave devices together. However, if you want to make sure that the devices on your network take full advantage of the technology and capabilities presented by Z-Wave Plus, then your best option is to only include certified Z-Wave Plus devices on your network.

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