Opinion: Stick with WiFi devices, or get into Zigbee with hub/dongle?

I’ve been dabbling with OH2 and OH3 for a while, doing a few simple things with two WiFi smart plugs, plus kit I already had like Ecobee and Chromecast. Now looking to “level up” a bit and add some more devices (like an in-wall switch, door sensors, temp sensor). I thought Zigbee was the way to go, so I got a Conbee II USB dongle.

But then I read this article Why a Proper Smart Home Doesn’t Need a Hub which says the total opposite! Basically, forget Zigbee and Z-wave, WiFi is fine these days.

He makes some good arguments, but doesn’t Zigbee still have advantages? Like:

  • Lower power for battery-powered devices like sensors
  • Longer range?
  • Mesh network extends itself as you add (powered) devices
  • Required for lines like Tradfri and Hue
  • Less clutter and traffic on my LAN

On the other hand:

  • Lots of options for WiFi devices, and generally cheaper
  • Not crazy about running DeConz alongside OH on RPi

Who has an opinion?

Not sure which option is easier to implement as I guess it depends always on personal circumstances.
I though opted for zigbee as I got a wide choice of devices, low powered, and as you said, it does not clutter up WiFi (even though both use 2.4Ghz). I like this separation.
Using now a zzah stick (running on separate LXC with MQTT and Zigbee2MQTT) with a network of 20+ devices from IKEA, Xiaomi, Tuya, own-developed ESPs.

Imho trading one 2.4Ghz device for another one makes no sense.
Even though it’s not wifi, it’ll still interfere with your 2.4Ghz wifi devices.

If you want something more energy efficient for battery devices there is still z-wave (800MHz).
But that’s another steep learning curve and with some devices it’s possible to have a sub-par experience if you don’t configure them properly. And they are expensive!

With all due respect to the author of that article (which I just read) I disagree with him. His point is “use Alexa or Google Assistant” compatible devices and everything will work. Three problems there:

  • Everything will work until the companies involved decide they don’t want it to anymore, like Works with Nest, or shutting down a competing brand.
  • You can’t do non-trivial automation, which you can with hubs like OpenHab or Home Assistant, for example make my lights blink between 7:00-8:00 when the weather forecast says it is gong to rain
  • Privacy? Big brother is listening, and looking forward to shove ads in your face about everything you talk about.

He claims everyone wants to control their smart home by voice. Funny, I don’t. If a person’s reason for smart home is to avoid walking to press a switch to turn on/off a light, okay… I think automation to do smart stuff, decide actions based on rules, is what it is truly about.

He also complains that hub companies are dying. Might be true. Open Source solutions like OpenHAB aren’t dying. Neither is hardware like Raspberry Pi. And they enable you to centralize views and automation.

I fully agree that you need to watch the costs! ZWave devices are too expensive, agree there, I have only a few because of that. Disappointing costs in fact. Would have a lot more if they weren’t so costly. Not sure about Zigbee’s costs.

Is Wifi fine? Yeah, I think it is in the most part. Is Zwave or Zigbee better? Yes, because of the mesh and lower traffic, but unless you have so many devices I suppose they won’t be deal breakers.


Agreed, I think another point in line with your reasoning:

  • Using only GA/Alexa devices: you got no/limited choice of how to use your devices, everything goes through Google/Amazon
  • Using OH or HA: you actually got a choice using rules locally and (if you want) still use GA/Alexa voice

In addition, you are independent, as you said, from vendors by running your own “network” and, say if Google decides to end their support, your home automation will still work via OH and any open zigbee/zwave standard (i.e. zigbee2mqtt, zigbee binding in OH etc.).

Not really.
And I will never understand those people to pick devices because of a 1-digit difference in price, ignoring all the cons.
Have you ever run a Wi-Fi device on battery ? See … and he does not even mention the word ‘battery’.
That’s not a ‘proper smart home’, that’s just unprofessional.

That article is a refutation to another article saying you should be using a hub. And if all you care about is control instead of automation then his arguments make sense. But Alexa and Google Assistant do not provide good enough ability to write “rules” and routines for anything by the most simple of scenarios. I believe you will find that author’s opinion is in the minority, especially around here. Keep in mind that his main argument was you don’t need openHAB, not that you don’t need Zigbee or Zwave. In fact he admits that he is still using at least Zigbee because he’s still forced to use Tradfre and Hue hubs which both work on Zigbee. And Alexa I believe supports Zigbee too with the larger Alexa speakers.

OH has both a Zigbee and Zwave binding. Though I don’t know if that particular coordinator works works with the Zigbee binding.

I think that article is mainly interesting in that it presents a contrarian opinion but on a close examination it is not convincing and contains a few logical fallacies. I would not make any decisions based on this or any other articles. Look at your requirements and what you want out of a home automation system and build to suit. You may be able to get away without hubs in which case you wouldn’t be using openHAB. Or you may require hubs because you require complex interactions between devices using different technologies, in which case a hub is the only way to achieve this.

The great thing about OH though is you can do both. You can use Zigbee and WiFi devices at the same time.

This is a great summary. There is no well crafted definition for home automation, but what he describes is control, not automation. If you want automation (e.g. you don’t need to issue a voice command because the lights just know to come on on their own) you need a hub, at least for now. And even when Alexa/Google Assistant/HomeKit gets smart enough to do really complex automations, you’ve not gotten rid of the hub, you’ve replaced it with Alexa/Google Assistant/HomeKit.

Over all the entire paper is basically saying “I don’t have a need for a hub so no one should have a need for a hub.” So I wouldn’t take it too seriously except to consider if you are like the author and perhaps do care about voice commands above all else in which case you can achieve your goals without a hub. I’d be OK with the article if it wasn’t so black and white but the even the title does not leave room for an alternative conclusion.

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Zigbee is fine, if you have trouble with Zigbee caused by interference, you have trouble with 2.4Ghz WiFi too.

And the real problem with WiFi devices is standardisation.
Zigbee is Zigbee and that is a standard.

So, when you already have choosen OpenHAB, you are probably more than capable to set up a usb stick as a coordinator :slight_smile:

I agree that it’s mostly about how you define home automation, since voice control is marketed to non-enthusiasts as equivalent to automation. It’s also fair to say that Google Assistant and Alexa can do a lot more now than they could a few years ago, and that’s enough to keep most people happy. I think that’s the distinction the author should have made, but Internet journalism favours bold statements and hot takes that get people to react in the comments. If you write something that’s carefully considered and reasonable, no one notices and you don’t get the all-important clicks that generate revenue.

As for devices, people should just do what makes the most sense for themselves, which means evaluating an ever-changing combination of factors: budget, availability, purpose, features, AC/DC, range, ease of implementation, etc. The one thing that everyone should care about is reliability. If you can’t trust it to work, then there’s no point to it.

If I were starting over again then I might use Z-Wave wherever possible, but that would more than double my costs (versus WiFi devices) without any noticeable real-world advantages. The bigger budget might not matter to some people, but it does to me.

It’s also not as simple as choosing WiFi devices, but choosing WiFi devices that are supported. When I first installed openHAB, it immediately found the TP-Link Kasas I already had installed throughout my house. That eureka moment was really satisfying and gave me the confidence to keep going. If you had instead told me that I’d need to put Tasmota firmware on my Tuya WiFi devices and then connect to them via MQTT, I might not be here right now.

All this is to say that I’m cautiously optimistic about Matter. I feel like we’re still in the “every cable has a different port/plug” phase (parallel, serial, PS/2, FireWire, VGA) of home automation, and Matter could be the equivalent of USB. Just keep in mind how long it took for us to get from USB-A to USB-C, and that the ways in which manufacturers have implemented USB-C is far from perfect.

Quoted for truth :+1:

Haven’t read article but automation is not something my alexa can do. It does some cool stuff, but true automation only comes with a rich programming environment. I want my lights to come on when I walk in the room, but I also want them to come on at different brightness depending on the time of day… and not if it is daylight and the drapes are open… and… and
Alexa can’t do that
you get it

And at some level, aren’t Zigbee and Zwave a bit more secure if only because legions of hackers are not trying to find ways onto them. You might hack my zwave, but only if you’re a neighbor or sitting outside. Conceptually anything wifi can be seen from anywhere. But yes, Zwave is annoyingly expensive.


Adding to Andrew_Rowe’s agreeement here.

When I first started with OpenHAB, the majority of my devices were Wi-Fi devices. However, many of my devices don’t like it if my ISP goes down. Even if my local wireless is functioning correctly, the devices will go into a “oops, I don’t see the Internet, so I’ll let you control me by creating my own Access Point” mode – losing connectivity to the controller.

Family members can no longer control the devices. For example, they can’t turn off lights.

I try to have some type of local control for as many items as possible. If the (outside) Internet goes down or if the web-based service is offline (Google, Wink, Alexa, etc.), I still want control of as many devices as possible.

I like having a local controller (OpenHAB on a Raspberry Pi, in my case) perform the automation AND have cloud-based voice activation (such as Google Home, Alexa, etc.). I can control which devices (and which features) are sent to the cloud. I maintain local control (I can control the devices via OpenHAB even without external Internet).

What caught my attention in the article was that the author simply traded one “hub” (in the home) for another (cloud-based). He didn’t stop using a hub, he just moved the management to the cloud.

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I’m not personally concerned about my ISP being down, but I live in an area where service is extremely reliable. When it’s not working, it’s usually because of something I’ve done. :wink: Or it’s a power outage, in which case nothing works anyway.

The reality is that cloud-based WiFi devices have promoted the growth of home automation by making it easy for amateurs to get started. With increased consumer interest and competition among vendors, there’s a broader range of devices available for everyone (which also pushes Z-Wave/ZigBee manufacturers to be better). Whether we like clouds or not, we’re benefiting a lot from them.