Wi-Fi vs. Z-Wave Locks: Insider Intel

So, you’re on the hunt for the best smart locks for your multi-family, vacation rental, or commercial property. If you’ve done even an initial search, you’ve likely seen smart locks that connect via Wi-Fi and Z-Wave, two of the most popular connection technologies for smart locks. How do you decide between Wi-Fi vs Z-Wave locks? (See below for a quick explanation.) Is one better than the other?

Here, we asked two of RemoteLock’s smart lock experts to share their insider know-how on deciding between Wi-Fi vs Z-Wave to ensure you’ve got a smart-lock system in place that meets your needs today and into the future. When helping customers choose, our experts often begin by reviewing the features of each technology, allowing customers to discover what’s really important to them. 

Remote Control

✔ Wi-Fi smart locks
✔ Z-Wave smart locks

This is a biggie for busy managers at multi-family, vacation rental, and commercial properties. Instead of the antiquated and headache-inducing method of tracking and replacing physical keys, many managers want the convenience of controlling access from anywhere via a laptop or smartphone.  If you want remote control, both Wi-Fi and Z-Wave locks enabled by access-control software give you this ability. Regional Sales Executive Jake Farrier at RemoteLock says this function always ranks high with customers. “Hands down, everyone wants to manage access right from their phone or laptop,” he says. RemoteLock makes remote management even easier with one central dashboard to manage every door on your property. 

Good Battery Life

✔ Wi-Fi smart locks (certain brands)
✔ Z-Wave smart locks

Battery life varies for each individual smart lock. Z-Wave was designed with low power consumption in mind and is a better solution for smart homes where users want to keep their devices perpetually connected. Generally speaking, Z-Wave locks using lithium batteries can go one to two years. Historically, Wi-Fi smart locks that were perpetually connected to a network had a shorter battery life, needing replacement every one to three months. But as RemoteLock’s Senior Sales Executive Sarah Schwieger reports, this changed with the introduction of “heartbeat technology,” developed by RemoteLock. Setting a lock’s “heartbeat” allows you to choose how often the lock connects to Wi-Fi. For instance, if a lock is used primarily for a residence then the lock can connect and update access credentials a few times a day, greatly extending its battery life. Customers report batteries in RemoteLocks lasting a year or more.

Along the lines of internet connection, be aware that Wi-Fi smart locks communicate directly with the cloud, so all updates are made automatically without you lifting a finger. Conversely, Z-Wave firmware updates are not for the average Joe. It may definitely require some research, manual steps, and even additional equipment to execute these.  

No Additional Hardware

✔ Wi-Fi smart locks
✘ Z-Wave smart locks

“There’s no additional hardware needed with Wi-Fi smart locks and installation is a breeze,” says Farrier, noting this as a top reason managers choose Wi-Fi-enabled locks like OpenEdge 500 or 600 series. Z-Wave smart locks, on the other hand, use a weaker, more centralized signal and require separate hubs, which must be placed within a certain range of the locks, often within just 30 feet. If you’re a vacation rental or multi-family property manager with 100 units to oversee, that’s a lot of hubs (and potentially a lot of plants or furniture-moving to camouflage those hubs). And invariably, guests or residents inadvertently unplug the hub, breaking the connection to the lock. “So a guest comes in after four hours in the car and wants to charge a phone,” relates Farrier. “They unplug the hub and may not plug it back in.”

Also worth noting: Schwieger has recently seen lengthy backlogs on certain Z-Wave hubs due to current disruptions in supply chains. It’s a wise idea to check that both the Z-Wave lock and its hub are available as they’re often sold separately.  

Scalability 

✔ Wi-Fi smart locks
✘ Z-Wave smart locks

Because they’re virtually ready to go once installed, many property managers choose Wi-Fi locks to get up and running quickly. And without the worry of purchasing additional hardware, scaling this solution as your business grows is much easier and affordable. With Wi-Fi smart locks enabled with RemoteLock software, property managers and building owners can easily add doors and even additional buildings, as the software is designed for maximum scalability.

Pro tip: Schwieger recommends having a rough idea of how many PIN codes you’ll be generating. She points out two popular deadbolt Wi-Fi locks. “The Schlage Encode accommodates 100 different codes, while the OpenEdge 550DB offers 3,500 codes,” she reveals. PIN-code capacity may not be much of a consideration for vacation rentals and individual units in multi-family properties that see relatively low traffic. But it’s vitally important for high-traffic doors that accommodate hundreds of users on a given day. Just be sure that your smart lock and software platform has built-in elasticity and won’t need replacing in the future should door usage change or your business grow, advises Schwieger.  

Scheduled Access

✔ Wi-Fi smart locks
✔ Z-Wave smart locks

Want to set windows for your cleaners to access rental units or a vendor to make a delivery at your building? Both Wi-Fi and Z-Wave locks will do this, but it’s really more about the software powering these locks than the locks themselves. With RemoteLock  software, you can easily create schedules by door or by groups of doors, and you can easily track when cleaners, vendors, maintenance, and visitors are entering your property. Plus, it takes just a few clicks to quickly add or revoke access for unplanned maintenance or schedule changes. Farrier and Schwieger agree on this point: do as much research–or even more–on the software as the hardware. 

The two RemoteLock experts also confirm that Wi-Fi smart locks have gained considerable ground in recent years in terms of reliability and functionality. While you’ll likely find both these technologies in products readily available after a quick internet search, take some time to understand exactly what you want your smart locks to do for you. Better yet, talk with an expert who can guide you through the full complement of features of smart locks powered by Wi-Fi and Z-Wave, so you can make an informed decision.  


Smart Locks Using Z-Wave

Smart locks employing Z-Wave technology require a gateway to connect to your Wi-Fi network. These types of locks come with a hub that works as a bridge from the smart lock to your Wi-Fi network. Z-Wave works on a completely different radio frequency that won’t interfere with your Wi-Fi signal. Z-Wave is known as a mesh technology because the more Z-Wave products you have, the more you strengthen the network. That’s why it’s popular as a smart-home technology, powering lights, sensors, thermostats, etc. 

Smart Locks Using Wi-Fi  

Smart locks employing Wi-Fi connect directly to the internet just like other common devices do (smartphones, computers, streaming devices, etc.). Wireless means just that—no wires or cables needed to connect to the internet. Your internet router(s) broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal around your property, and the Wi-Fi-enabled smart locks directly connect to this signal.  

NOTE: For further details on these two technologies, as well as bluetooth and Zigbee smart locks, review our popular blog, How Do Smart Locks Really Work.

Molly Worth

Senior Writer

Molly Worth is RemoteLock’s senior writer and editor, and is enthusiastic about making tech topics relatable and enjoyable. Prior to joining RemoteLock, she worked at several Denver ad agencies, and was instrumental in creating and fine-tuning brand voices for both national and local clients. Infused with her belief in the power of technology to simplify everyday living, Molly’s writing helps highlight the human benefit of technology for novices, experts, and everyone in-between.