Zigbee vs BLE vs Bluetooth Mesh, Choosing the Best or Combining for IoT Excellence?

Choosing Bluetooth or Zigbee depends on the specific IoT application requirements. BLE might be a preferable option if high data rates and an improved user experience are necessary. And if you need a larger network and higher reliability, Zigbee is obviously a superior option. In some cases, the two protocols can also be used in combination for better performance and functionality.
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In the IoT world, wireless communication technology enables an ever-growing number of IoT devices to interact with one another to form a vast network. Several protocols are competing for the dominance. Among them, Zigbee and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) are two standards created for low-power IoT applications because of their low costs and simplicity in development.

However, there are some distinctions between them. One protocol might be a better fit than the other in particular circumstances. And in other cases, combining the two may be the best course of action to capitalize on their complementary advantages. In this post, we will compare and discuss Bluetooth LE and ZigBee in IoT, as well as their advantages, use cases and limitations, to help readers weigh trade-offs when selecting the best IoT connectivity options for their applications.

Key Insights on Difference between Zigbee and Bluetooth

BLE is a Bluetooth-based protocol that enables short-range communication between devices and can deliver faster data rates than Zigbee. Therefore, BLE might be a preferable option for IoT applications that require to transmit relatively large amounts of data.

Read further: Bluetooth IoT

Zigbee is a protocol based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, which is more concerned with the stability and dependability of the network. Zigbee supports more nodes, and it can build larger networks, which proves essential for IoT applications that need to connect a large number of devices.

Read further: Zigbee in IoT

The ecosystems of BLE and Zigbee are also dissimilar. Due to the widespread use of Bluetooth in consumer electronics like smartphones and tablets, so the support of BLE in consumer electronic devices is more mature. Zigbee, on the other hand, is more widely used in home automation, and it can be used in conjunction with more sensors and actuators.

 Zigbee Bluetooth LE
Range100 meters maximum in open filed150 meters maximum in open filed
Network TypeLAN (Local Area Network)Personal Area Network (PAN)
Frequency2.4GHz2.4 – 2.48GHz
Operating SystemsNot available yetAndroid, Windows, iOS
Cell NodesAbout 65,000 cell nodes8 cell nodes max, for BLE mesh its about 32,000 nodes
TX transmit Power17.5dBm19.5dBm
TopologyMesh onlyStar and Mesh
Power Of Transmission <100mw<10mw

Zigbee in IoT

Zigbee is a low-power wireless mesh network standard based on the IEEE 802.15.4 specification. In the majority of countries around the world, Zigbee uses the industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) radio channels, including 2.4 GHz. Zigbee is suitable for battery-powered device in wireless control and monitoring applications across medium distances.

  • Mesh network: Zigbee operates on a mesh topology network. Messages hop through intermediate nodes to reach distant ones, meaning data from a single sensor node travels across a group of modes until the transmission reaches the universal Zigbee gateway. This has the advantages of a larger network coverage (theoretically up to 65,000 nodes in a single network) and long distances, but also has the disadvantage of higher latency due to bottlenecks when multiple nodes attempt to pass through a single node to reach the gateway.
  • LAN local area network: Zigbee was designed to deliver data over short- to medium-range distances. It is able to uses a mesh architecture network to simultaneously share information among multiple devices.
  • Low bandwidth: Zigbee radios have very tight constraints on power and bandwidth, suitable for  carrying data in small packets.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Zigbee is a license-free, open global standard developed by Zigbee Alliance., which can be implemented without needing any license. Therefore, Zigbee costs are modest.
  • Appropriate applications: Zigbee is a good option for small-scale projects where there is a high density of nodes. It is perfect for IoT smart lighting system and home automation. Zigbee isn’t employed in large-scale projects, though, because numerous nodes could all take the same path at once and generate a bottleneck. As a result, Zigbee is still quite limited in industrial IoT applications like highly instrumented installations.

Read further: what is industrial gateway?

Advantages of Zigbee

  • Reliability: One of Zigbee mesh network’s big advantage is its properties of “self-forming” and “self-healing”. Zigbee mesh can automatically form and configure if any node is added, and repair or replace any broken or disabled nodes in the network.
  • Interoperability: Zigbee devices from different manufacturers can communicate seamlessly, helping to create Zigbee’s broad acceptance in IoT field and lower the cost.
  • Easy to develop: The Zigbee Alliance released the official IEEE 802.15.4-2003 Zigbee specification in late 2004 and the specification has seen many revisions. So documentation for developing Zigbee is widely available and covers many different use cases. Routing tables, address resolution, security, retries and acknowledgements are built right in to the protocol, saving considerable engineering time.

Limitations of Zigbee

  • Non-IP: Zigbee does not use IP addressing. Therefore, Zigbee gateways must be installed to aid communication with the Internet and cloud services.
  • Powered-on all time: most mesh networks have such limitation that all the connected nodes routing or hopping messages must stay powered on at all times, which maybe a little power-consuming.
  • Latency: is greater because of with mesh topology network, latency of Zigbee network maybe higher than simpler point-to-point communication.

Zigbee in IoT Use Cases

For an IoT-based home automation network that uses low cost and low power, Zigbee is, without the doubt, the best choice because of its interoperability. After all, Zigbee’s origins are in home automation. Also, it is applicable to commercial and industrial applications, including home energy monitoring, IoT lighting, elderly home monitoring systems, etc.

Smart city street lighting is a great illustration of a developing trend in Zigbee mesh networking since it allows for remote control of a sizable network of devices with the aid of outdoor industrial Zigbee sensor-to-cloud gateways.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zigbee

Bluetooth LE in IoT

Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE, also known as BLE and formerly promoted as Bluetooth Smart) is one of the most widely used communication technologies in IoT today across various sectors. It is independent of traditional Bluetooth and has no compatibility, but Bluetooth Basic Rate/Enhanced Data Rate (BR/EDR) and LE can coexist. BLE was created and is promoted by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (Bluetooth SIG).  

Read further: different Bluetooth versions

  • Short-distance communication: BLE is basically used to establish point-to-point connections between two different devices on a Personal Area Network (PAN).
  • High-speed transfer: The overall coverage area of Bluetooth is less than Zigbee, but since the data rate of BLE is much higher. Bluetooth 5 can send and receive data up to 2 Mbps, which triples the transfer rate over the previous generation standard.
  • Interoperability: Bluetooth SIG coordinates interoperability between device manufacturers by setting aside a sizeable portion of the UUID value space for member firms to create unique Bluetooth application services and making the assigned UUID number public to avoid communication conflicts,
  • Low power: Bluetooth LE stands for Bluetooth Low Energy, which present excellent power management. BLE devices supports low-bandwidth connections and handle small data streams, which allowing batteries last months or even years. Typical BLE devices include battery-operated Bluetooth beacons, digital scales, IoT temperature and humidity sensors, lighting controllers, smart watches, etc.
  • Appropriate applications: BLE is good to implement in IoT solutions that require constant data transmission at higher rates in a short-range. But BLE networks are limited by bandwidth and physical coverage range, as a result, BLE isn’t a great choice for high density node applications. 

Advantages of Using BLE

  • Less complex hardware: Bluetooth LE implements a client-server architecture and you can typically customize the hardware to implement only the communication features needed.
  • Low cost in development: BLE is a simple protocol widely accepted and implemented across billions of devices worldwide, its bigger eco system result in high scale production of BLE SoCs, and further pulls down the cost IC compared to Zigbee. Meanwhile, it supports many popular IoT operating systems including Android, Windows, iOS, etc., making developing a BLE embedded application and verify its functioning is considerably easier, and this would greatly lower engineering cost and development time.  
  • Excellent power management: as its name suggests, Bluetooth Low Energy is a well-optimized protocol that doesn’t use a lot of power. It can be implemented in data skinny IoT devices that can be run off coin cells for extended periods without attendance for months at a time.

Limitations of Using BLE

  • Point-to-point communication: BLE is a point-to-point protocol. One BLE device serves as the master and the other as the slave, and this may cause limited scalability and higher deployment cost. In a typical BLE connection, there is usually communication between a central device (such as a BLE gateway) and one or more peripheral devices (such as sensors or actuators).
  • IP addressing absence: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a different protocol than Internet Protocol (IP) and BLE devices don’t have IP addresses. To transfer data from a BLE-only device to the Internet, another BLE device that has an IP connection, like DSGW-210 RK3328 Bluetooth IoT gateway, is needed to receive this data and then relay it to another IP device (or to the internet and cloud solutions).
  • Limited range: The network coverage is quite limited, and this is one of the core drawbacks of BLE. Usually, BLE radios cannot communicate beyond the max range (10 meters). It’s fine for home and offices using scenarios, but not so great for industrial and agricultural monitoring applications. Bluetooth Long Range mode was invented to significantly increase the signal transmission distance with the price of the signal transmission rate.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluetooth_Low_Energy

BLE in IoT Use Cases

Home automation has been demonstrated as one of Bluetooth LE’s best use cases for a collection of linked objects in a specific area. Popular smart products using BLE features include wearable home health monitoring devices, elderly home monitoring devices, and home entertainment gadgets.

BLE can also serve perfectly in indoor positioning and navigation, since BLE Beaconing can be used to determine your location inside a factory or parking lot.

Another important market is BLE-based lighting control in building automation or small commercial contexts. As we’ve already discussed, BLE is ideal for automating small IoT-based greenhouses monitoring system but may not be the best choice for large-scale Internet of Things systems. Changing the ambient temperature or lighting intensity in a greenhouse can aid in promoting plant growth.

Read Bluetooth SIG report:


Bluetooth Mesh in IoT

Zigbee is the most popular mesh networking protocol in use today, and Bluetooth SIG released a resembled Bluetooth mesh standard in 2017, aiming to reinforce its dominant position in wireless technology. 

BLE mesh goes beyond the limits of regular BLE protocol to establish a stable and flexible network between a large number of devices. It allows many-to-many device connection through multi-hops to achieve communication with a wider coverage. Although BT Mesh can potentially accommodate over 32 thousand nodes, individual networks are typically limited to a few hundred devices due to practical bandwidth and physical space restrictions.

Advantages of Using BLE Mesh

Bluetooth Mesh is used in smart homes to control lighting, curtains and other smart devices, and can also be used for IoT remote monitoring and sensor networks, even for large-scale industrial automation systems and IoT lighting for smart building automation.

  • Large physical networks: Because Bluetooth mesh devices may connect to one another over multiple hops, information can be passed through intermediary nodes, allowing the network to be more powerful and wider, and it is not constrained by the range of any one radio node.
  • Beacon Broadcasting communication: Bluetooth Mesh, which has BLE as its foundation, carries the protocol’s capabilities, such as support for beaconing, which information can be broadcasted, but only the target device processes the information, enhancing privacy and security.
  • Low energy use: Bluetooth Mesh devices, which are based on the BLE protocol, often have low energy consumption and are appropriate for battery-powered devices. Additionally, mesh network nodes have a shorter transmission range, which reduces power usage.
  • Reliability: Devices can automatically join the network, establish connections, and transfer data without the need for a central controller because Bluetooth LE Mesh networks are self-forming and self-healing as well.

Limitations of Using BLE Mesh

  • Latency: MTU size (maximum transfer unit at link layer) is an important criterion to estimate performance. BLE has smaller MTU size and this will add more latency and lead to performance degrade if higher layer protocols or apps are meant to use larger packets.
  • Mesh routing limits for highly congested and large networks: BLE uses managed flood approach to route mesh packets which only nodes on mains supply will relay the packet. This router mechanism works great when networks are smaller and when nodes are mobile. But it may be faces with some challenges of higher latency due to the MTU size limit we mentioned before. At this situation, Zigbee tends to perform better due to its full-fledged routing approach.
  • IP addressing absence: For full fledged IoT connectivity and control over internet (or cloud), there is a BLE mesh gateway required to translates BLE packets into IP network packets and vice versa.

BLE Mesh in IoT Use Cases

It should be mentioned that Bluetooth mesh technology is currently in its early stages of development and may see enhancements and revisions. Due to the fact that most lighting devices have easy access to continuous mains electricity and router nodes require power, Bluetooth mesh is ideal for controlling the lighting in buildings. When a Bluetooth mesh lighting control network powered by the mains is already available, establishing BLE-mesh-based sensor networks is simple.

Some may concern about BT mesh devices are not yet completely compliant and that related applications are being developed. Dusun IoT presents a real-world case study about integrating Bluetooth mesh lighting modules and gateway devices to control greenhouse lighting, based on Home Assistant platform. We developed a BLE mesh add-on for it. You are welcome to contact us if you are interested in developing a related business.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluetooth_mesh_networking

Combine BLE and Zigbee in IoT

Both Zigbee and BLE are excellent choices for creating IoT devices and applications, despite the fact that they have more similarities than differences. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each is crucial, but it will be lucky if Zigbee and BLE can be merged to create even more advanced and potent wireless IoT networks.

Dusun IoT has a wide variety of BLE Zigbee gateways that support both BLE, Bluetooth mesh and Zigbee protocols. The strength of these protocols is combined into a single IoT hardware to enable the development of adaptable applications that strike a balance between power usage, bandwidth usage, range usage, speed, and device costs. You are welcome to access big, completely compatible multivendor networks through our multi-protocol gateway.

FAQs on Zigbee vs Bluetooth LE

Can I use smartphones as a Bluetooth gateway?

Yes, many BLE applications are built to use cellphones as their gateway. However, this only functions when a smartphone is nearby and is only acceptable for wearables like smartwatches or fitness bands. Since the sensors used in business and industrial applications are frequently unattended, smartphone as gateway implementation is difficult and costly.

Why use mesh topology networking in IoT deployment?

IoT devices and use cases are expanding quickly across all sectors and businesses. With all of this taking place, it is necessary to create decentralized networks of nodes to address some of the issues brought on by traditional point-to-point, star, or hub network topologies, where IoT devices must interact through a Wi-Fi router despite being in close physical proximity.

In the mesh topology, every node or a select few of them transform into routers and are in charge of sharing data with their neighbors in addition to consuming the data. This creates a network of routers and end nodes, which increases the network’s decentralization, scalability, and dependability.

As long as no single node is too far from another, each node receives the data packets directed to it, and adding or removing nodes from the network is simple. Meanwhile, there is no single point of failure in the network. A single mesh gateway can be used to gather data from several nodes and enable data to reach the internet, improving data transmission efficiency between nodes and lowering costs.

Bluetooth mesh vs Zigbee mesh hardware, what’s the difference?

Since Bluetooth mesh is so new, there may be quirks and issues that take some time to iron out. On the other hand, it will take some time for the documentation to become more thorough and for compatible gear to hit the market. Zigbee’s hardware compatibility is improved by the technology’s maturity. Zigbee-specific microcontrollers and SoCs are widely available.

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