Understanding Z-Wave and Mesh Networks

When setting up your Ring Alarm system, it's important to understand how your devices communicate with one another. This is so you can set up your Alarm components in such a way that they are speaking with one another with as strong a signal as possible. This article will help you understand how your Alarm devices communicate and give you tips on setting up as strong a network as possible.

What is Z-Wave?

Z-Wave is the communication protocol that your Ring Alarm devices use to speak to one another. Unlike traditional "hub-and-spoke" networks such as Wi-Fi, Z-Wave devices create what is called a "mesh network." Unlike a hub-and-spoke network where each device only communicates with a central hub, Z-Wave devices all communicate with each other in addition to the central hub. That means that a network of Z-Wave devices will create a net-like "mesh" that has a number of advantages over hub-and-spoke networks:

  • Z-Wave networks usually have a greater range than traditional hub-and-spoke arrangements. An Alarm Base Station has a range of about 250 feet on an unobstructed path.
  • Because devices can communicate with each other over multiple paths, their already long range can be extended out even further.
  • Mesh Networks are more robust than hub-and-spoke arrangements because signals can be re-routed if one of the connections is lost.

One important consideration when setting up a mesh network, however, is understanding that the devices that create the "nodes" of the mesh are only those that plug into a wall. Battery-operated devices do not generate enough power to act as a mesh node. In the case of the basic devices that come with your Alarm system, it means that your Base Station and Range Extenders will act as mesh nodes while your window/door sensors won't.

More is Better

Another consideration when setting up a Z-Wave mesh network is all Z-Wave devices are compatible with one another and that more nodes are always better. If you're having a problem with a device reaching your Base Station, you can always use a Z-Wave range extender plugged in between the device and the Base Station to help it communicate.

Remember, when it comes to your mesh network, the more devices you have connected, the stronger your network becomes.

Radio Interference

While mesh networks are very strong and reliable, it’s still possible for objects and materials to interfere with their signal. Some of the common objects you may have in your home that may interfere with a Z-Wave signal include:

  • Cordless phones
  • Wireless speakers
  • Plasma TVs
  • Mirrors
  • Christmas tree ornaments

You should also take into account the materials your house is constructed with when setting up a Z-Wave network. While many common materials may cause some loss of signal, certain materials are notorious for cutting signal strength as much as 80-90%. These materials include:

  • Aluminum siding
  • Metal foil on insulation
  • Thick wooden beams
  • Concrete, especially with rebar

Setting up Your Network

Now that you have a better picture of what a Z-Wave network is and how it works, you're in a better position to set one up in your home. The key to a good setup is to act as a sort of "geometric detective." Imagine straight lines radiating between the different nodes of your network and walk through them, keeping an eye out for things that might be interfering with the signal. Use your Range Extenders to fill in gaps in your network, whenever possible offering the signal multiple pathways to get around the network.


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