ZigBee uses the IEEE 802.15.4 global standard and adds layers for application profiles, security and networking. It uses the same 2.4GHz radio band as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and has a range of up to 30 meters.
Although ZigBee offers less bandwidth than Bluetooth, it also consumes far less power. A common alkaline battery powering a ZigBee radio should last up to three years.
At the ZigBee Alliance's Open House in San Francisco, vnunet.com spoke to the Alliance's chairman Bob Heile.
How do you explain ZigBee to the average consumer?
The typical consumer doesn't even need to know ZigBee exists. All they need to know is that if they buy a product with the logo on it, it will work. They are going to buy a remote control that works anywhere in the home. Or they are going to buy a light switch package because the existing switch isn't placed conveniently relative to the front door.
They are not going to go out to buy a ZigBee set. They are going to buy a light switch. We are saying that if you buy one [with the ZigBee logo] you can bring it home and it will work with the [ZigBee] appliances that you already have.
What kind of volumes do you expect out of ZigBee for this year?
The analysts are pushing anything between five and 50 million radios. I'm thinking along a 10 to 20 million range, ramping up towards the second half of the year. We will see a lot of products coming out and getting global certification in the second quarter.
I expect a lot of what I call Christmas tree products: products that turn your lights on and off. Or battery powered smoke detectors that can talk to each other. When their batteries are low, instead of beeping in the middle of the night, they will instruct your thermostat, which has a nice display, that their batteries are low.
How big is the potential market for ZigBee?
A $100bn market is not out of the question, depending on who you talk to and who you believe. The volumes are huge. This will be the most ubiquitous radio technology. So far I've just talked about the pull apps, not the push. Utilities. for instance, would very much like to put this stuff in and not just do automatic meter reading.
If they had ZigBee radios in refrigerators, water heaters, dishwashers and pool heaters, then instead of having to build new power generation capacity, utilities could do load levelling. Consumers sign up and in exchange for a lower rate, they give the utility the right to come in and turn off one of the elements of their hot water heaters. Or to turn off the pool pump for one hour in the middle of the day.
How far are you with industrial networks?
I expect the first implementations later this year. The cost savings for a sensor network that controls the air conditioning are enormous. The payback is six months. Already you are seeing environments in refrigerators in supermarkets. Now they don't monitor that. You can be in situation where your meat is unsafe. There is nothing like having a real time system.
Those devices you'll see sooner than a ZigBee controlled infrastructure in high rise buildings. You just stick a complete device in the freezer. You don't have to wire anything.
What can we expect to see coming out of the ZigBee Alliance in the next 12 months?
We've been focused for two years on the specifications. Now we are focused on making it easy for developers to use. We are finalising testing and the logo programme, and we are setting up these interoperability events to make sure that products that come out work with each other.
We will be helping to educate the marketplace in the significance of the brand. When you see ZigBee, what should that mean to you? ZigBee means that products that carry the same label are going to work together to do whatever it says on the package. That's going to be a full time job.
If you dream, where do you see ZigBee ending up?
I would be thrilled if we get to 2007 and we see ZigBee in cellphones because the mobile phone guys want their cellphones to be used for keyless entry. They want them to be your light switch and your remote control for you TV set.
People say that home automation has never happened. But it will happen if I put in a security system and a smart thermostat and keyless front entry and all these things can talk to each other. Now guess what: I've got home awareness and home control. These are all really happening. It can come out by 2007.
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