While it might seem as though new efforts aimed at standardizing the Internet of Things (IoT) are coming out every other month, the companies behind the old standard ZigBee are giving it a new, more cohesive whirl.
The ZigBee Alliance is unifying its wireless standards into a single, new standard named ZigBee 3.0. The nonprofit association says the standard will provide interoperability among the widest range of smart devices and give consumers and businesses access to innovative products and services that will work together seamlessly.
The way ZigBee emerged was via multiple application standards that focused on specific vertical markets, such as home automation and healthcare. ZigBee 3.0 is designed to bring all those under one umbrella.
Ryan Maley, director of strategic marketing for the ZigBee Alliance, told FierceWirelessTech that ZigBee was designed as a standard for both the network and the application layers. ZigBee, which operates at 2.4 GHz, is based on IEEE 802.15.4, the same technology the newer Thread Group is using. Thread also targets home automation.
The first ZigBee standard was announced in 2004, and the alliance now has about 400 members worldwide. However, the brand isn't as well known as a lot of its implementations, such as Comcast's Xfinity home security and monitoring service, because they're marketed under individual member company's brands, not ZigBee, according to Maley.
"When we started, the world of hardware was very different," he said. "Microprocessors were smaller, they were usually 8 bit MCUs, and with a separate ZigBee radio," and the available memory was small, so specific features were focused on particular vertical, such as home automation or healthcare.
But a couple of things have been happening. First, the hardware has been advancing, "and it's common for a system on a chip to have a 32-bit microprocessor and a radio built in, so the cost is much lower and the hardware processing capability and memory are much higher," he said.
"Secondly, the market is realizing the value of connecting all these devices, even things we didn't think were logically connected at one point, so that has really driven our members to say we need to look at this and we need to unify our standards. It's technically possible and the market wants it," and that what's driving ZigBee 3.0.
ZigBee 3.0 is aiming for a more manageable life in what's becoming a more crowded space, with different groups pursuing the same overall goal. Other attempts to get IoT devices to talk to one another are being forged through efforts like the Qualcomm-inspired AllSeen Alliance and the Intel-backed Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC). Although they target different layers within the IoT, they're attempting to address the disparate nature of IoT devices.
"The ZigBee Alliance and its members really believe that interoperability requires interoperability at every layer," Maley said. "So you have to standardize every layer."
For instance, if manufacturer A defines what a light bulb is differently than manufacturer B, they're not necessarily going to work with manufacturer C's light switch, and that's a problem, he said, adding that he believes consumers want to know things will work together without having to worry about the technical details under the covers.
ZigBee 3.0 is currently undergoing testing. Many Alliance members, including The Kroger Co., Legrand, NXP, Philips, Schneider Electric, Silicon Labs, Texas Instruments, Wincor Nixdorf and V-Mark, have been actively involved in the development and testing process. The draft standard is available to members of the ZigBee Alliance now and is expected to be ratified in the fourth quarter of 2015.
ZigBee 3.0 demonstrations are planned for the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2015, Maley said.
"I think there's a lot of interest in the IoT space and the connected home space, and we have a lot of … so-called standards that say they want to address this and we have a lot of proprietary technologies that address this space, but we really think that standardization at every layer is important, and that's how we go to market," he said.
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