ZigBee low-power wireless spec ratified

Von Ephraim Schwartz

The ZigBee Alliance, an industry standards group dedicated to promoting low-power wireless networks, ratified the first ZigBee specification this week.

ZigBee uses an IEEE 802.15.4 radio spec running on the 2.4GHz band, ratified last year, plus three additional layers for networking, security, and applications.

What makes the specification particularly unique is its use of a mesh network architecture that in bucket brigade fashion passes data from one node to the next until it lands at its endpoint, typically a manufacturing console.

A mesh network design is ideally suited for wireless sensor technology according to Christopher Lopez, an analyst with ABI Research.

"You don"t have to be a network engineer to set this up. You can put it (a ZigBee-enabled sensor) anyplace you want and it is smart enough to configure on its own and route accordingly," said Lopez.

Many of the ZigBee Alliance members are, in fact, manufacturers of sensors used in industrial and manufacturing settings. All of the major members of the ZigBee Alliance -- which includes Cisco Systems Inc., Control4 Corp., Ember Corp., Honeywell International Inc., Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV, Mitsubishi Electric Corp., and Motorola Inc. -- and are expected to support ZigBee with products.

The first company to offer a solution is Ember, which announced a wireless networking platform that includes its EM240 chip and the complete ZigBee protocol stack.

Lopez said wireless sensors can be used to reduce the cost of laying out a sensor topology in an industrial setting by as much as 50 percent.

"Up until now, the biggest expense in laying out a sensor network was the wiring," Lopez said.

Pairing location data from RFID tags with environmental data from sensors while products are still in transit will allow companies in the pharmaceutical and perishable goods industries to assess conditions and make decisions in real time, according to Bob Heile, chairman of the ZigBee Alliance.

The ratification of the specification culminates this phase of the work. ZigBee is now working with companies on conformance testing methodology and interoperability testing, said Heile.

"The next phase is deployment," Heile said.

Products will be available next year.