Based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, the ZigBee short-range wireless networking technology is widely used in building monitoring and control, as well as in industrial automation. It’s also expected to be widely used in home-area networks (HANs) spawned by the Smart Grid effort. And with two recent announcements, it’s reaching out to even more applications.

ZigBee over ubiquitous home Wi-Fi

The ZigBee Alliance and the Wi-Fi Alliance will collaborate on wireless HANs for Smart Grid applications. They initially will focus on ZigBee Smart Energy 2.0, which is the next-generation energy management protocol for Smart Grid-enabled homes based on the ZigBee Smart Energy Profile. ZigBee Smart Energy 2.0 is expected to operate over Wi-Fi technology as a result of the collaboration.

The two organizations will identify opportunities to use ZigBee Smart Energy 2.0, capitalizing on the unique strengths and capabilities of their respective technologies. This will expand the utility of the HAN in the management of energy consuming or producing devices, a crucial part of Smart Grid efforts now underway. The U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) selected ZigBee Smart Energy 2.0 last year as an initial interoperable standard for HAN devices.

Joining Wi-Fi’s communication technology with ZigBee Smart Energy 2.0 means that utilities, vendors and energy consumers will have more choice and versatility in energy management solutions. The agreement will help deliver close integration of the two communication technologies in a smart-home environment, which will include utility meters, thermostats, appliances, home entertainment devices, computing systems, automobiles, and other technologies.

ZigBee Smart Energy was initially developed to operate over a standard ZigBee wireless network to support the needs of smart metering and the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). ZigBee Smart Energy 2.0 has been designed to support other network technologies within the digital home, including HomePlug powerline technology and now Wi-Fi. The low-power ZigBee standard is optimized to the needs of wireless sensor networks by offering reliable self-organizing, self-healing mesh networking, scalability to very large networks, very low cost and complexity, and superlative battery life.

Wi-Fi technology is already found in hundreds of millions of households and businesses worldwide, and consumers have demonstrated strong affinity for the technology in computing devices, home entertainment systems, and handsets. ABI Research reports that 580 million Wi-Fi devices were shipped in 2009 alone. It is a ready and waiting carrier for the ZigBee Smart Energy 2.0 profile.

ZigBee in a cell phone? Really?

The ZigBee Alliance also has completed the development of ZigBee Telecom Services, a public application profile standard defining value-added services for mobile network operators, businesses, and governments. It defines an affordable and easy way for mobile operators to offer innovative new services with low data rates that reach almost anyone using a mobile phone. Also, it should free up scarce 3G/4G infrastructure for services demanding higher data rates.

With ZigBee Telecom Services, consumers can use their mobile phones to pay for products and services, create their own gaming and communication networks, receive product promotional information along with discounts or coupons from retailers, and determine their location and obtain directions or information about public spaces in indoor malls and environments without the need for GPS. In the business environment, employees can manage their authentication and access to office services and controlled areas. It also defines a standard methodology for delivering a variety of services:

  • Information delivery: subscription-based information delivered by network operators including weather, public safety, traffic status, municipal notices, small file downloads, and RSS feeds for news and the stock market
     
  • Location-based services: identifying a mobile device’s location within building complexes and malls, crowd tracking, and delivering location information, discounts, product information, and listings of stores and services in area based on user interest
     
  • Secure mobile payment: secure payment for goods and services in stores, parking lots, movie theatres, toll stations, etc., by simply approaching a checkout point and entering a PIN on the phone, with network operators providing authentication for the payment
     
  • Mobile gaming: hundreds of players can connect their mobile devices in their vicinity with authentication by their network operator to play multiplayer games
     
  • Voice: push-to-talk communication between ZigBee-equipped devices within a range of more than 20 meters (75 feet)
     
  • Peer-to-peer data sharing: small files such as ring tones, images, address book contacts, and other information provided by network operators shared easily between two ZigBee-enabled mobile devices
     
  • Mobile device office management and control: provides employers with a simple, convenient effective means to manage physical access control to facilities and to office data systems and services by their employees

ZigBee will be embedded as one of the standard communications capabilities in mobile phones. Today, ZigBee-enabled SIM cards have been developed for both the European and Korean markets to provide a fully integrated experience for GSM phones. Other similar aftermarket solutions are expected, enabling a large variety of existing phones to be used with ZigBee Telecom Services and as well as other ZigBee application environments.

ZigBee Telecom Services is part of a growing list of public application profiles available today from the Alliance including ZigBee Smart Energy, ZigBee Home Automation, ZigBee Remote Control, and ZigBee Health Care. Two other profiles, ZigBee Retail Services and ZigBee Building Automation, are in development.

The Wi-Fi Alliance

The ZigBee Alliance