The ZigBee sensor network standard has come alive with a range of new products from unwired home lighting to security systems.
The ZigBee standard, based on IEEE 802.15.4, was completed in December , and four vendors now have low-cost silicon implementations.
Italian firm BM and DevelCo of Denmark both demoed ZigBee lighting systems at the Wireless Connectivity World exhibition in London. DevelCo's, based on the first packaged ZigBee system made by Freescale, featured a switch that operated from the other side of the exhibition hall. These systems will form mesh networks which can be used by other ZigBee systems such as home security and controls for appliances.
"We are getting to the world of James Bond gadgets," said Jon Adams, director of radio technology at Freescale and a ZigBee founder. "In volumes of 10,000, our ZigBee unit costs $3.26." While that is still pricey compared with Bluetooth, there are environments where a wireless light-switch could save $20 per foot of cabling it eliminated, he said.
Three other vendors have certified ZigBee platforms - Ember, ChipCon and CompXs. This is probably a record for a standard that was only completed in December, said Bob Heile, chair of the ZigBee Alliance. "We're predicting five to ten times growth in ZigBee by the end of this year," said Heile. "That's five to ten million chips by the end of the year, and 50 million by the end of 2006."
Some observers have warned of fragmentation, as a number of proprietary solutions are built on top of the same 802.15.4 radio standard as ZigBee. These include HomePlug, Insteon, Crossbow Technology, Dust Networks, Millennial Net Sensicast, and Z-Wave from Denmark's Zensys.
Heile sees this as an acknowledgement of ZigBee's presence: "We're a visible target," he said. "People are hitching their wagon to our star, and creating the illusion of competitiveness."
At present, the other systems are cheaper, because they have been in production longer, but that advantage will evaporate when ZigBee volumes creep up, said Heile. Proprietary systems also lose out because other vendors' applications can't hitch a ride on them as with the ZigBee mesh.
"These other products are slightly less expensive, and have 5 percent of the functionality of ZigBee," says Heile. "In the long run, this is not a contest."