as published in the September 2013 Issue
What is ZigBee?
ZigBee is the mature internationally recognized wireless connectivity and networking industry standard to connect sentrollers – sensors, controllers and actuator devices. Very similar to WiFi regarding operating frequency (2.4 GHz), range, transmission, robustness, resistance to interference, and security protocols, it is instead a low data rate technology that is targeted to devices and systems that require very small amounts of data to be transmitted. Because of the low data rate, power requirements are minimal.
Depending on the application, a ZigBee radio draws so little power that its battery never needs to be changed or re-charged over the life of the device. In some applications, no power is needed at all to operate the ZigBee radio. For instance, in applications like light switches, the actual motion of flipping a light switch generates enough energy to enable its switch’s ZigBee radio to send a signal across the room to an individual light, making it turn on or off. The light switch’s ZigBee radio can also connect to a central control unit, router or a set top box, that in turn uses ZigBee to control a network of lights or other applications.
What are the benefits of ZigBee Open wireless standard (vs. proprietary)?
Wireless sensor applications prosper best within the sphere of industry standards. Standards offer OEMs the freedom to purchase from a larger pool of suppliers and most importantly, standards allow devices from different vendors to interoperate, a feature which is paramount in applications ranging from building automation to industrial automation.
The first open standard for wireless sensor applications is covered by IEEE 802.15.4. The IEEE standard 802.15.4 intends to offer the fundamental lower network layers of a type of wireless personal area network which focuses on low-cost, low-speed ubiquitous communication between devices.
On the next communication layer, the ZigBee standard, offers a superior solution for the rapidly evolving and growing Smart Home and Internet of Things market.
The ZigBee Alliance is an organization with more than 400 members that maintains and publishes the ZigBee standard for wireless communication for a wide variety of application domains (home, consumer, smart energy/grid, building automation, retail automation, and several others). All these ZigBee protocols have one element in common – they all use the same underlying radio technology, all use the same 2.4GHz frequency band worldwide, and all comply with worldwide radio certification rules.
There are also pseudo-standards that essentially are proprietary, regional solutions disguised by the user community as an open platform, where essentially there is just a single provider behind the technology.
In short, large technology and consumer electronics companies want:
- Worldwide solutions, as they are loath to developing/certifying different products (and different SKUs) for different regions in the world.
- Open standards with multiple chip and technology providers, to guarantee lowest cost and continuity of supply, avoiding the single-source trap.
What is the potential of the ZigBee & Smart Home market?
The Smart Home market addresses a multi-billion market potential. Today, every household which is connected to the internet easily counts 10 or more WiFi modules (think of routers, tablets, laptops, games, smart phones, TVs, cameras, etc.).
As ZigBee is the low-power standard protocol that we expect to be found in the future in every home for connecting sentrollers: sensors and controllers like thermostats, light switches, motion detectors, electronic door locks, window sensors, portable health monitors, etc., there easily could one hundred or more ZigBee sensors in a large home and grounds. A single room could have multiple sensors – temperature, security, motion, lighting, etc., all connected by a central box which then talks to the local appliances as well as to the internet, allowing monitoring and control by web connected devices.
What is a sentroller?
“Sentroller” is the combination of the words sensor and controller. Sentrollers are essentially already around us today in the form of thermostats, light switches, motion detectors, door locks, actuators, light fixtures, etc.
We define the sentroller as either a sensor (temperature, motion, light, etc.), a controller (local remote control or web connected device) that enables monitoring and control of the system, and/or an actuator that physically controls the actual end point device. An actuator is utilized to turn on and off a light in a lamp, to turn on the HVAC, to slide a lock in a window, to turn off the water in a building if a leak is detected. Actuators control the operation of device or an appliance. All three components (sensors, controllers and actuators) are included within the sentroller product description.
Currently most of these devices are already available on the market but function as stand-alone solutions fitting a specific purpose. With small exceptions, they don’t interconnect – there is a not a single unified control panel or online dashboard where the user can monitor and control all of these various devices and systems.
However, by using ZigBee that connects these sentrollers to a central control box, they can then be connected to the internet, where the entire network of sensors and actuators can be monitored and controlled with smart phones and other web connected devices. In many cases, these will evolve to “Really Smart Buildings” where the intelligence lives in the cloud and does not require a human to intervene.
For example, after a building closes for the night and everyone goes home, a series of sensors could scan all doors and windows to make sure that they are all locked and secure. If a window is left open, the system would automatically activate the window controllers and close the window without a human having to make that decision.
We may expect in the near future that our buildings will show a consistent integrated behavior for all these devices. This will pave the way for a new way of living, with increased security, comfort, and increasingly capable of managing our energy consumption.
How will the Smart Home connect to the Internet of Things & ZigBee in industrial automation or commercial building automation?
Within the next few years, there will be an explosive growth in the number of Smart Home devices in every home that will be connected to the internet. Just like WiFi started in the home, ZigBee will start in the home as well and will then move into commercial building automation, facility management, transportation and industry automation to connect users and devices worldwide in a diverse variety of ways and further auto-manage industrial systems and even urban areas.
We will see a shift to intelligent automation with ubiquitous, always-on intelligent sentrollers that keep systems and services running smoothly, everywhere around us and move from islands of sentrolled areas (the Smart Home) to a totally integrated and interlinked Internet of Things.
The Internet of Things is not limited to the Home, however. We expect to see smart sentroller networks in offices, campuses and industrial buildings like warehouses and factory floors.
Why GreenPeak? What does GreenPeak provide?
There are many developers and manufacturers of ZigBee chips for a wide range of applications.
However, GreenPeak is the leader in the development of ZigBee technologies and radio chips for the Smart Home and the Internet of Things. With over 20 years of experience in wireless networking technologies (GreenPeak’s engineers created and developed WiFi), GreenPeak’s ZigBee chips lead in the industry, providing unique differentiators for Smart Home applications. GreenPeak chips offer superior performance and range to cover a full home. In addition to offering market leading robustness against WiFi interference, GreenPeak’s chip have ultra low power requirements, allowing devices to work on a single coincell battery for more than 10 years. It is the combination of these specifications that makes the difference in Smart Home applications.
Elly Schietse, General Manager of GreenPeak Belgium
Elly Schiatse oversees and directs marketing operations, customer relations and quality control for GreenPeak worldwide.
GreenPeak Technologies is a fabless semiconductor company and is a leader in ZigBee silicon solutions for the smart home. GreenPeak is privately funded. It is headquartered in Utrecht, The Netherlands and has offices in Belgium, USA, Japan and Korea. GreenPeak has won the prestigious 2012 Red Herring Top 100 Europe award and is recognized as a leader in developing new wireless technologies for consumer electronics and smart home applications, demonstrating rapid growth and adoption by major customers.