SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Zigbee Alliance is consolidating its specifications spanning six application areas into Zigbee 3.0 at a time when competing standards based on Internet Protocol (IP) are expected to see rapid growth. The move aims to simplify the user’s job of finding compliant Zigbee products by requiring component vendors to pass a more rigorous certification process.
The Alliance expects to start certification testing for Zigbee 3.0 in the fall of 2015. Compliant products will need to support the standard’s application profiles in home and building automation, LED lighting, healthcare, retail, and smart energy.
Zigbee 3.0 does not include two Zigbee specs -- Smart Energy 2, a profile based on IP; and RF4CE, a version of Zigbee geared for remote controls. It does cover all specs based on Zigbee Pro, the group’s overarching standard for how networks are formed and devices attach to them across different application areas.
“Underneath the covers we are accommodating these multiple applications in a single standard, so Zigbee thermostats, for example, can be used in either home or office buildings,” says Ryan Maley, director of strategic marketing for the Zigbee Alliance.
The upgrade is a natural consequence of advances in hardware, Maley says. “When Zigbee got started, everything was based on 8-bit MCUs and separate radios, but now devices are running on 32-bit cores in SoCs with many more capabilities.”
The Alliance has already sponsored about three plugfests to test out the feature-complete but still-evolving specification.
The move comes at a time when Zigbee is under threat. Market researchers expect a surge of competing IEEE 802.15.4 products using the emerging IP-based 6LoWPAN protocols will take a significant share of Zigbee’s market over the next few years.
ABI Research projects Zigbee will slip from dominating three-quarters of all 802.15.4 sales this year to less than half by 2019 due to growth in IP-based 6LoWPAN networks. Market watcher On World expects ZigBee will lead so-called fixed wireless sensor networks in homes and buildings through 2018, but it expects multimode chips will emerge supporting 6LoWPAN and Bluetooth as well as ZigBee.
Zigbee rules today, but 6LoWPAN nets are rising, says ABI Research.
“We hear a lot more talk about Internet Protocol, but we don’t actually see deployments,” says Maley, criticizing efforts like Thread for lacking support for high-level functions such as device discovery and control. “IP is not enough to ensure interoperability, particularly in small, constrained devices.”
The Zigbee Pro technology enables devices that operate for more than seven years on a coin-cell battery and scaled up to 90,000 nodes on a segmented network. However, marketing has provide difficult, according to Maley.
“One of our challenges is Zigbee is well used, but the brand is not well known, because it’s used inside products and no one talks about it.”
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times