How will ZigBee Cope in the Internet of Things Era?

Date:   Friday , December 30, 2016

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Among various competitive wireless interconnection technologies in the Internet of Things (IoT) era, ZigBee has many advantages, such as low power consumption, low cost, high network capacity and strong security and it has been regarded as one of the wireless protocols with the most \'things connected\'. However, when compared with other wireless technologies like WiFi, BLE and even Z-wave, ZigBee\'s larger adoption in recent years lacks the required momentum. ZigBee was invented to meet demands of a simplified, low-power and highly reliable wireless communication technology in the field of industrial and home automation. Its standard protocol is divided into physical layer, MAC layer, network layer and application layer.

One of the problems of ZigBee\'s overall market adoption boils down to its non-unified standards and protocols. The problem lies in the application layer as at the beginning of ZigBee development in order to meet the needs of different application scenarios, the ZigBee Alliance refined the application layer into different protocols such as: ZigBee HA, LL, BA, RS, HC and TS, responding to different market segments like: home automation, lightings, buildings, retail, health and communications and ZigBee devices with different application protocols could not be interconnected with each other. Furthermore, for a detailed application protocol, ZigBee is yet to be standardized, because it allows original equipment manufacturers freedom to add their own unique protocols resulting in the ZigBee devices following the same application protocol to talk in different \'language\', thus unable to communicate or connect with each other.

As the IoT ecosystem gets more complex and more connected, the disconnection between the devices under the same application protocol will certainly create issues for the users resulting in high network deployment costs. In order to solve this connectivity issue, ZigBee Alliance has made attempts such as interconnection certification for ZigBee HA 1.2 compliant products. However, measures like this are always regarded as \'after-event remedy\', and any real change should be made from the top-level design of the protocol. Therefore, the demands from all sides boil down to a single hope on the ZigBee 3.0 - the unification of alliance\'s wireless standards into a single unified standard providing seamless interoperability among the widest range of smart devices in the era of smart and connected devices.

ZigBee 3.0 also includes ZigBee Green Power (GP), which was originally developed as an ultra-low power wireless standard to support the energy-harvesting equipment, which are the devices that capture energy from the environments, such as motion, light, piezoelectricity, Peltier effect and etc., without using a battery. Its most common application is the lighting switch, where pulling of the switch generates energy and transmits a wireless communication packet to the lamp. GP is very effective for the devices that are only occasionally present on the network, because such devices can therefore join or disjoin from the network safely, allowing them to be shut down for most of the time.

ZigBee 3.0 was launched at the end of 2015 and since mid of this year it has been available in the Asia Pacific region. For protocol compatibility, ZigBee 3.0 can unify all the distinct application layer protocols, except the SE protocol used for smart electricity-meter applications, with the corresponding authentication specifications published. So now ZigBee products can deliver their substantive steps to interoperability. In addition, ZigBee 3.0 also boasts of new highlights. For example, GP function deeply optimizes the low-power characteristics of ZigBee. Furthermore, via technological cooperation with other energy-harvesting-based ultra-low power short-range wireless communication standards, the ZigBee Alliance also improves GP\'s application layer, enabling ZigBee 3.0 to support battery-less applications and further expanding its application footprints. It is worth mentioning that ZigBee 3.0 is also fully compatible with IP, so that ZigBee-based devices can be easily connected with Internet, allowing users to manipulate their target devices through mobile phones or other networked terminals.

The ZigBee ecosystem is now growing due to introduction of ZigBee 3.0 and chip manufacturers especially TI, NXP, Atmel and Silicon Labs have begun to introduce solutions around it. Furthermore, ZigBee equipment manufacturers have also indicated that they would follow up actively. Recently Huawei also joined the ZigBee 3.0 alliance indicating a more interconnected world. ZigBee 3.0 offers open global wireless standard enabling smart and connected devices to work together across consumer, commercial and industrial markets around the world