Zigbee explained

16 December 2008

Kevin Buckley of Intelligent Distributed Controls (IDC) says Zigbee is the key to low-cost, low-power wireless communication. In this article he explains the technology’s uses and what he feels are benefits for industry and commerce.

Zigbee is a low-cost, low-power, wireless mesh networking standard, based upon the IEEE 802.15.4 -2006 standard for personal area networks (WPAN). The technology is intended to be simpler and cheaper than other WPANs such as Bluetooth with much lower power requirements.

The cost advantage allows Zigbee to be widely deployed in wireless control, monitoring and tracking applications, where its low power-usage allows longer life with smaller batteries, and mesh networking provides higher reliability and longer range.

Zigbee is a full-blown telemetry system in its own right, with the ability to provide wireless personal area networking (WPAN) i.e. digital radio connections between computers and related devices, such as sensors. As such, Zigbee can provide the copper-less warehouse or factory.

Zigbee builds on the global communication protocol standards developed by the 802.15 Working Group. The fourth in the series of these protocols, WPAN Low rate Zigbee is designed primarily for telemetry applications. It provides specifications for devices that have low data rates, consume very little power, and are thus characterised by long battery life.

Compared to Bluetooth, another of the 802.15 Group protocols, Zigbee has lower data rates and doesn’t offer such a high bandwidth. However, its strength is that it can be incorporated into small chips that consume little power and are relatively inexpensive. These chips can then be integrated into low-cost, low -power devices that can ‘sleep’ for 99 per cent of the time until awakened by an event. The event can be I/O related, real time or a combination of both.

The power and flexibility inherent in Zigbee technology is exemplified by its ability to support over 64,000 devices in star, tree or mesh formations. The technology provides high reliability, self-healing, self-joining networks, with network protocol security encryption, and is designed to operate in electrically noisy industrial environments.

The 802.15.4-based Zigbee is designed for remote control and sensors, which are many in number but require only small packets of data, and in the main, extremely low power consumption for long life. One of the technologies first areas of usage was home automation, where it revolutionised components such as light switches, fire and smoke detectors, thermostats, kitchen appliances, security systems and video and remote controls.

Today, Zigbee has evolved seamlessly into the automotive, power generation, materials handling, safety and general industrial sectors. The technology is providing a solution for product and personnel tracking, monitoring and control in applications from car plants to warehouses and offshore wind farms.

It offers security in these applications through a host of key features, including acknowledgement that data has been received at its destination; re-transmission in the event of failure - in a similar manner to TCP/IP networks; validation of message content using data sequence numbering (Frame Check Sequence); network redundancy - such that failure of a node on the network will enable messages to be re- routed via other nodes; and network protocol security encryption.

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