UPnP Could Meld Home Controls with Networks

By Eric Griffith

November 07, 2003

A new deal with Intel could push one company's low-end radio frequency-based home automation technology into a future wave of wireless home networking products.

Zensys A/S of Copenhagen, Denmark, is in the process of making its technology compliant with Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) drivers, as part of a deal it has inked with Intel .

This means home automation functions -- centrally controlling everything from your lights to the curtains on your windows to your garage door opener -- may soon be coming to a SOHO access point near you.

When people talk of home automation, the name that usually comes up is X-10, a company that uses a mix of power lines and radios to send out signals to various pieces of equipment (mostly cameras these days). Based on the ads it used to run online -- which helped start the pop-up advertising craze -- some might think X-10 was the only home automation company around.

Zensys knows that's not the case; it has been doing purely wireless-based home automation technology since 1999, but it doesn't sell any pods or controls or cameras. Instead it created a technology that others can build into products. Its clients include companies like ACT and Sylvania in the United States, with many others overseas. The company focused on wireless because it would be consistent from place to place, unlike the power line-based solutions that had to deliver signals on "dirty and polluted" lines. Plus, some areas of a home, like gas meters or thermostats, might not have power running to them, anyway.

Zensys's Z-Wave technology runs at only 9.6Kpbs, barely a fraction of what Wi-Fi is capable of, but, says Michael Dodge, vice president for marketing, "that's all you need for control and status-reading applications." Plus, it helps keeps the cost low.

"We're not about surfing the Web or sending pages to a printer, or doing streaming audio or video. This is all about controlling devices in a house."

Intel will be working with Zensys to move its Z-Wave protocol, which uses a self-routing mesh topology, to UPnP. Zensys will be using UPnP as a bridge between Z-Waves and other technologies, whether that's 802.11b or even just USB, so Z-Wave products can be controlled from a PC.

This means products like a home access point or router that use UPnP to more easily connect with a UPnP-capable operating system like Windows will also be able to use the Z-Wave signals to control products that aren't part of the IP network -- products from vendors that have also built in Z-Wave technology.

"Most of our partners make outlets and thermostats and garage door openers, et cetera -- most don't have a lot of radio frequency experience," says Dodge. Zensys developed their combo processor/transceiver for customers to put in products at low prices (though Dodge expresses frustration knowing the competition is coming out with similar products at cheaper prices, but he notes that Zensys has products available now). Eventually they'll be moving to even less expensive read-only memory chips. The move to support UPnP also gives them a leg up, pushing the potential for low-cost home automation to become a regular feature in future home networking products (where cost is of the utmost importance). The Z-Waves protocol is also open to anyone looking to write for it.

Intel helped develop the initial UPnP, but the technology has since been broken out to be run by industry groups like the UPnP Forum and UPnP Implementers Corporation.

Zensys is part of the alliance behind the Zigbee standard for low-frequency, inexpensive wireless, but at this point no one knows for sure what Zigbee will even be used for. Part of Intel's decision to work with Zensys, says Dodge, was a desire not to wait for more standards in this space. He adds that a Zigbee draft won't be done until the middle of 2004 and that the technology would likely use a star topology (like most access points) rather than a mesh like Z-Wave.

"We hope to go into home network products to give users further connections on their router," says Dodge. "That's a win-win for everyone. You can surf the Web and control the house -- and you can control it even when you're not at home" by going over the Internet.

Wi-Fi Planet Conference Want to learn more about Intel's plans for Wi-Fi? Join us at the Wi-Fi Planet Conference & Expo, December 2 - 5, 2003 at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, CA. Les Vadasz, Executive Vice President, INTEL Corporation and President, Intel Capital will be delivering our afternoon keynote address on December 3.

Originally published on .

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