ABI Predicts ZigBee Explosion

By Jeff Goldman

August 23, 2004

The research firm predicts the low-power wireless potential of ZigBee will be huge in future industrial applications and in home automation and control.

Alongside Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and ultrawideband (not to mention WiMax, Near Field Communication (NFD), and others), a new wireless technology is entering the marketplace. An ABI Research study entitled ZigBee and 802.15.4 Wireless Networks provides an overview of ZigBee and its strengths in the marketplace -- and predicts a market explosion for the technology over the next few years.

ABI analyst Chris Lopez explains that ZigBee's strength lies in the fact that it combines low power consumption with a low data rate. "Bluetooth is used for wire replacement, which requires about a megabit of data rate," Lopez says. "ZigBee, on the other hand, uses a maximum of 250 kilobits, which is extremely low -- and that's how they're able to achieve the low power consumption."

What's true of Bluetooth is also true of all other high power, high data rate technologies. "ZigBee's at the very bottom of that scale -- low power, low data rate -- so the applications are totally different than for ultrawideband or for Bluetooth," Lopez says. "ZigBee applications are mainly for control systems and for monitoring."

Home automation, Lopez says, is a perfect application for the technology. "You would attach a ZigBee chip to, let's say, a light switch in a home," he says. "Then the user can turn the switch on and off via a wireless remote control -- the only information that has to go over it is 'turn light on' or 'turn light off,' so you don't need the high data rate."

A home ZigBee network could also be automated to fulfill specific needs. "You could have it programmed so that when you turn your TV on, the lights in your living room dim to the appropriate viewing level," Lopez says. "Or you could have sensors on the doors so you know when people are entering or leaving rooms, which could be used for security purposes -- or just to monitor where your kids are."

Each ZigBee device has a range of up to about 100 meters, but the devices work in a mesh or cluster tree configuration which can support over 64,000 nodes -- allowing a ZigBee network to cover an extremely large distance.

That makes the technology particularly appropriate, Lopez says, for industrial solutions. "Let's say you have to sense the temperature of a pipe, but the pipeline stretches over several hundred miles," he says. "Today, you would have to run a wire across the entire length of the pipe -- but with ZigBee, you can just put wireless sensors wherever you need them, and all the information gets routed over to the home base."

In a scenario like that, ZigBee's low power consumption becomes a key selling point. "For Bluetooth, if you're running off the battery, you're going to have to recharge it a couple of hours later -- but for ZigBee, it's literally years before you have to change it," Lopez says.

The ABI study predicts that the industrial sector will be the first to adopt the devices, with home networks following about a year later. The devices are expected to target Europe and America initially, then grow into the larger Asian markets.

The 802.15.4b standard is expected to be approved soon, which Lopez says will "simplify and improve interoperability worldwide." That will then help to drive a growth in ZigBee-equipped device shipments, the study predicts, from about 1 million in 2005 to more than 80 million by the end of 2006.



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