You probably have a mobile phone with a Bluetooth radio in it, and you may have a Wi-Fi network as well. Soon, you could be using a third wireless networking technology in your house.
It’s called ZigBee, and it eventually might find its way into more devices than Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combined.
In the near term, you’re likely to see it show up in the smart meters that utilities have begun to use and in the remote controls of high-end televisions. In the not-too-distant future, you could be using ZigBee networking to control the lights in your home, monitor your elderly parent’s health or turn off your air conditioner during periods of peak energy use when no one’s home.
ZigBee operates over the same 2.4 GHz frequency range as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but ZigBee transmits at much lower data rates. It’s made for sending simple commands, such as turning on a TV, or small bits of data, such as whether a door is locked.
Thanks to the low data rate, ZigBee tends to use far less power than other networking technologies. The battery life of a ZigBee device can often be measured in years, rather than hours in the case of Wi-Fi or days with Bluetooth.
Also, ZigBee’s standard utilizes mesh networking, which allows ZigBee devices to connect automatically with and transmit data through one another without having to go through a central gateway like a router.
ZigBee has been around for about seven years. To date, though, it’s primarily been used in commercial and industrial settings in alarm and monitoring systems and in expensive houses for custom-installed home-automation systems.
But the technology’s backers – and analysts who follow the industry – think it’s about to hit the mainstream.
The number of ZigBee radio chips shipped has been doubling every year in recent years, hitting 20 million last year, said Bob Heile, chairman of the ZigBee Alliance, a nonprofit standards body that helps oversee and promote the technology. The group, whose members include Intel, Marvell and Cypress Semiconductor, expects 100 million ZigBee chips to be shipped this year.