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'Enhanced' Zigbee automates home

Posted: 16 Nov 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Zigbee Alliance? Zigbee? personal-area networks? Mike Clendenin?

The Zigbee Alliance in September released an updated specification that should appeal to developers targeting home automation. But those interested in large-scale deployments in industrial settings may opt to wait for another release, due early next year.

Called Zigbee 2006 or "enhanced" Zigbee, the update includes changes that make it incompatible with the spec released in 2004. Alliance members were quick to downplay the issue, noting that there aren't many products on the market at this early stage of ZigBee development, and that the new spec's inability to talk to the old won't matter much even for companies that have already rolled products.

"Most of the Zigbee 2004 implementations are in confined spaces where interoperability isn't high on the priority list," said Bob Heile, chairman of the Zigbee Alliance and chairman of the IEEE 802.15 working group on wireless personal-area networks.

Future releases of the spec will be backward-compatible, Heile said. And it is possible to create a compatibility mode today, provided developers are willing to increase memory to run a slightly larger code base.

A main difference between the 2006 and 2004 versions is a change in the addressing scheme, said Andy Wheeler, chief technology officer of Ember Corp., a provider of Zigbee chips and software. Zigbee is meant to accommodate 65,000 nodes on a network, but early developers found that larger networks were becoming unstable over time. That's because Zigbee initially used a tree structure for addressing, a scheme that restricted the number of addresses to well below what was theoretically available.

The new spec uses a random addressing scheme with built-in address conflict resolution. That will be key to large Zigbee deployments in industrial markets because it allows for many more network nodes.

But industrial developers may still wait for the Zigbee Pro stack, which will include features aimed at industrial and commercial building automation, such as higher levels of security and improved frequency hopping.

Most leading makers of 802.15.4 radios using the Zigbee protocol stack believe development will move more quickly toward full Zigbee implementation now that the update has been finalized.

The 2006 spec is immediately available to alliance members. It will be released to the public in Q1 next year.

- Mike Clendenin
EE Times

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