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Solving 'fifth play' service issues with ZigBee

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:fifth play? Smart Home? smartphone? ZigBee? RF4CE?

In some parts of the world, cable companies and service providers are about to start rolling out a new "fifth play" service. This is touted to make the connected home more of a smart home. In addition to providing the existing Four Plays: TV and entertainment, Internet access, phone service (VoIP), and cell phone services, operators will be adding the Fifth PlayCsmart home services for monitoring energy usage, home health, security, climate control, etc. U.S. companies such as Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon are already marketing and installing these types of Fifth Play Smart Home solutions.

This Fifth Play will make the set-top box evolve into the "Home Control Box" that communicates with the various sensors and devices in the home which then can be controlled and monitored via a local RF4CE remote control or over the net via smartphone applications. Where previously the set-top box was just responsible for distributing content through the home, the Home Control Box makes it possible for consumers to control all kind of applications in their homes and over the Internet with smartphone apps.

Figure 1: ZigBee today offers three main network layers C RF4CE, Pro and ZigBee IP.

What you should know about ZigBee RF4CE
ZigBee Radio Frequency for Consumer Electronics (RF4CE) provides a multi-vendor interoperable solution for consumer electronics featuring a simple, robust and low-cost communication network for two-way wireless connectivity.

ZigBee RF4CE is a full member of the ZigBee family and is based on the IEEE 802.15.4 specification (figure 1). Developed for consumer electronics devices, it was designed for simple, two-way device-to-device control applications that do not require full-featured mesh networking capabilities. RF4CE has already found its way into TVs, set-top boxes and remote controls. ZigBee RF4CE offers ease of installation, a high level of reliability over a longer range, a very long battery life, and it includes special features to avoid Wi-Fi interference rejection (amongst others channel agility). ZigBee RF4CE offers low memory size requirements thereby enabling low cost implementations.

A practical benefit is that the two-way communications capability of RF4CE can support new applications. For example, one very interesting application is a "Find Me" button on a TV or set-top box that, once pressed, would cause the remote device to make a sound so the viewer could easily locate it (probably under the couch, where your children left it). A variety of sophisticated applications that offer interactive, two-way viewer participation could also be built into the remote control such as televoting and gaming, personal messages and reminders, real-time sports results, stock information and residential sensor network monitoring. This two-way communications enables operators to create new opportunities for advertising revenues via server initiated commercial push messages on the consumers' remote control. The interoperability offered by the ZigBee industry standard allows a remote control to work with more systems in a house and can be used as the basis for home automation. Although the main applications of RF4CE are consumer electronics based, there are no technical restrictions to also control other devices such as lighting, heating/air-conditioning and some of these implementations are already in the market today. Leveraging the open ZigBee RF4CE standard, the remote will eventually become the dashboard for the home.

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