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Zigbee IP spec for IPv6 6LoPAN wireless networks

Posted: 21 Aug 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Internet protocol? IP? ZigBee? Smart Energy? Sensor networks?

For the past 15 years, technology companies have tried to develop software solutions that enable the use of Internet protocol (IP) for wireless sensor networks and other connected devices that leverage Internet connectivity. One of the most promising IP software solutions to appear in recent years is the new ZigBee IP (Internet Protocol) specification, released by the ZigBee Alliance in March 2013.

ZigBee IP is the first open standard for an IPv6-based full wireless mesh networking solution, providing seamless Internet connections to control low-power, low-cost devices and connecting dozens of different devices into a single control network. ZigBee IP was designed to support the ZigBee Smart Energy IP stack. This article explores the evolution of IP-based solutions for wireless sensor networks and also the use of the new ZigBee Smart Energy IP stack.

Sensor network communications and challenges
Sensor networks have been the subject of research and experimentation since the late 1990s. The objective has been to achieve vast networks of tiny intelligent devices collecting and sending data to improve structural monitoring, enhance energy efficiency, or increase crop production. A number of basic technologies would allow the widespread use of smart connected devices, including:
???Low-power and efficient radios designed to allow at least several years of battery life for typical devices and to provide the potential of energy harvesting for other devices not powered by batteries or a mains power supply
???Reliable mesh networking and protocols to allow unattended long-term operation without human intervention
???Suitable application protocols to allow devices to exchange information in agreed-upon data formats and to enable autonomous operation

The release of the IEEE 802.15.4 standard in 2003 and commercial availability of radios meeting this standard in 2004 provided the basis for low-power radios. In 2006 and 2011, the IEEE standard was extended and improved. With the 15.4e and 15.4g amendments, suppliers of commercial radios have been able to cut the power consumption of their RF devices in half and are expected to halve power consumption again with the next generation of devices.

Reliable mesh networking protocols took a little longer to develop and to validate their performance. Proprietary mesh networking stacks such as EmberZNet or TinyOS from Berkeley were released with the initial 15.4 radio chips. While these stacks were used and further developed, market growth and expansion depended on standards-based solutions to allow interoperability and multiple sourcing for companies using the technology. The ZigBee Alliance has been one of a few organisations working on a standards-based solution for wireless mesh networking in recent years.

Application protocols were the last items to be developed for mesh networking. These protocols depended on a common language that enabled devices from different manufacturers to communicate seamlessly. Developing a common language among devices required companies that may be competitors to collaborate and agree on messaging protocols and behaviour. For companies whose products were interdependent, such as manufacturers of lighting products and dimmers and switches, market forces encouraged agreement on application protocols. However, in other areas such as home automation or commercial buildings, market forces were not necessarily in place to encourage competitors to work together and agree on application protocols.

ZigBee PRO solutions and lessons
ZigBee standards development was a part of the expansion of the sensor network and building automation markets. The ZigBee Alliance was working on mesh networking standards, security, and application protocols throughout the early 2000s. A steady growth in ZigBee Alliance membership and deployments led to improvements in protocols and their reliability, and culminated in the release of the ZigBee PRO specification in 2007 and the subsequent release of the Smart Energy Profile in 2008. The Smart Energy market demanded reliability and interoperability because companies making and deploying electricity meters wanted communication with devices in the home, but they did not necessarily want to own or maintain these devices in the home. Only with agreement on standard routing and application protocols, as well as robust security, would a solution be acceptable.

ZigBee PRO was specifically developed and optimised for device-to-device communications (i.e., the Internet of Things). The protocols were standardised from the IEEE 802.15.4 MAC/PHY, a ZigBee networking and services layer, through the full application layer. Devices could join networks, pair with other devices, and operate without interaction with a system administrator or a network administrator.

The protocol and messaging were optimised for small messages (since 15.4 supported a maximum of 127B packets) and battery-operated devices, enabling the industry to get closer to the goal of ubiquitous sensing and control networks. Networks of hundreds or thousands of devices were successfully deployed and continue to operate.

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