RealTime IT News

ZigBee Gets a Step Closer to Reality

A wireless standard to let machines communicate with each other over short range was embraced by the manufacturers who'll try to make money using it. On Thursday, the ZigBee Alliance endorsed the IEEE's 802.15.4 standard.

The ZigBee Alliance is a trade association of software, hardware and services companies working to create an open global standard for low-power, low-data rate, wireless device communications. Its 50-odd members include Samsung, AMI Semiconductor, France Telecom R&D LLC , Intel and RF Micro Devices.

According to the IEEE folks' user-unfriendly naming conventions, 802.15 is the standard for short-distanced wireless networks, also know as personal area networks, PANs or WPANs. Within that designation, 802.15.1 and .2 are known as Bluetooth, while 802.15.3a is ultra-wideband (UWB) , and 802.15.4 is used for ZigBee. The ZigBee Alliance, in collaboration with the IEEE, is defining the network, security, and application layers above the IEEE 802.15.4 PHY and MAC layers.

"The endorsement means there's a stable standard that people can now start to develop off, so the industry can move forward," analyst Kirsten West told internetnews.com. "While 802.15.4 is the underlying standard ZigBee acts almost like a software application running on top of it."

West, who is a principal of West Technology Research Solutions, said that the ZigBee standard, when completed, would add the functionality for specific applications. For example, a wireless haptic joystick for computer games would provide tactile sensations based on the game play. Such devices are available now, but they're based on proprietary technology, so they're not interoperable.

If you can embed standards based products, you're ahead in the market, George Karayannis, vice president of sales and marketing for Helicomm, told Internetnews.com. Helicomm license software to silicon vendors that make 15.4 radios and licenses technology to OEMs for both the radio and network layers.

"Ratification of 802.15.4 is a tremendous step," he said. "Everyone in the industry has always been confronted with proprietary choices, the cost has been way high, and the market has been very fragmented."

Karayannis said his company would ship products based on the standard by the fourth quarter.

However, the ZigBee Alliance's endorsement is a bit redundant, according to industry observers, because it's mostly the same companies working on the two standards.

"ZigBee's endorsement of the IEEE standard means that the companies making up the ZigBee Alliance are happy with what they've got," Ian Barkin, an analyst with research firm Focal Point Group, told Internetnews.com.

The deliberations of working groups and standards bodies are, well, deliberate. Things take time. That's even more the case in the world of trade associations. The IEEE ratified the 802.15.4 standard back in May. The ZigBee alliance has yet to agree on a standard for ZigBee itself.