Exclusive Interview: The ZigBee Alliance on v3.0, The IoT & Affordable Sensors

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ZigBee is the technology behind the SmartThings Hub, Philips Hue Lighting and many other home automation modules and sensors.

We asked Mark Walters, VP of Strategic Development at the ZigBee Alliance to tell us about their latest standard and what the chances are for cheaper devices…

Hi Mark, can you sum up what the ZigBee Alliance is in a couple of sentences for us?

The ZigBee Alliance creates, maintains and delivers specifications, standards and solutions for the wireless Internet of Things (IoT). We’re a non-profit association comprised of 425 companies from around the world that are working together to create open, global standards that define the IoT.


Can you give us some idea of the popularity of ZigBee, for example how many how many different products are available and what’s the overall global install base of devices?

Mark WaltersThat is a great question and one that is a little hard to answer until we define the use of the word ZigBee.  If we take ZigBee to stand for all IEEE802.15.4 radios that are shipped with a networking stack specified by the ZigBee Alliance including the RF4CE specification, Green Power specification, PRO specification and IP specification it is more than 400,000,000 units in the year 2015.  Since the majority of these applications are not certified or branded by the Alliance, it is difficult to say how many different manufacturers they represent or how many different product types are involved.  We do know there are products based on ZigBee specifications on every continent, in space and under the oceans.  The ZigBee Alliance has certified over 1500 different products to 10 different stack or application profiles and this represents over 150 different manufacturers.


What are the various ZigBee profiles and which ones relate best to the smart home?

Specific to the smart home the most popular profiles are ZigBee Smart Energy 1.x, ZigBee Home Automation 1.x, ZigBee Light Link and RF4CE.   ZigBee Smart Energy products include meters, load switches, thermostats, lighting and a few other devices – and they all share the ZigBee PRO mesh networking stack and a certificate-based ECC security scheme.  Home Automation and Light Link products include thermostats, door locks, sensors, lighting and lighting controls, LED bulbs, load controls, window shade and irrigation controls and many other unique devices.  All of these products share the ZigBee PRO mesh networking stack and a few different key-based security schemes.  There are many entertainment remote controls based on the RF4CE stack provided by the Alliance as well.

Philips Hue

 What’s new in ZigBee v3.0 and how does this effect the IoT world?

ZigBee 3.0 is the first single unified, open and complete wireless IoT product development solution of its kind. It builds on and unifies ZigBee Alliance standards already proven across hundreds of millions of shipped devices used to create smart solutions for homes, buildings and cities. It impacts the IoT world, because up until now the IoT market has been fragmented into separate vertical market segments – each with its own product standards – making it difficult to supply interoperable products and solutions. ZigBee 3.0 solves this problem by unifying open, global standards all the way from the physical to the application layer and providing certification and branding programs for improved interoperability across a growing range of market segments. This opens the door to a new era of improved communication and interoperability between products used in connected homes, intelligent buildings, smart cities and other applications.


Zigbee IP Network TopologyWhat’s the Alliance’s view on Thread, the AllSeen Alliance and the other bodies trying to create interoperability standards and what can ZigBee integrate with currently?

We have announced a cooperation with the Thread Group aimed at putting a ZigBee Alliance branded and certified solution based on the Thread networking protocol and the ZigBee Consolidated Applications Library into the market at the end of this year.  We are working with the industry frameworks – AllSeen, OIC and now I guess OFC – to insure there is a tight mapping of ZigBee device descriptions and behaviours on to the upper layer frameworks such as AllJoyn and IoTivity.


You recently announced a collaboration with EnOcean to create an open, global spec for energy harvesting wireless communication technology. What sort of products is this likely to bring to market?

We announced the inclusion of existing EnOcean Alliance Equipment Profiles into the ZigBee 3.0 ecosystem operating in the 2.4GHz band.  This brings the device types and functionalities of 12 years of EnOcean energy harvesting experience to a much broader audience and provides for interaction between these devices and behaviors and all of the devices and device behaviors in the ZigBee Consolidated Applications Library.  As to what device types this will bring to the market, I’m sure the standard already well-known sensors and actuators found in the EnOcean sub-GHz solution will find their way over to the 3.0 ecosystem. What will be really interesting will be what new devices will be created for the new broader, more consumer-centric markets.  I expect more security and presence-type sensors, and I’m sure we’ll see many new things I can’t even conceptualize as we make this technology available to a much broader market.


ZigBee operates on a range of frequencies (2.4 GHz, 900 MHz, and 868 MHz). What is each used for?

There are many networking specifications made available by the ZigBee Alliance.  The popular RF4CE network specification for low latency point-to-point communication operates in the 2.4GHz band.  The popular energy harvesting protocol – Green Power – operates in the 2.4GHz band.  All of the “ZigBee” branded ZigBee PRO mesh-based products operate in the 2.4GHz band.  All of the current IP-based ZigBee protocols operate in the 2.4GHz band.  We are releasing a version of the ZigBee PRO mesh networking operating in the 868 band for the U.K. smart energy market, but this will not be branded ZigBee.  We will be releasing a neighborhood area networking specification based on the IEEE 802.15.4 G standard operating in the sub-GHz bands but this too will not be branded ZigBee.  The ZigBee brand name is reserved for ZigBee PRO mesh solutions operating in the 2.4GHz band.

smartthings uk kit

Samsung’s SmartThings system feels like the first mass-market ZigBee powered product to hit the UK. Will we see more DIY devices like this soon and can you get below the current £30 price for a sensor?

We expect the popularity for ZigBee PRO mesh products, including system platforms like SmartThings, to continue to grow.  With the release of ZigBee 3.0 and the consolidation of the previous individual standards into one interoperable ecosystem we expect this growth to accelerate.  ZigBee 3.0’s strengthened network security, backwards compatibility and single ecosystem interoperability will bring new entrants into the U.K. market, and as volumes go up I think it is fair to expect prices to drop.


What’s the best place to find out can people find out more about ZigBee?
Thanks, check out this link for more information – www.zigbee.org


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