ZigBee Alliance embraces IP to strengthen its role in smart grids
Published: 13 May, 2009
The explosion in usage of machine-to-machine applications over wireless networks is not just a question of wider deployment of such systems, but also the need to carry far larger amounts of data. Apps that have traditionally needed to transfer minute amounts of data now need, in some cases, a 3G-class network to transmit multimedia, and this is boosting the cellcos' M2M businesses. The change in the type of data carried by M2M networks, and the need for global standards, are both driving the sector towards using IP, and the ZigBee Alliance, whose standard is geared to the ultra low power, low data rate systems of old, is determined to maintain its position by embracing the new IP world.
ZigBee, based on the 802.15.4 short range wireless standards, is the most adopted platform in the M2M and industrial/home monitoring areas, and has already been looking at a high data rate extension of its technology. At one time this was expected to use low power UltraWideBand, though integration with Bluetooth or a proprietary system could also be considered. In the meantime, the ZigBee Alliance says it will incorporate standards from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) into its specification portfolio.
In particular, this will give ZigBee products the capability to support native IP and integrate with web services. Internet connectivity is supported by existing ZigBee specifications but the addition of native IP will offer tighter integration from wireless devices all the way to up to large scale utility IT networks.
This should boost ZigBee products in the expanding smart grid market. This is gaining ground particularly among US utility companies, which are using 'smart meters' to monitor customers' usage of gas or electricity and to support billing, maintenance and other apps. Some smart grid projects are using the ZigBee Smart Energy public application profile and nearly all are IP-oriented. All four national cellcos have smart grid contracts with various players, to use capacity on their 3G networks to transfer meter data, and T-Mobile recently announced an innovative embedded SIM card for these systems.
The Alliance told EETimes it would also benefit from "the knowledge and experience contained in IETF standards for large scale network addressability, security and IT integration" and bring this to bear on large scale sensor and control networks.