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Interview with Zigbee Alliance: UK smart energy deployment leads to new Zigbee mesh networking standard

Interview with Zigbee Alliance: UK smart energy deployment leads to new Zigbee mesh networking standard
The Zigbee Alliance recently introduced Zigbee PRO 2017, a mesh networking technology designed to connect and facilitate interoperability between smart devices.
The Zigbee Alliance recently introduced Zigbee PRO 2017, a mesh networking technology designed to connect and facilitate interoperability between smart devices. SMAHome had an interview with Leslie Mulder, Chair of the Zigbee PRO Technical Steering Committee, to explore how Zigbee PRO 2017 differs from other mesh networking technologies in the market and what types of applications are ideal for Zigbee implementation.

1. How is Zigbee Pro 2017 different from other mesh networking technologies in the market?

Zigbee PRO 2017 is the first wireless mesh network capable of operating in two ISM frequency bands simultaneously: sub-GHz 800-900 MHz for regional requirements and 2.4 GHz for global acceptance. This dual-band option enables flexibility and design choice for manufacturers, municipalities and consumers wanting to connect products across buildings, cities and homes.

Product manufacturers can now build devices that utilize a single network operating on multiple bands to address the challenges of surrounding physical environments such as concrete walls and steel studs that often times prevent or interfere with the wireless signal between smart products. The Zigbee PRO 2017 network specification provides key advantages including longer range, reduced power consumption and lower operating costs for low-data-rate applications ranging from home security and automation, to smart metering and connected lighting.

2. What types of applications are ideal for Zigbee implementation but not other transmission protocols?

Zigbee PRO 2017 is able to support multi-material building environments whereas other technologies cannot. Having this occur natively within the same network eliminates the need for bridges to connect the two frequency domains. The new feature of being able to integrate both sub-GHz and 2.4 GHz radios into a single network allows for devices to communicate across areas that incorporate wireless obstacles such as reinforced concrete or metal studs.

3. Why was Zigbee Pro launched now? What does the timing say about the development in the industry?

The Zigbee PRO 2017 initiative had its genesis as part of a UK government mandate to roll out smart meters to approximately 30 million homes by 2020 with an estimated $15 billion expected in net benefits based on consumer energy savings and lower energy generation demand. This smart electric/gas meter roll out for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy required a blend of 2.4 GHz and sub-GHz Zigbee devices.

Zigbee PRO was launched in 2008, and PRO 2017 builds on the work that has gone into the original version of Zigbee PRO. The new features of Zigbee PRO, specifically the addition of the sub-GHz support and the multi-radio support, were added to meet the needs of the well-defined UK Smart Energy market. The utility of these features should find a home in other regions as well; regions that suffer from the same gaps in coverage presented by 2.4 GHz designs that were noted by the UK government in its technology studies.

4. Do you expect greater Zigbee implementation in the smart home space in the near future? Why or why not?

Yes. There is clear global adoption of the technology in multiple markets, with lighting and smart energy taking the lead. In terms of maturity for mesh networking, Zigbee PRO has few peers. That Zigbee finds itself in the right place at the right time with a mature technology ready for the Internet of Everything is a clear indication that this is a technology that has a future.

5. What’s your view on the development of smart home nowadays? Is it progressing at a satisfactory pace?

The development of smart home technology has been impressive. Companies are designing spectacular products and contributing to the smart-device movement by leveraging the proven mesh networks that are available today – those such as Zigbee PRO. The Zigbee Cluster library, a compendium of device definitions that cover the operation of a large number of devices for the home and elsewhere, is very mature and rich. Defining these objects along with their management functions was critical to creating robust smart home infrastructure. This aspect of the implementation has been very successful.

6. What are some of the things that are preventing broader Zigbee implementation?

Zigbee has rolled out its Zigbee 3.0 platform; a platform that delivered the integration of application verticals into a single interoperable standard. This broadly accessible version of Zigbee has eliminated the majority of barriers that siloed application verticals presented; barriers that titrated the adoption of Zigbee. These are now gone and we can see the acceleration of adoption occurring in terms of the numbers of certified implementations and member companies.

7. What is the industry’s reaction to Zigbee Pro 2017 so far? Could you provide some examples of implementation in the real world?

For Zigbee PRO 2017, the lead adopter is the UK Smart Energy market (i.e., the UK government). The UK roll-out is currently underway with deployment of 2.4 GHz devices and now that the sub-GHz additions to Zigbee in PRO 2017 are complete, both sub-GHZ and dual-band devices will start to be deployed.

Simultaneous multi-band (multi-radio) support was added to the network protocol stack to allow a single instance of the stack to service communication between devices on different bands or channels in the context of a single PAN.

The inclusion of the sub-GHz radios and the multi-radio support were critical features of the UK Smart Energy use cases. Sub-GHz radios are used with other protocols than Zigbee, but those protocols do not have the multi-band support that Zigbee has.
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