ZigBee vendor group to wireless-enable facilities monitoring

* Remote-control network to join unlicensed frequencies

In a few years, you could find yourself responsible for yet another type of wireless network. I'm talking about IEEE 802.15.4/ZigBee networks, slated to enable wireless monitoring and control of lights, security alarms, motion sensors, thermostats and smoke detectors in your office buildings.

The low-powered 802.15.4/ZigBee networks are built on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard that was ratified earlier this month and specifies the MAC and PHY layers.

The networks will be combined with higher-layer enhancements in development a multivendor consortium called the Zigbee Alliance. For example, 802.15.4 specifies 128-bit AES encryption, but how to handle encryption key exchange is specified in ZigBee.

802.15.4/ZigBee networks are slated to run in the unlicensed frequencies, including the 2.4-GHz band in the U.S.

Pat Kinney, chairman of the IEEE 802.15.4 Task Group, chairman of the ZigBee Building Automation Profile Work Group and principal of Kinney Consulting in Export, Pa., says corporate IT staffs will likely end up responsible for managing these networks. If nothing else, they'll need to be involved to avoid interference issues between ZigBee networks and wireless communications networks, such as 802.11-based LANs.

Kinney says 10 manufacturers, including Motorola and Philips, have announced 802.15.4-compatible chips or intentions to deliver them and that commercial products could be available in mid to late 2004.

802.15.4 is part of the 802.15 "wireless personal-area network" effort at the IEEE. It is a simple (28K byte) packet-based radio protocol aimed at very low-cost, battery-operated widgets and sensors (whose batteries last years, not hours) that can intercommunicate and send low-bandwidth data to a centralized device.

In the context of a business environment, this results in wireless automated monitoring and control of facilities. There are many applications for home-appliance networks, too, and for home healthcare. Kinney says that residential gateways that merge traffic onto a broadband Internet connection are slated to get ZigBee slots for this purpose.

Yet another protocol was needed for the widget communications job, says Kinney, because other short-range protocols such as 802.11 and 802.15 (Bluetooth) use too much power and the protocols are too complex (and thus more expensive) to be embedded in virtually every kind of device imaginable.

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Network World, 05/26/03

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