Gluing it all together

Is there room in home networking for all these standards?

Last week I said the sheer wealth of home network technology could prevent agreement on how all the pieces should best fit together, making it tough to bring a clear message to market. In a new paper called, "Connected Solutions: Landscape and Supply Side Analysis," by research analyst firm Parks Associates and technology association management firm Global Inventures, the authors put it another way:  "We are either at the crest of a perfect wave, where all these technologies coexist, or we are about to plunge deep into Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt as the consumer goes into paralysis through analysis."

Since I last explored two emerging home network standards, Universal Plug and Play (UpnP) and OSGi (Open Services Gateway Initiative), two others have popped up: WiMedia and ZigBee. These four, of course, join flavors of 802.11, HomePlug, HomePNA, Bluetooth, HAVi, IEEE 1394 (Firewire), USB and various protocols running over coaxial cables. (Let me know if I missed any.)

For details on UpnP, read two columns I wrote on it last year ("Plug it in and it works" and "Put out the welcome mat for UPnP" ). Here, I’ll focus on where OSGi, WiMedia and Zigbee fit into an already crowded picture.

OSGi is a service delivery specification, a middleware API that’s invisible to end users. With it, broadband service providers, consumer electronics or telematics vendors can remotely deploy, provision and manage new and add-on applications and services to network devices in homes, vehicles, industrial settings or other networked environments.

OSGi obviates the need for truck rolls or customer premises visits every time a product needs to be installed, updated, upgraded, stopped or removed.

Because it’s an open platform, OSGi works with other specifications such as UpnP and Jini. Today the spec is built into the Philips iPronto home control panel for home theatre, home automation products, some residential gateways in Europe, and in telematics gear used by BMW, DaimlerChrysler and others. Many more are expected.

WiMedia is the brand name encompassing two wireless standards, IEEE 802.15.3 and the ultra-wideband-based 802.15.3a PHY. (PHY is shorthand for "physical layer.") The technology connects devices at 200M bit/sec, and competes with wired USB 2.0, IEEE 1394. Unlike an 802.11b wireless network, WiMedia networks provide ad hoc, peer-to-peer connectivity, meaning you don’t need an access point.

Its high speeds make WiMedia best suited for wireless multimedia applications. With it embedded in the AV stack, you can push a few buttons and begin viewing a just-shot home video from your camcorder on your TV or a slide show from your digital camera. You can also wirelessly send pictures to the printer or e-mail them. WiMedia is in development now; first enabled products are expected out next year.

ZigBee is a low-speed, low-power, low-cost wireless protocol based on IEEE 802.15.4. Plans are to embed it in consumer electronics, home and building automation, industrial controls, PC peripherals, medical sensor applications, toys and games.

ZigBee transmits data at 250K bit/sec at a range of less than 30 meters, making it best suited for static networks with lots of devices with small data packets.

ZigBee applications will likely pop up all over: in wireless home security systems; remote thermostats for air conditioners; remote lighting and drape controllers; call buttons for the elderly and disabled; universal remote controllers for TV and radio; wireless keyboards; mice and game pads; smoke and carbon dioxide detectors; industrial and building automation and control; and automotive, medical and personal health monitoring applications. You can also use it to control home applications from your laptop PC.

Learn more about this topic

Open Services Gateway Initiative

WiMedia Alliance

ZigBee Alliance

Plug it in and it works

Net.Worker, 05/13/02

Put out the welcome mat for UPnP

Net.Worker, 07/15/02

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