One of the biggest challenges building and facility managers face with internet of things (IoT) functionality for smart homes is the problem of interoperability. Setting up the network infrastructure is much simpler. Their choice of internet service provider doesn’t impact how the enclosure or the interior mounting system operates.

When your customers adopt smart home technology, they have to choose a suite of products that are interoperable, which means finding products that use a single protocol.  One protocol that offers building and facility managers a lot of options in smart home products is Zigbee.

Established in December of 2004, Zigbee protocol was developed for sensor and control networks. Today it’s used in home automation, smart metering, and smart grid monitoring. With companies like Amazon, General Electric, Emerson, Johnson Controls, Nortek Security, Samsung, Honeywell, and many more developing Zigbee-certified products, there are a lot of smart home devices to choose from within this protocol’s ecosystem.

Zigbee is also used by a number of telecommunications and cable companies including Comcast, Time Warner, and Rogers in setup boxes, satellite transceivers and home gateways for home monitoring and energy management products.

How Zigbee works

Like Zwave, Zibee uses radio frequency (RF) and mesh network technology in which multiple nodes can interconnect. The Zigbee network is made up of three different types of devices: the coordinator, router, and end device. The coordinator acts as the root of the network and is responsible for handling and storing information as well as transmitting data. Coordinators can send data directly to end devices or pass it through a router.

A Zigbee network can include any number of coordinators, routers and devices, but most networks use the star, cluster tree, or mesh network topology. The star topology consists of a single coordinator communicating with multiple end devices. In cluster tree and mesh networks, coordinators communicate through routers. Cluster tree and mesh networks can accommodate a complex arrangement of smart devices.    

The protocol architecture is made up of a stack of various layers, including a MAC (media access control) layer and physical layer which are provided by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.15.4 standard; a network layer; and application support and framework layers.

Anyone can purchase a Zigbee developer kit, which includes chips, software and other tools. The software comes in different profiles that are designed for specific applications such as home automation, smart energy, building automation or retail services.

The Zigbee Alliance

The Zigbee Alliance, established in 2002, is an open non-profit association of businesses, government agencies and universities from around the world that work together to develop standards.

The organization is focused on IoT innovation. An example of this is the recent launch of Zigbee Pro multi-band mesh network technology. Zigbee Pro is the first mesh network that is designed to work on two ISM (industrial, scientific and medical) frequency bands at the same time. Zigbee Pro uses the sub GHz 800-900 MHz and the 2.4 GHz bands.

Zigbee Pro’s dual band functionality means that manufacturers, consumers, and organizations of all types can connect devices across homes, between buildings and even across cities. Zigbee Pro also offers reduced power consumption and operating costs, which makes it a good choice for complex networks that span a large region.

More interoperability coming soon

The Zigbee Alliance recently announced that they are developing a new open “Universal Language for the IoT” called dotdot. This new language is essentially the application layer in the Zigbee stack.

The organization will be launching dotdot as a stand alone protocol that does not require the rest of the stack, so device makers will be able to build dotdot compliant products using a different physical layer or network.

Because this language is based on the existing Zigbee application layers, dotdot-compliant products will be interoperable with Zigbee-certified products. Zigbee is also working with Thread, a relative newcomer to the smart device market, so Thread-compliant products may soon be interoperable with Zigbee products as well.

Zigbee presents dotdot as the solution to all of your customer’s interoperability problems, which isn’t likely to be a reality while all of the other protocols remain widely used. But if you have a customer looking at both Thread and Zigbee products, their decision may soon be easier.