ZigBee gets ready for certification

Testing programmes should show whether the low-power sensor networking standard can cut it in the marketplace

The ZigBee Alliance, a group of companies pushing a new wireless technology that could give network connectivity to all electrical devices, is getting ready to certify products.

The Alliance announced on Thursday that is launching a range of test programmes for manufacturers who want to develop ZigBee-compatible devices. This certification process should give consumers confidence that ZigBee products from different companies are compatible.

ZigBee is a combination of a defunct wireless standard called HomeRF Lite and the 802.15.4 specification. It was ratified in December 2004, and can theoretically support 255 devices per network at speeds of up to 250Kbps at a range of up to 30 metres.

In theory, millions of electronic devices such as light bulbs and domestic electrical equipment, could be fitted with ZigBee chips to form a high-speed wireless sensor network that can linked to the Internet.

Zigbee could also have a significant role in the enterprise. For example, an oil company could use ZigBee sensors to monitor its infrastructure of pipes. A corporate ZigBee network could, however, generate a very large amount of data, posing new challenges for IT managers.

The Alliance said that the testing programme, which should begin shortly, will try and ensure that products are fully interoperable "out of the box" and can easily enter into a ZigBee network.

"Putting in place a stringent set of certification requirements was necessary to ensure complete end-to-end interoperability of ZigBee-based products," said Bob Heile, chairman of the ZigBee Alliance, in a statement. "If we ensure products fit easily and completely with each other, then the potential for developing new and exciting applications will be limitless."

This kind of certification process is an important part of driving a new technology to maturity. Without it, businesses and consumers can't be sure that products from different companies will be interoperable, even if they claim to support the same ratified standard.

Several ZigBee products were launched last year, with 30 companies showing off their wares at an Open House event in September 2005.

Heile also suggested that Zigbee could be used in industrial environments to link smoke detector systems with sprinkler, lighting and security systems to more effectively manage building emergencies.

In late 2004, Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, predicted that the ZigBee wireless standard would be hugely successful, although it should be noted that his company Polaris Ventures, has invested in several ZigBee companies.


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