Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 11/10/2004ZigBee is starting to make waves -- which is just as well, as it's a wireless protocol. Designed to do very low power signaling, it promises to glue together all manner of appliances and do loads of useful control stuff.

Monday 11/10/2004
ZigBee is starting to make waves -- which is just as well, as it's a wireless protocol. Designed to do very low power signaling, it promises to glue together all manner of appliances and do loads of useful control stuff. It could replace the light switch as we know it.

Yet when I first stumbled across the standard two years ago there were many unanswered questions. Most of them have now been answered -- although there's still the scent of a standards tussle in the air -- but there is one that deserves a special place in the Zigbee FAQ. Let me quote:

"What is the origin of the ZigBee name?
The domestic honeybee, a colonial insect, lives in a hive that contains a queen, a few male drones, and thousands of worker bees. The survival, success, and future of the colony is dependent upon continuous communication of vital information between every member of the colony. The technique that honey bees use to communicate new-found food sources to other members of the colony is referred to as the ZigBee Principle. Using this silent, but powerful communication system, whereby the bee dances in a zig-zag pattern, he is able to share information such as the location, distance, and direction of a newly discovered food source to its fellow colony members. Instinctively implementing the ZigBee Principle, bees around the world industriously sustain productive hives and foster future generations of colony members."

Awww, now, isn't that sweet? But perhaps honey isn't quite the right munchy metaphor -- I am forced, reluctantly, to speak instead of the indigestible pork pie.

As it happened, I asked the selfsame question two years ago of the chap in charge of the whole standard. "Ah," he said. "Yes. Well, we had a big list of names. The ones at the top were sensible wireless networky names, and the ones at the bottom were nonsense we'd just made up off the top of our heads. We went down the list until we found one that passed the trademark lawyer's tests. We got a long way down the list."

In other words, said the horse's mouth, ZigBee was a random name chosen at random.

This is backed up by Bob Metcalfe, who is part of the ZigBee conspiracy and whom we saw just the other day. Scoop Wearden asked him exactly this, and he confirmed the story I'd heard two years ago.

Ever the diligent researcher, I checked on a few apiary Web sites. I even emailed a Professor Of Bee Things at a big agricultural institute. Of the 'ZigBee Principle' there is no sign -- although I do note that pictures of bees were used to signal the aiming point in antique urinals. A very dry Victorian pun that: the Latin for bee is Apis.

We are therefore forced to conclude that the ZigBee Name FAQ has nothing to do with reality, but is merely a PR taking the bees. Let's hope the rest of the standard isn't just pith and wind.