ZigBee clears ratification hurdle

Products containing ZigBee could hit the market as early as next year

Intelligent sensor networks moved a little closer to commercial deployment on Tuesday with the ratification of ZigBee.

ZigBee is a short-range, very low-power wireless technology. Its supporters say it could be used to give network connections to almost any electronic device, opening up new areas for products and software for businesses and consumers.

The ZigBee Alliance announced late on Tuesday that the first ZigBee specification had been ratified, and that some products could come to market within months.

"We are excited to reach such a significant milestone in the development of the global ZigBee specification," said Bob Heile, chairman of the ZigBee Alliance.

"Given the number of ZigBee-ready products announced in 2004, we anticipate seeing ZigBee-compliant consumer products as soon as early 2005," Heile added.

Earlier this year, consultancy firm West Technology Research Solutions claimed that vendors who released ZigBee-ready products risked damaging the technology.

"Instead of becoming a standard for low data-rate network environments, ZigBee is in danger of evolving into simply one among many proprietary options," it warned.

ZigBee's ratification has been eagerly awaited, but the companies pushing the technology still have much work to do. Interoperability and scalability tests will need to be carried out on all ZigBee products to ensure compliancy, a process which can lead to weeks or months of fine tuning.

Early interest in Zigbee was demonstrated last week when a South Korean partnership launched what they claimed was the first ZigBee-compatible mobile phone handset.

Eric Jansen, Cambridge Silicon Radio's vice-president for North America, said at the time that this phone was a little ahead of its time.

"My first question is 'What will it connect to?'" said Jansen.

Jansen also suggested that other technologies such as Near Field Communication (an advanced RFID technology) could be a successful rival to ZigBee.

Bob Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet, believes that ZigBee has a bright future. He told the NetEvents gathering of analysts, journalists and vendors in October that the potential market for the wireless technology is massive, with 10 billion microprocessors being shipped annually.

In theory, an oil company could ZigBee-enable its pipelines for improved remote monitoring. Or a home's lighting could be based on ZigBee -- instead of the traditional fixed switch the household could just use a wireless remote control to turn lights on or off.