ZigBee gets middleware boost

A Linux-powered network gateway has been designed to help companies integrate ZigBee-powered wireless mesh networks into their enterprise

ZigBee, the emerging wireless technology that could give billions of electronic devices a connection to the Internet, has moved another small step towards wide-scale commercial deployment.

A partnership formed last week between Ember, a maker of ZigBee chips, and US technology firm Arcom could help companies to manage data from a ZigBee wireless network. The two companies have created a network gateway that can sit between a firm's ZigBee-powered wireless sensor network and its IBM's WebSphere middleware.

"It provides an end-to-end telemetry communications gateway that pumps ZigBee network data from remote devices to IBM's publish and subscribe information broker, WebSphere MQ Integrator," said the companies in a statement.

The gateway itself is a single piece of equipment, powered by a 400MHz Intel RISC processor. It runs an embedded version of Linux, as well as an embedded version of Java.

Because ZigBee chips should be very cheap and consume extremely little power, the technology's proponents claim it will allow many of the estimated 10 billion microprocessors shipped each year to be linked to a network.

But as Bob Metcalfe -- inventor of Ethernet and now chairman of Ember -- said earlier this month, there are still many challenges for ZigBee to overcome. One key issue Metcalfe cited was the challenge of dealing with all the data generated by a ZigBee network. Companies will need to have software tools to manage ZigBee before agreeing to roll it out.

"We don't see these new radio technologies shipping in mass-market quantities until the business processes are fixed" said Metcalfe.

Arcom claims that its alliance with Ember addresses this problem.

"Bringing information from the field back to the enterprise through ZigBee networks will transform the way many industries do business," said Arlen Nipper, Arcom president.

"Information can be retrieved faster, more efficiently and at less cost."

Ember recently received a multi-million cash injection from the venture capital firm of Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.