June 2007

BTL Mark: Resolve interoperability issues & increase buyer confidence
BACnet Testing Laboratories

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Brent Hodges

EMAIL INTERVIEW  Brent Hodges & Ken Sinclair

Brent Hodges, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for the ZigBee Alliance


 ZigBee Certification

The Alliance has two independent and global test labs, National Technical Systems and TUV Rheinland. These labs test, verify and certify ZigBee Certified Platforms and ZigBee Certified Products.

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Sinclair:  First, is there any truth to claims that Wi-Fi/WLAN and ZigBee cannot co-exist in the same space?

Hodges:  No, not at all. In fact we have companies designing and shipping ZigBee and Wi-Fi in the same product and it all works together. One of the main reasons they work together is because both technologies are IEEE standards.

Sinclair:  When you say ZigBee is a “standard,” what do you mean?

Hodges:  ZigBee is built using the IEEE 802.15.4 standard and follows strict IEEE guidelines to ensure long-term sustainability and reliable operation. As some may know, the IEEE is a globally respected standards development group whose members are volunteers working in an open and collaborative manner. Some of their best known technologies are Bluetooth (802.15.1) and Wi-Fi (802.11). Both of those two standards, like ZigBee, are based on IEEE 802 standards. The IEEE 802 group continually evaluates its standards to identify areas of ambiguity or concern and works to improve its standards to ensure robustness and long-term success. Since many of the same scientists and technologists work together in several groups at the IEEE, you can be sure standards such as 802.15.4 and 802.11 are designed to ensure reliable co-existence. In fact, products with both ZigBee and Wi-Fi have been designed and shipped by Alliance members including companies such as Control4 and these products work as promised each and every day.

Sinclair:  It might make sense with so much wireless technology out there that there could be interference.

Hodges:  If you want to see true extremes and veritable wireless pea soup, attend a huge trade show. ZigBee companies are regularly showing and demonstrating products around the world at some of largest tradeshows: Consumer Electronics Show, Electronica, Hannover Messe and Wireless Japan, to name a few. These shows are the harshest locations for radio frequencies technologies to operate, with dozens of wireless networks including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other RF traffic. At times, it can be difficult to get wireless devices to operate properly at these shows, yet users and demonstrators of ZigBee networks report reliable performance because it has many channels to work on and a variety of adaptive solutions to ensure reliability.

Sinclair:  So, does Z-wave have interference problems?

Hodges:  Well Z-wave operates on one very specific frequency in an unlicensed band, and that frequency band is used by cordless phones, baby monitors, medical devices, RFID chips and other unlicensed radio emitters. Also, Z-wave devices communicate at very slow data rates which mean very long transmissions. These transmissions are more prone to interference which is further exasperated by the use of an antiquated modulation scheme that has 10dB or worse performance compared to modern RF technologies like ZigBee.

Sinclair:  Does anyone independently verify that ZigBee products work?

Hodges:  The Alliance has two independent and global test labs, National Technical Systems and TUV Rheinland. These labs test, verify and certify ZigBee Certified Platforms and ZigBee Certified Products. Needless to say, these labs have global reputations to protect and are not backroom, rubber stamping organizations. The Alliance sets stringent standards for any product or platform to ensure everything operates as promised. Basically, if you see the ZigBee logo on a product, then you know it has been certified.

One other point I would like to make is that the ZigBee Alliance is growing and now has more than 225 member companies. Each of these companies voluntarily pays to be a member of the Alliance and our members are spending collectively billions of dollars around ZigBee. The Alliance has many well known global brands and a good number of independent start-ups, which I believe is indicative of the huge opportunity presented by ZigBee. Another important fact is that most all of our members have thoroughly, and independently, investigated and compared ZigBee prior to committing the resources required to develop and launch new ZigBee-based products and services.

Sinclair:  So what do you think is motivating this report?

Hodges:  That’s a good question and you have to look at who is behind the report. ZigBee continues to gain incredible momentum and is clearly showing the proprietary technologies for what they really are. Many of these technologies are focused on providing products and services for a single industry or purpose, whereas ZigBee can be used in many industries and implemented into thousands of dramatically different devices that can operate successfully anywhere in the world.

Sinclair:  What do you mean by proprietary?

Hodges:  To help you compare, let me define the ZigBee Alliance first. We are a non-profit, volunteer-driven international organization with members who actually pay to join the Alliance. All the members jointly contribute to designing and building ZigBee technology in an open and collaborative manner. No single company owns ZigBee. In fact, the ZigBee Alliance publishes the Zigbee Standard and it is available for public download on our website.

On the other hand, proprietary is used to define technologies that are not open to collaboration, not publicly published and are developed, manufactured and sold by one company. Since proprietary technologies are not based on internationally recognized standards, their appeal is usually limited. Most companies are looking for stable, low-cost, multi-vendor supported technology they can implement in products around the world. Some crafty technology companies go so far as to create coalitions of customers or users groups and call them alliances in an attempt to give the appearance of impartiality and a widely supported technology.

Sinclair:  So the Z-wave technology promoted by the Z-wave alliance is proprietary?

Hodges:  Yes because it is owned by Zensys which is a small, private technology company that designs and sells Z-wave technology. Its marketing approach is to position Z-wave as a standard adopted by its users group, but Z-wave is licensed for a fee to this group. Today, product manufacturers can only buy the semiconductors required to operate Z-wave products from Zensys.

Here’s the bottom line: their claims against ZigBee are largely seen by industry experts as a diversionary tactic designed to hide dwindling support for Z-wave.


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