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New Smart Home Network Standard Debuts

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  • dtnwebdev
    Next month, a host of new wireless gadgets designed to help make buildings and homes smart will debut at the ZigBee Open House and Exposition in Chicago.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 7, 2005
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      Next month, a host of new wireless gadgets designed to help make
      buildings and homes "smart" will debut at the ZigBee Open House and
      Exposition in Chicago. Among them will be a so-called domestic
      awareness system that warns you if the stove is left on or if the
      basement starts flooding. Another lets you network your home
      entertainment system with environmental controls such as light dimmers
      or a thermostat. The point of such a setup: to automatically set just
      the right mood when you're watching DVDs or listening to music.

      Underlying these systems is a new wireless-networking standard called

      Developed by the ZigBee Alliance--which includes Honeywell, Samsung,
      Mitsubishi Electric, Motorola, and some 160 other companies--the
      standard allows household appliances, sensors, and other devices to
      talk to each other without the need for connecting cables.

      Of course, this is by no means the first attempt to boost the IQs of
      buildings and homes by networking their components. So can ZigBee
      finally deliver home and building automation? Yes, says Chris Ryan, an
      analyst with U.K.-based Future Horizons who has been following the
      standard's development.

      "The problem in the past is that adding thermostats, lighting
      controls, and environmental sensors to buildings has been expensive,"
      Ryan says. ZigBee technology could cut installation costs dramatically
      by letting you install a light switch, say, or a heat or moisture
      sensor wherever you want in a building just by sticking it on a wall,
      floor, or ceiling. The device's embedded ZigBee chip--which costs less
      than five dollars--would then link up wirelessly with the appropriate
      light fixture or alarm, saving the exorbitant cost of installing
      cables or wires in the wall. This kind of cost savings can make a
      significant difference both to the owners of large commercial
      buildings (which is ZigBee's initial target market) and to homeowners.

      Whereas many earlier smart systems used proprietary technology, ZigBee
      is built on an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
      (IEEE) global standard, 802.15.4, similar to the standards that govern
      Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Open standards encourage innovation and
      competition, which bring down costs.

      But unlike Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks, which require central hubs
      that distribute information to dispersed devices, ZigBee allows
      devices to form mesh networks, where each unit can relay information
      to its neighbors. Mesh networks are far more robust than their
      hub-and-spoke counterparts; if a node breaks down, other nodes can
      automatically reroute transmissions around it. That's a big advantage
      in something like a building-wide lighting system: you wouldn't want
      one bum switch to bring the whole thing down. What's more, mesh
      networking could let ZigBee systems link as many as 64,000 devices;
      Bluetooth networks, by contrast, are limited to just eight.

      Homeowners' first taste of ZigBee is likely to come in the form of
      adaptors into which lamps, stereos, and other appliances can be
      plugged. The adaptors, which started shipping this summer,
      are activated by wall-mounted wireless switches or even handheld
      devices, which means you could soon have your whole house on one
      remote control.

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