ZigBee 3.0 Evolution of Things

January 21st, 2016

Another CES has come and gone. The wheels have touched down, and you are likely back home. You and your team have refueled with a few well deserved, solid nights of sleep and it’s now time to reflect on what made CES 2016’ special. Let’s highlight one of the exciting moments; the ZigBee Alliance announcement of ZigBee 3.0.

With ZigBee 3.0, there is no reinvention of standard, sudden updates, or unpredictable changes – we are looking at the refinement of a proven technology. Using natural selection as an example, we are watching the substantial evolution and adaption of ZigBee with the IoT market confirming the technology maturity. Observing changes in the wireless technologies and connected IT business environments, we are tracking the reactions of the ZigBee standard in response to this.

The key features of ZigBee 3.0 include dramatically improved interoperability and strengthened security. DSR has been continuously involved in the implementation of ZigBee Pro since the 2006’ standard and we can confirm that the new features in ZigBee 3.0 are a real game changer, especially the convergence of the application profiles to a unified base device implementation. At first glance, this change is the kind of revolution in ZigBee that casts doubt on the previous specification. We do not view it this way.

Earlier, when the profiles were developed, the market was a union of isolated areas. Which areas, you might ask? Well, let me challenge you to quickly recite the ZigBee profile names. If you’re like us, you don’t like separate smart home, light control, or energy measurement functions. We want the Internet of Things and we now have extremely inexpensive, more powerful microcontrollers to build it with. We don’t need profiles anymore. We need the unified implementation enabled by ZigBee 3.0.

Structural consequence of the profile evolution into a base device approach is strengthening the role of a cluster as a unified application building block (clusters were developed for this, of course). ZigBee Alliance goes further and standardizes device types. For us, this approach becomes quickly rudimentary because all the tools are ready for dynamic discovering of devices. We’re talking about EZ-mode commissioning that is now able to discover all the features of the added device right at the commissioning step. After finding and binding, the application has full details about the joined device and bound clusters, so the device type information could be used only for predictions. What we would like to see instead of standardized devices is the strict, “survival recommendation” list for different groups of devices. For example, recommendations for implementing optional attributes/commands or, more specially, having poll control cluster for sleepy end devices, etc. (see our previous blog post).

Overall, a transformation of the profiles multiplies many times the core and indisputable advantage of ZigBee – mesh networks. Devices that previously joined the different networks will truly co-exist now. The new standard allows ZigBee to keep their status as one of the most energy saving choices. Moreover, with the Green Power feature in ZigBee 3.0, devices without batteries can operate in the network.

In conclusion, to all the benefits of ZigBee 3.0 painless backward compatibility and OTA Upgrade feature guarantee, that neither user nor developer will have trouble with switching to the new standard or supporting old devices. What is the best, now only a ZigBee sign on the device’s box makes sense: not profile, even not ZigBee PRO or ZigBee 3.0. For example, how often do you care about 1.1, 2.0 or 3.0 USB device you buy? That is the same.

What do we have as a result? The mesh self-healing network of green, low-power devices with the unified easy installation mechanism, growing community, and continuous evolution. Isn’t that a synonym of IoT?