ZigBee Alliance Ratifies Interoperability Standard for IoT Devices

The group also announces a partnership with the EnOcean Alliance to bring energy-harvesting capabilities to more connected devices and sensors.

Internet of things

Officials with the ZigBee Alliance a year ago announced that the group was unifying the various application-specific versions of its wireless specification into a single standard in hopes of accelerating interoperability between the billions of devices that make up the Internet of things.

The alliance in February 2016 will begin certifying products for ZigBee 3.0 after announcing Dec. 16 that the unified standard had just been ratified by the 425-member group.

The move is important not only for the millions of ZigBee-enabled products that already are on the market but for the larger push in the industry for greater communication and interoperability among the broad array of disparate devices, systems and sensors in the Internet of things (IoT). The new wireless development solution brings the various ZigBee versions into a common applications layer that supports all IoT development efforts.

"The key is the common applications layer," Tobin Richardson, president and CEO of the 13-year-old ZigBee Alliance, told eWEEK, adding that it brings together all the development work that has been done through the group since 2002.

The Internet of things is expected to grow rapidly over the next several years. Projections for the numbers of connected devices by the end of the decade vary, but the trajectory is a sharp increase. For example, Cisco Systems is estimating that the number of connected devices worldwide will grow from 25 billion last year to more than 50 billion by 2020. IDC analysts predict that spending on the IoT will reach $1.3 trillion by 2019.

Given the number of devices that are hitting the market and the importance of connectivity and communications between the systems, finding common frameworks is important. Over the past couple of years, a number of industry consortiums—from the AllSeen Alliance and Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) to the Open Internet Consortium (OIC) and Thread Group—have launched, joining an array of other groups that already were working on various pieces of the wireless networking puzzle.

Industry observers have said that there needs to be consolidation among the groups in order to ensure wide-range interoperability between devices. Too many standards results in too much fragmentation. Richardson said the space is reaching the point where some sorting out will happen.

"We're still working through that," he said, adding that "we risk playing around too much here and we put off the value … of the IoT."

Some groups have started working together. Most recently, the OIC last month announced it had acquired the assets of the UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) Forum, which has been working on network connectivity since 1999. Earlier this year, ZigBee and the Thread Group announced a partnership and before that the IIC and OIC said they were working together.

Along with announcing the certification of ZigBee 3.0, the group also said it is working with the EnOcean Alliance, a group launched in 2001 that has developed a protocol for sub-1GHz energy-harvesting devices used in commercial buildings. There are about 1,500 products on the market that use the protocol that don't need cables or batteries but rather get their power through such avenues as thermal or solar, according to Graham Martin, vice president of strategic alliance at EnOcean.

The partnership will enable EnOcean and ZigBee members to build energy-harvesting devices into the 2.4GHz range. Mark Walters, vice president for strategic development for ZigBee, said a task committee is being created to develop a specification that will be released in the spring.

Martin said the partnership is a "great opportunity for us and a great opportunity for the industry." The partnership meets a growing demand among ZigBee-based device makers, Walters said.

"This is one of those developments where you're not worried about how the market is going to accept it because the market has been screaming for it for a while," he told eWEEK.