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ZigBee Ready To Fly High, ABI Contends

Sales of devices with ZigBee, the wireless sensor and control technology, will explode in three years, market research company ABI Research contends.

In a report ABI forecasts 2005 worldwide shipments of about 1 million ZigBee devices, but by the end of 2006, shipments will jump to more than 80 million in the company’s moderate forecast.

The industrial sector will be the first to adopt ZigBee devices, said ABI Research’s analyst Chris Lopez, but home networking buyers will follow about a year later.

ZigBee will gain traction in 2006 for two reasons, he said. First, the ZigBee extension to the basic IEEE 802.15.4 standard will have been approved to simplify and improve interoperability. Second, ZigBee IC vendors today mainly target European and American manufacturers but will turn their attention to the huge Asia markets.

ZigBee Alliance members have been hammering out a standard for the new wireless communication technology for about two years “to make sure it is absolutely foolproof,” Lopez said. “Now it appears that agreement on the standard is finally in sight, and we should see ratification in the very near future.”

The power-efficient, low-bit rate technology is designed for industrial and residential control, monitoring and automation, as well as for inventory tracking and management in big warehouses.

ZigBee-grade 802.15.4 products will create a self-forming mesh network, though options will be available for a star topology, peer-to-peer communications and cluster-tree networking.

ZigBee functions could be embedded in consumer electronics devices, home security systems, lighting and PCs. Potential residential applications include alkaline-battery-operated temperature sensors that will communicate wirelessly to a central HVAC system. The sensor could send a wireless signal to close motorized shades in the room.

The standard’s low power consumption will enable such battery-operated devices as magnetic door-switch sensors to operate for up the seven years on two AA alkaline batteries.

The IEEE standard calls for a maximum 250kbps data rate in the 2.4GHz band, a 40Kbps rate in the 900MHz band, and a 20Kbps rate in Europe’s unlicensed 868MHz band. The range is 20 meters to 30 meters in battery-operated devices.