Control4 Media Controller System Flight of the ZigBee

Flight of the ZigBee

It doesn't sting, but it does make a mesh of things.

So what exactly is ZigBee, and why does it sound like something you'd buy for your two-year-old to play with?

In short, ZigBee is a global interoperable standard for wireless connectivity designed for reliability, low cost, long battery life, and easy deployment. (See, wasn't that simple?) In other words, ZigBee (IEEE 802.15.4) is the name of an agreed-upon standard for another wireless communication technology—kind of like Bluetooth but with a longer range and a smaller throughput.

What makes ZigBee cool is its use of mesh networking. In a mesh network, each device can find the nearest available path along which to send data. Mesh networks are self-healing. If a device runs into a closed path, it automatically seeks out the nearest open node and communicates through it. The zigzagging data path is similar to the way bees communicate the location of the latest flower buffet to the other bees in the hive, and it's where ZigBee gets its name.

ZigBee networks are built around a network coordinator, or master device, and can include as many as 65,000 network nodes. There are lots of industrial and medical applications, but easy and affordable wholehouse automation is what excites me. The availability of ZigBee-enabled devices—things like thermostats, window controllers, and more—is limited at the moment, but, with companies such as Honeywell, Motorola, Philips, and Texas Instruments participating in the technology, it's only a matter of time before your home will be all meshed up.

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