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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Any Lessons Zigbee can Learn from Bluetooth (3)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 4

The fifth and the last point, when network is in place, the use cases are much more friendly to Bluetooth. User interception and user interface play an often under-estimated but very important role in network operation. User interception removes the requirement to the network being intelligent. User interface allows amateurs to be able to setup, troubleshoot, maintain and fix a network.

Most of the Bluetooth devices are linked to equipments with display and buttons operated by a user, like cell phones, PC etc. Bluetooth network is not operated continuously; users intentionally start or end an operation. When something is wrong, the user will notice right away and will try to figure out what goes wrong and fix it in accordance to the hint from the interface and take actions with keypad for example. In the worst case, the user can operate a reboot without sweat.

Most of the Zigbee connections are intended to be purely machine to machine (M2M) often with very limited or no display and buttons, and without human guardians. In addition, the operation of such machine to machine network may be required to run 24 hours a day, 7days a weeks. Often such M2M networks has to be built robust and with features to perform self-healing. It relies on pre-specified conditions and foreseeable failure modes, hardly to be completed to cover all possibilities. When users are finally involved, reboot or recycling the power may be the only choice as no buttons are offered. As no display and few real time usage observation, to figure out the root cause of a machine to machine network failure will often be an exhausting task.

There is also user perception factor. With user operation and interface, the users have a feeling of in control. When such conditions do not present, panic is a natural response. Thinking that you are visiting a unfamiliar place, what is your feeling when it is day time with many people on the streets (so you can ask for directions) vs. when it is dark with nobody to seek help.

Usually, network providers spend a lot of money and add a lot complexity to make a M2M network smart so as to deal with all the imaginable user scenarios. Still they are unlikely to provide a satisfactory operation to the same level for networks with human intervention. How many companies and entrepreneurs have tried Zigbee and were eventually forced to give up and become bubbles.

However, somebody could argue that this is exactly the value of M2M, which people paid for to replace human beings to offer automatic monitor and control. True, but is Zigbee network robust and smart enough to handle all the possible use cases? Are the target users of Zigbee knowledgeable and educated enough to not be panic when system broken but to be reasonable and calm to take steps to resume the operation? There are relatively success wireless solutions, such as Dust Networks (WirelessHart). But Dust Wireless is targeting to industrial users (knowledgeable and educated). And Dust Wireless is expensive (more robust) not for consumers.

In brief of this last point, Bluetooth is for human being but Zigbee is for machines. Too brief. Let me try again, Bluetooth is for machine entertained consumers and Zigbee is for machine informed and relied upon those who are in between consumers and customers.

Let me summarize all the five points to finish the discussion of why Bluetooth is successful and Zigbee has not yet. Point 1, 2 and 3 are about the marketing strategy, without commitment from any strong and leading system integration companies, Zigbee has spent years looking for the proper applications. Being an industrial alliance, in such a case, Zigbee could not be able to focus on one market niche (as Zensys/Z-wave on home or Dust Networks/WirelessHart on industry). Badly, Zigbee has been distracted away from consumer market and away from riding on the tide of any recent popular consumer products. Point 4 discusses the hard to use protocol resulted from the defocused marketing strategy. And the last point further looks inside the use case of Zigbee to identify gaps to the user requirements.

Let’s move on to what to do.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 4

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