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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Any Lessons Zigbee can Learn from Bluetooth (4)

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Looking for killer application has been the number one task of the alliance for years. There are several good stories in the past year. The most prominent one is Zigbee’s engagement with the AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) or AMR (Automatic Meter Reading) market. Zigbee gives it a nice name smart energy.

The best marketing campaign is through government legislation. Something impossible in free market can just be triggered in such a way. For this particular market in US, it is a combination of things resulting in the critical government move – the US federal enacted two laws the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which outline policies and incentives for developing a smart grid. “The soaring cost of energy, the aging of the electricity grid, national security concerns, and government regulation are creating a boom in smart utility meters and the semiconductors that go into them.”

“Chip companies all charged up over smart meters” authored by Tam Harbert is a good reading for an overall picture of this market niche with many forecast numbers and perspectives from industry leaders and research companies.

This market is so rare that Zigbee can not afford to loss. Some characteristics of AMI or AMR just break the hurdles mentioned in my previous analysis in comparison with Bluetooth. The most critical one is the existence of a clear pulling force, such as the electricity company Southern California Edison who plans to replace 5.3 million standard meters in residential and commercial buildings with AMI systems between 2009 and 2012. There is no consumer involved at this stage, but their houses will be “Zigbeefied” regardless, similar to Bluetooth situation years ago when cell phone companies just equipped with this technology to almost every phone, though with a low rate of usage. Now things start to change, as suddenly headsets become mandatory in many places. When millions of houses are “Zigbeefied”, it will be very natural that consumer products applications will be developed on top of this already setup facility infrastructure, and facility companies will definitely in-turn support the usage of its network as an extra payback of the system. In addition, such AMI infrastructure will be installed, maintained and used by trained professionals.

Now it is all on Zigbee, how this technology can deliver and then how this implementation in several states of US can demonstrate the power of Zigbee and spread the model to the other parts of the world. Most Zigbee members must realize the urgency. “The Zigbee Alliance recently specified a public application profile for smart energy in record time, developing it in about one-fifth the time it usually takes.” Still, unlike Bluetooth, who can work for years to improve features such as the headachy pairing, tolerance for Zigbee is little. This is because the life cycle of the Zigbee powered equipments. Those newly installed meters in 2009 have to work in 2012, and very possibly for another five to ten years before another round of retrofit. The current case that one release of Zigbee can not be backward compatible with previous versions is simply not acceptable. Any mistakes will just open the door to competitors. Eocean, Z-wave, Dust Wireless and many others will take chances without hesitation.

Furthermore, Many semiconductor or IP companies proactively trying to solve the Zigbee business issue in their own way offering solutions based on the same Zigbee Phy and Mac layer 802.15.4, but claim selling points targeting to Zigbee's weaknesses. Ironically, most of these companies are also Zigbee Alliance members. One of the prominent is Freescale, who no even have its own solution, but aggressively penetrate into consumer electronics market, the remote control to be specific, by form another alliance RF4CE. This topic about 802.15.4 derivatives is outside Zigbee.

This is the final part of this long series. Thanks for reading and welcome comments.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

1 comment:

  1. Awesome, absolutely awesome analysis. I've just spent a few hours reading your posts on the entire LP market/technology/politics/standards and I must say that I'm deeply impressed. Thanks very much for your posts.

    Just for the record, I'm working with a Japanese company on BT LE and have to advise another on whether BT LE will cut it. Thanks to you I have a far better understanding.