Single-chip ZigBee solutions expected to swell wireless market

Cambridge, UK—The low-cost, low-power attributes of the IEEE 802.11.15 radio standard, also known as ZigBee, will vastly increase the wireless market, and 2004 will be the standard’s critical design-in period, according to Cambridge Consultants Ltd. (CCL).


Cambridge, UK— The low-cost, low-power attributes of the IEEE 802.11.15 radio standard, also known as ZigBee, will vastly increase the wireless market, and 2004 will be the standard’s critical design-in period, according to Cambridge Consultants Ltd. (CCL), a product development consulting firm. CCL adds that industrial automation and home applications in particular will benefit from ZigBee’s emergence, and pioneering ZigBee-enabled products should start to appear before year's end.

However, CCL also expects ZigBee-related design trends to follow a path similar to the Bluetooth market, which only started to take off with the arrival of single-chip solutions that integrated the radio and application-specific control functions. CCL reports that conditions are right for the silicon design phase using ZigBee, but developers must initiate design cycles soon if they want products available for high-growth market periods starting in 2005.

“Volume shipments will only start to build when OEMs are able to deliver products based on single chips,' says Nick Horne, manager of CCL's radio communications business unit. 'The system-on-chip approach allows complete ZigBee nodes to be built for around $2, which is a fraction of competing radio technologies, and is a cost threshold that will radically change product design concepts.'

CCL adds that ZigBee offers a particularly cost-effective approach to wireless-enabling products because its radio is designed to be small in the area of silicon it uses, as well as very efficient in its software code space. The standard also offers mesh networking, which delivers longer-range communication without the expense of power amplifiers, and supports implementation of numerous many nodes. Combined with a lean control system, these attributes allow ZigBee to implement wireless communications in a form that meets the demanding requirements of home and industrial automation OEMs.

The first commercial ZigBee silicon products are likely to be applied to general-purpose radio-centric devices, and application-specific variants will start to appear once market demand is proven. Moving straight to an ASIC solution has the potential to cut as much as a year off the time normally needed to develop cost-effective ZigBee nodes. Chip-related design cycles that might usually take a year to complete, but CCL reports this period can be cut in half if the vendor has a ZigBee radio IP and a library of compatible microcontroller functions.

'ZigBee technology and its support base have matured to such an extent that there is little doubt now that it will be a major platform for the wireless revolution,' adds Horne. 'Delivering cost-optimized products early in the ZigBee commercialization cycle is likely to put OEMs in influential positions in their market segments, and CCL expects application-specific silicon to be a major catalyst for such success during the first few years of this standard's life.'

Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Jim Montague, news editor

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