Why the world needs ZigBee & NFC
Posted by Seth PlanckJune 08th, 2011 at 1:00 PM Filed Under Latest News
Why the world needs ZigBee and NFC in our portable devices
We know it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of NFC. We here at NFC Rumors are probably the biggest offenders as we imagine the applications and conveniences NFC can and will represent, and the impacts the technology will have in the coming years. NFC is only part of this new technological revolution that has been kicked off by the humble smartphone. Don’t get too distracted with NFC though because we also need ZigBee or a related standard. Que? We hear you say, que es ZigBee. We are glad you asked.
The world needs ZigBee and NFC as part of the portfolio of wireless standards
Try to think of ZigBee as another enabling communication protocol, just as you would think of infrared, NFC, Bluetooth WiFi, 3G or the myriad of 4g (debate about what is real 4g aside) technologies that are now being deployed. All of these standards enable us to communicate with other machines but each has its strengths and weaknesses, and ZigBee fills a gap we need plugged. ZigBee in reality is like the big brother of NFC. It is another low cost, low power RFID communications protocol. Most closely related to NFC, Bluetooth and WiFi, ZigBee shares the attribute of super fast connections and low power consumption that make NFC desirable with the distance capability of WiFi. However, unlike Bluetooth and WiFi, and like NFC it has very slow data transfer rate.
ZigBee and NFC enable convergence
In this case, convergence is the process in which we have one gadget that does it all, rather than many with individual specialities. ZigBee operates at the 2.4 GHz radio frequency which is the same as some routers and wireless home phones (other routers and phones work at 5.8 GHz) and this is what gives ZigBee it’s distance capabilities. It is estimated to be able to chuck a signal 50 meters away in an open environment which obviously sets it apart from the 1-8 centimeters that NFC boasts. We say boast because the short distance that NFC offers makes perfect sense for contactless payments, smart posters and swapping contact details so in actuality, it is a benefit. However, to lock your car with NFC is a back step from the wireless central locking we already have, or to turn up your air conditioning with NFC you would have to walk to the thermostat to touch the unit. Having to walk to your TV to change channels probably wouldn’t go over well either, as would be the case with an NFC-enabled device and that is where ZigBee comes in. ZigBee loves sensors.
Whether we are talking about power usage, environmental controls, health monitoring devices, 3D glasses, input devices, remote controls or access control devices ZigBee fits the bill. When partnered with appropriate software, ZigBee can help us manage the devices we use wirelessly and without hogging our internet bandwidth. The possibilities are endless and whereas we mentioned a few implementations, we encourage you to use your imagination. ZigBee does it with a very small power consumption and can monitor situations live. For example, you live in an area that gets heavy snow and it snowed a lot last night. With ZigBee you could check the inside temperature of your car parked out in the drive, start the car while leaving it locked and set the environmental conditions you would like to meet when you leave for work in 15 minutes. If you live in a warmer climate think about having a cool car when you leave work on a summer afternoon.
ZigBee is available to device manufacturers now and has some big supporters
There are a copious amount of companies who are members of the ZigBee alliance inclusive of Huawei, Intel, Logitech,NXP, OKI, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and Pioneer to name but a few. Philips, the creator of NFC, is among the supporters of the ZigBee alliance and so is Texas Instruments and chips are low cost and ready to go for smartphones. We featured the TazPad from TazTag just last week that has ZigBee capabilities, so it wouldn’t take much to make the protocol’s public image go front stage.
ZigBee has growing competition in its space
Other standards exist in this space that compete with ZigBee including Z-Wave, WiFi and HomePlug to name just a few. The mighty Google has also recently announced its Android@Home aimed squarely at home automation and possibly smart grid applications in the future which ZigBee is also more than capable of handling. As consumers, we shouldn’t care which protocol eventually wins the battle, but we should care about convergence and ensuring whatever protocol prevails can enable more with less. Remember it is not always the best format that wins (think VHS vs. BetaMax) but the format with the better marketing. To us a complete win would be smartphone and tablet manufacturers building ZigBee capable devices, and for Google to support the protocol within its Android@Home structure. That way everyone wins and we like that.
As our last note, don’t settle for less. Yes, we will all be tempted to run out and understandably buy NFC capable smartphones but if we push for ZigBee or a related protocol also being supported, it could mean we don’t need to buy another phone next year just to support the latest and great features that your new NFC-enabled phone won’t perform ZigBee functions.