Feeds

Zigbee is buzzing, says Bob Metcalfe

So there you go

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, breezed into Barcelona last week, to deliver the keynote at NetEvents, a speed dating conference for networking vendors and computer journalists.

Metcalfe was the founder of 3Com; these days he is general partner a Polaris Venture Partners and a big fan of Zigbee, or 802.15.4, the upcoming cheap-as-chips wireless networking standard. Indeed he's such a big fan that his VC outfit has invested in some Zigbee start-ups and he is now chairing Ember Networks, a Zigbee mesh networking firm, which recently raised $25m. And of course, Metcalfe is a big enough fan to spend his NetEvents keynote spreading the word about the next wireless networking revolution.

Zigbee has the potential to connect up almost all electronic devices in common usage, Metcalfe told the conference.

The short-range networking system enables devices equipped with cheap and low-power Zigbee-compliant chips to seamlessly create ad hoc networks linking a wide range of devices.

"With Zigbee networked microprocessors you can link your lights with your cellphone. It is being promoted like Ethernet and applications include sensors monitoring power or lighting, medical devices and asset management like RFID," Metcalfe said.

"We are looking to get sub-$5 chips with a five-year battery life and a 50m range."

Zigbee devices can form star topology or even peer-to-peer local area networks, offering data rates of up to 250 kbps. The fully handshaked protocol technology supports up to 255 devices per network and operates using CSMA-CA channel access across 2.4GHz and 868/915 MHz frequency bands.

According to Metcalfe, around 500,000 Zigbee chips will ship this year, after the standard is ratified. Next year, the dams will open, flooding millions of chips onto the market. But how many? That's difficult to work out exactly, he says: "There are between five and 50 million devices estimated to ship next year. We just don't know how many and there are several reasons for this. There will be different market reactions and adoption rates are chaotic."

Zigbee devices will slot in to a wide variety of markets and this will create challenges for vendors, according to Metcalfe. "There is a big discussion with Zigbee on how to manage and configure it. If you have a switch to turn off nine lights at home how do you do this? Crank up the Cisco command line interface in your home to do this? Probably no."

The answer is different for different environments, he says. In the home, developing for consumers creates an "endless series of interface problems", because these users are not IT literate.

At the other end of the user spectrum, enterprises will face difficulties due to a lack of middleware which will be necessary for the complex management of Zigbee infrastructures, Metcalfe forecasts.

He acknowledges that there is confusion in the market over the potential impact of Zigbee technology: "We choose Zigbee because the domain name was available. There is confusion with Zigbee, Bluetooth and 802.11. A lot of potential adaptors are confused."

Security concerns have never been far away from Zigbee, Metcalfe said. "There are security concerns, both real and imaged. Security is a concern and designers of systems will put security in, and maybe it will work."

He is sceptical about the value of 3G. "The only g that matters is 802.11.g. There is Zigbee and they are putting 802.11 into cellphones coming out this year. This will create a real clash of cultures and be very disruptive. WiMAX is a further disruption running down the road.

Lastly, Metcalfe predicts that open source software will not displace Microsoft and traditional vendors, though he accepts that the distributed development model is spurring on established players. "I am not sure that open source is the model we are going to adopt, but it is very disruptive and pushing the established vendors." ®

Related stories

ZigBee in danger of falling apart
Ericsson ditches Bluetooth
IEEE groups fight for control of key standards

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
Same old iPad? NO. The new 'soft SIMs' are BIG NEWS
AppleSIM 'ware to allow quick switch of carriers
Arab States make play for greater government control of the internet
Nerds told to get lost in last-minute power grab bid at UN meeting
Brits: Google, can you scrape 60k pages from web, pleeease
Hey, c'mon Choc Factory, it's our 'right to be forgotten'
Of COURSE Stephen Elop's to blame for Nokia woes, says author
'Google did have some unique propositions for Nokia'
It's even GRIMMER up North after MEGA SKY BROADBAND OUTAGE
By 'eck! Eccles cake production thrown into jeopardy
Mobile coverage on trains really is pants
You thought it was just *insert your provider here*, but now we have numbers
Don't mess with Texas ('cos it's getting Google Fiber and you're not)
A bit late, but company says 1Gbps Austin network almost ready to compete with AT&T
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.