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Products based on ZigBee - the low power, mesh radio technology - will come on tap this year and make a big impact in industrial controls, according to demos at the IEEE Radio and Wireless Symposium this week.

ZigBee is a short-range radio technology aimed at apps with low data rates and low power consumption such as industrial controls, home automation and other monitoring and control operations. The technology can be used to build self-organising mesh networks.

Elements in such as network draw only small amounts of power, so devices can run for months without needing their batteries replaced. Most ZigBee systems require a controller, making the technology a tad more expensive than other similar technologies, such as Bluetooth, for now.

Specifications for ZigBee based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard were ratified in December last year, but the technology in already in trial in Scandinavia as part of an automatic home reading project. A demo by semiconductor firm Freescale at the IEEE Radio and Wireless Symposium mocked up a simple home automation network controlling a light switch. The system was unaffected by the many local Wi-Fi networks operating in the vicinity.

Technical representatives from Freescale explained that the technology might also be used to monitor and regulate temperature in wine productions, for example, as well as in its prime market of industrial controls. Home networking using the ZigBee is really only for technophiles just now, but more functional systems incorporating smoke alarm and intruder alert systems may came on tap over the time and make use of the technology more compelling.

Although ZigBee specifies approaches to interoperability, there isn't much call for this as yet in the technology's prime market of industrial controls where equipment is commonly proprietary - ZigBee is unsuited to the control of fast-moving machinery because of its inability to handle fast responses. ZigBee supports 128-bit AES encryption, a factor that might become important if the technology takes off in applications such as meter reading. You can find out more about ZigBee at the ZigBee Alliance homepage here. ®

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