ZigBee searches for a new home
Squeezed into a SIM chip
The ZigBee Alliance has published a guide to using the standard in telecommunications, based around fitting a ZigBee node inside a SIM chip.
ZigBee Telecom Services is one of a handful of new additions to the standard, including healthcare and smart metering, but the guide (pdf) is entirely based on the idea of fitting a ZigBee radio into a standard GSM SIM, something that Telecom Italia promised to show us in 2006 - and we're still waiting.
The idea is sound. Getting ZigBee into a SIM would provide compatibility with billions of GSM handsets, users could interact through the SIM Toolkit and the phone could be used for home automation, financial transactions and so forth. It could also encourage TV/AV manufacturers to adopt the standard for remote controls, if they could offer instant compatibility with every phone on the market.
SIMs have a standard interface system, known as the SIM Toolkit, which allows applications executed on the SIM to present a text-menu interface to the user on just about any GSM handset. Smartphones can replace that text interface with something prettier, but communicate with the SIM over the same mechanism. A ZigBee-equipped SIM could therefore control one's TV or heating using any phone with an interface commensurate to the handset, assuming one's TV and heating are ZigBee-equipped.
Which they aren't.
Despite knocking around for years ZigBee remains an industrial product used in vertical markets. Partly that's because it's a solution looking for a problem, but partly because competing standards muddy the water too much for manufacturers of white goods to make a leap into wireless.
Competing standard Z-Wave is more tightly controlled, to ensure interoperability. Today you can buy Z-Wave controllers, light switches and plug sockets, while the only ZigBee kit to cross the El Reg desk, ever was a home automation rig from AlertMe.com - now being pitched as a carbon-reduction technology rather than wireless networking.
But getting ZigBee into a SIM would make the technology much more accessible. RF SIM and SIMFi have both demonstrated it's possible to maintain a 2.4GHz connection from within a mobile phone, so the Z-SIM should be a lot more practical than it was when Telecom Italia first announced it, and the ZigBee Telecom Services spec is entirely reliant on the existence of such a thing.
Just to be sure, we asked the ZigBee Alliance for a demonstration of a Z-SIM, only to be told that we'd have to speak to Telecom Italia. We explained that we'd already been waiting four years and were told that a contact would be forthcoming - but we haven't heard back yet.
ZigBee on a SIM really is a good idea, but announcing it every five years is no way to inspire confidence when the competition is already on the shelves. Until we've held a Z-SIM in our hands we'll reserve judgement, and we'll be sure to let you know when or if that happens. ®
high end, not consumer
the problem is that it's only in high end kit at the moment.
until IR controlled TVs and STBs become a thing of the past it won't gain enough traction for people to give a damn about it for most homes.
I'm not likely to re-fit my wiring or heating controls every 3 years, but a new TV... maybe. and if the TV is the way to get ZigBee into the home - especially with truely intelligent two-way universal remotes - then the alliance should be bringing a bit more effort to bear there.
when it does come time to upgrade my lighting, heating etc I'm more likely to go with either a solution that has a flexible remote control, is cost effective or integrates with whatever smart-meter technology my power supplier is promoting
Zigbee IS the standard for Home Automation
Vertical markets are certainly a focus of Zigbee deployments, that's because the device interoperabilty is based around profiles for specific application areas like Home Automation. But it's largest deployments are in Homes and Hospitality.
Zigbee has a much larger installed base than Z-wave and is available from a much wider range of chip vendors and manufacturers than Z-wave. Most of Z-wave's products were discontinued when intermatic pulled out of the z-wave chip and product business last year.
Control4 already has over 1 million zigbee devices shipped for the home and just finished installing over 90,000 zigbee devices in the new Las Vegas City Center.
The new interface standard for televisions IS Zigbee which is the core of RF4CE's replacement of IR for RF comms. It's already being used in the upper end Samsung TV's as IR is being discontinued.
I'd imagine that the delay for Zigbee in a SIM was due in part to the delay in the ratification of the ZigbeePro standards which were finally put in place last year.
Zigbee for HVAC has been available for over 4 years. Take a look at the Tstats from Control4, Ecobee, Crestron, AMX, etc.
"only the network operator can distribute SIMs"
Really? I'm sure I've come across sim-only products and in principle, anyone could buy them in bulk and distribute them.
The problem may be that certain phones are locked to certain networks, but then Ofcom could (again, in principle), dictate that networks must enable them for new sales and provide free unlocking codes for phones more than a year old.
Re: I just dont get this
I obviously didn't make it clear: old mobile phones will not need any new software to use a Z-SIM, the SIM Toolkit already provides the interface necessary so you could (in theory) pop a Z-SIM into any GSM phone and start using it to control your TV immediately.
There's also the problem that only the network operator can distribute SIMs, so they'll have to find a revenue stream first, which is probably the biggest barrier.
I still think it's a good idea though.
@"but why the SIM"
Putting it in the SIM makes a lot of sense as they are really just using the SIM interface as a standard interface to connect to the Phone's processor. The problem with phones is hardware connections for I/O are very incompatible between manufacturers and even between product ranges from the same manufacturer.
@"telecoms market is highly cost sensitive"
So I think its a very clever bit of lateral thinking to come up with the idea of using the SIM interface as the interfacing solution to phones. It also avoids any hardware development costs for manufacturers of all future phones, as they already have the hardware to interface to the SIM. So its simply a software update to make use of this new additional hardware in the SIM. Also don't forget phones are changing all the time. Millions of phones are being updated via buying new phones not via firmware upgrades. WIthin 5 years from now imagine how many phones are going to be replaced. Thats also therefore a lot of new phones sold and so a lot of new phones that can have additional functionality via Zigbee without any manufacturing cost difference because they already have SIM interfaces. (At the point of manufacture software is free because if you make 1 phone or 1million phones, the initial software development costs are the same, therefore by also not costing any more hardware development costs, its easy for manufacturers to add support).
I think bring in the Zigbee standard for short range communications does open up some very interesting possibilities. Zigbee does have the potential to become a standard for home automation which would be very cool. Finally I will be able to have my 1960s Jetson's style scifi automated house. :)