Zigbee is an open wireless standard for low radio signals in personal area networks. In simple words, the technology implies a special protocol, allowing the connection of multiple devices. It’s a type of PAN, like the widely used Bluetooth mechanism. Zigbee’s main aim is to provide cost- and energy-effective connections. But despite these factors, it supports not only simple networks but also mesh topologies.
What Is Zigbee Technology and How It Is Used All Over the World
You might say that using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is simpler and more familiar to users. Partially, this is true. However, these technologies are not the best option for low-powered networks like IoT. Considering its features, Zigbee is mostly similar to Bluetooth, but it’s more suitable for pairing low-energy devices. Exactly for this reason the technology is often used when equipping and managing a smart home. Let’s see all its peculiarities!
Typical ZigBee Network Architecture: How Does It Work?
Its work principle implies creating a mesh network among devices for them to interact with each other. The technology uses low radio signals. ZigBee also utilises a unique addressing scheme that identifies devices on the network. It helps to provide improved safety, including authentication and encryption. So, no third parties can access the network without permission.
Take a look at more details. Zigbee protocol architecture consists of:
- The coordinator is the node that organises the whole network.
- Zigbee routers are the nodes that have stationary power and are responsible for routing the network traffic.
- The end device doesn’t participate in traffic routing; it only transmits or identifies data.
The end devices are usually in sleep mode, allowing limited energy consumption. They become active only when polling the parent node or data transmission. Moreover, every item can replace the Zigbee coordinator if something goes wrong. This feature guarantees uninterrupted connection. So, users won’t experience any bugs in their smart houses.
Mesh Network Is the Basis
The ability to support mesh networks is the key component of the Zigbee protocol. Its principle implies a serial connection, where each device is a node in the general system. Instead of just sending or receiving, nodes repeat signals, creating one big mesh. A complex in-built routing table dynamically updates and optimises all connections between nodes. The latter reflects all signals, increasing the transmission range and connecting all available working devices.
The main advantages of Zigbee mesh topologies are:
- Reliability and fault tolerance of mesh networks.
- Smart devices operating in the 1 GHz (Sub-GHz) band can significantly increase the range.
- Open standards, providing access to an ecosystem with a balanced and flexible use of hardware.
- Low energy consumption.
Zigbee Alliance, the technology creator, constantly improves the protocol. So, more users pay attention to it and notice its evident benefits.
Why Not Choose Wi-Fi?
Modern Wi-Fi devices imply a wide range of requirements to connect to the network. This concerns all gadgets, including laptops, PCs, tablets, smartphones, household appliances, and other elements of a smart home. Wi-Fi is indispensable when a user needs to transfer data loads or install something quickly. This technology is more suitable if you want to play pokies online or download a powerful gaming solution.
On the other hand, the Zigbee protocol helps easily manage every device inside a house or any other facility without consuming much energy. Connecting multiple gadgets simultaneously using Wi-Fi is impossible, which is a significant disadvantage for smart house owners. Most equipment allows connecting up to 32 devices, which is very low considering the number of items normally operating within a smart home.
Zigbee vs. Bluetooth
Bluetooth is another option for IoT usage, and many still prefer it. It is similar to Zigbee according to its characteristics. Users often select it, as Bluetooth appeared earlier and seems more familiar to the public. But it has a range of disadvantages compared to Zigbee:
- it’s more expensive.
- considered less secure than ZigBee.
- consumes more energy.
- cannot support multiple devices simultaneously.
Bluetooth is still a reliable and trusted technology, so millions of users globally choose it. But the popularity of Zigbee is still ahead. Consider this option when creating your smart house. You will not be disappointed by its functionality!
Advantages of ZigBee Technology
Those equipping a smart home think about implementing an appropriate technology network to manage all devices properly. And they usually choose between Zigbee and Wi-Fi. Many would select the second option, which is more familiar to the public. But let’s take a look at all the benefits and pitfalls of Zigbee technology. We will start with the positive points:
- considerably fast data transmission.
- low power consumption.
- has 128-bit encryption for safer connections.
- prevents crashes and attacks.
- Zigbee battery life is much higher than that of a Wi-Fi router.
- ability to handle a high number of network nodes (up to 65,000).
- possibility of connecting multiple devices.
- well-thought-out anti-collision system.
Moreover, Zigbee uses the IEEE802.15.4 standard, which provides an increased security level. The network can cover big spaces, significantly saving cash when a user buys the necessary number of devices. These are the system’s main advantages, allowing users to get a high-quality connection with low energy consumption.
Considerably cheap products are another benefit of Zigbee. The company has always focused on consumers who want high-quality technologies without investing a fortune. The openness of the standard is one of the primary reasons for a low cost. Zigbee Alliance also has a soft approach to product certification. So, it’s easier for companies to add this mechanism and improve its functionality.
Pitfalls You May Face with Zigbee Products
In contrast to Wi-Fi, which can directly transmit data from the router to devices, Zigbee requires an additional hub to pass through all the signals. It is easy to install, so only the extra cost for the equipment may be a disadvantage for users. But this may become a significant pitfall for many users, so you should know about it in advance.
Both Wi-Fi and Zigbee networks operate wirelessly, and the first option has greater coverage. Wi-Fi can transmit data at a distance of up to 100 metres. The maximum for Zigbee device objects is around 70 metres. But this problem already has a solution. Zigbee repeater devices or specific network extenders can significantly expand the range.
Zigbee doesn’t cope with solid interference well. The platform is becoming busier, so the problem may get even worse. But the Alliance is constantly working on improvement. Perhaps this problem will be solved in the near future.
Moreover, the connection speed of the Zigbee network is significantly lower than that of Wi-Fi. Zigbee’s data transfer rate is only 250Kbps. It’s not enough if you need a quick Internet connection for downloading heavy files. But it’s a great solution for smart houses, where connecting low-consumption devices like light bulbs or sockets is necessary.
Usage of Zigbee in IoT
The Zigbee technology is widely utilised in multiple spheres. They include healthcare equipment, sensor wireless networks, industrial control and monitoring systems, and smart houses. Here are some examples of how Zigbee benefits users:
- connecting smart home devices, allowing them to interact through the Internet.
- wireless communication of sensors and controlling all industrial processes in real-time.
- remotely following the condition of hospital patients and real-time communication between doctors.
This network technology significantly simplifies interaction in numerous sectors. And it will most likely become more widespread in the future. Most users would rather prefer Wi-Fi because not everyone has yet appreciated all the advantages of the Zigbee standard.
Zigbee Security: Just Rely on It
The safety question is essential for every user. In terms of data protection, Zigbee offers a wide range of measures. The company guarantees total security for all information exchanged by devices. Considering the 128-bit AES algorithm for authentication and encryption, users don’t have to worry about it.
But it was not always so. In 2015, the Cognosec company demonstrated how the vulnerabilities in Zigbee products could be exploited. They were about the insecure formation of paired keys when a new device is connected to the network. The Alliance has taken this into account by refining its protocols. Modern users can enjoy the technology without significant risks.
Zigbee Alliance: History & Market Revolution
The network protocol was created by Zigbee Alliance, which united over 300 companies and individual developers. It was presented to the public in 2004. It got insane popularity among users. The company improved the Zigbee architecture by 2006. And the 2007 version was updated to the PRO version.
In 2014, only around 1000 certified products supported the Zigbee protocol, but this number grew up to 2200 solutions in 2017. This quantity continues growing up to now. In 2021, the Zigbee Alliance rebranded and is now named the Connectivity Standards Alliance. This year, a completely new story began. The developer aims to simplify IoT and make it accessible to everyone. The company has partnerships in 37+ countries worldwide. Even though the Zigbee protocol is not as widespread as Wi-Fi, its popularity peak is still ahead.
One of the significant disadvantages of the Zigbee Alliance is that its development depends on IEEE. So, the company has to negotiate with it when changing the technology. In this case, products like Z-Wave are in a better position.
Endless Battle Between Zigbee & Other Protocols
And yet, what to choose for your smart home or industrial process control? It depends on which protocol is more important to you. Those who don’t want to place a central hub to access the system should select Wi-Fi. This alternative has more extensive coverage, which is also a benefit. In other instances, Zigbee has multiple benefits, including low consumption and cheapness. The low-power technology is a significant factor in which Zigbee network overcomes its competitors.
The Zigbee protocol is considerably cheaper and more reliable than alternatives like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. It is widely used in IoT. The presence of redundant links explains the increased communication reliability of Zigbee. All devices that don’t go to sleep mode can replace routers. So, if a network organiser fails, the whole network continues functioning.
Unfortunately, during 20 years of its existence, the protocol hasn’t received the popularity it deserves. But the active development of smart house technology has increased consumer interest. Zigbee is a more convenient and low-cost solution for IoT devices. With its secure mesh network and redundancy protocol features, the technology can ensure that all equipment stays connected and functions properly.