ZigBee's Big Steps: Certification, Buy-In from Electronics Giants

Industry scuttlebutt includes speculation that ZigBee will eventually be rendered irrelevant by the adaptation of other standards (WiFi, for instance) to effectively handle sensor data. But that possibility seems especially distant in light of new developments.

The ZigBee Alliance has established a process to evaluate and classify products as "ZigBee Certified," and thus ensure that products are fully interoperable "right-out-of-the-box" and can easily enter into a ZigBee network. Independent service providers National Technical Services Inc. (NTS) and TUV Rheinland Group are overseeing and conducting the tests.

Manufacturers, OEMs, and developers can qualify for one of three programs: "ZigBee Compliant Platform," for end-product building blocks; "ZigBee Certified" for end products built on a ZigBee-compliant platform using a public application profile; and "ZigBee Network Capable" for products built on a ZigBee-compliant platform but using a non-public application profile.

The ZigBee Alliance says such stringent requirements will enable development of further applications. In the meantime, member companies can test "ZigBee-ready" products already in use. (www.zigbee.org)

TI Acquires Chipcon

Texas Instruments (TI) has acquired Chipcon in a move TI hopes will spawn "innovative low-power applications." The acquisition combines Chipcon's RF portfolio, tech support, and development tools with TI's high-performance analog silicon technologies, systems expertise, and sales network. TI says that Chipcon's product line fully complements TI's analog, power management, and ultra-low-power microcontroller portfolio.

The move strengthens TI's position in ZigBee, as Chipcon launched a 2.4 GHz ZigBee-ready RF transceiver, a ZigBee-compliant system-on-a-chip (with recently added location estimation capability), and three ZigBee development platforms. Chipcon also offers a range of proprietary low-power and high-performance CMOS RF-ICs for wireless applications in the 300 to 1000 MHz and 2.4 GHz ISM bands.

Chipcon, which targets consumer and home/building applications, will operate as a TI subsidiary from its Oslo, Norway, headquarters and its San Diego software center.

Stuart Carlaw of ABI Research says the move demonstrates that "momentum is building behind the Zigbee standard, with TI joining the ranks of Freescale, Motorola, Samsung and Mitsubishi," and indicates that "this technology will happen in a big way." He hopes this will also help drive down costs and "open doors to more price-sensitive applications." (www.ti.com/chipcon-pr)

Chipcon, incidentally, is not part of TI's recent sale to Bain Capital (Sensors).

ST Partners with Ember

STMicroelectronics (ST), one of the world's largest semiconductor companies, has signed an agreement with Ember Corp. to jointly develop ZigBee-based products, including hardware, software, and tools. The nonexclusive partnership combines Ember's ZigBee expertise and intellectual property with ST's semiconductor expertise and manufacturing and marketing resources. The first jointly developed product is planned for early 2006.

ST says the relationship will significantly accelerate its development of ZigBee technology and offer its customers new, interoperable products. For Ember, this is the deepest relationship yet in its strategy to partner with microcontroller manufacturers to offer device manufacturers a choice of ZigBee platforms on which they can base new products. (www.st.com, www.ember.com)

The next ZigBee developers conference will be held at Sensors Expo, June 5–7. (www.sensorsexpo.com)