A Two-Step Process to Advance Two Technologies
When the Zigbee Alliance released dual-band frequency operation in Zigbee PRO 2017, we never planned for it to be as simple as launching a new technology and calling it a day. Introducing simultaneous operation on sub-GHz and 2.4 GHz bands revolutionized Zigbee’s technology capabilities in areas where sub-GHz functionality was needed (the United Kingdom), allowing it to operate at lower frequencies and over farther distances despite challenges introduced with new building materials. We wanted to see the benefits of dual band functionality implemented in another key technology in the Internet of Things (IoT): Smart Energy by the Zigbee Alliance.
As Zigbee technology sits within the Smart Energy stack, a two-step process was laid out to first release the feature in Zigbee PRO 2017, then to update the Smart Energy standard closely behind to ensure that it would leverage the capabilities introduced into its stack through Zigbee PRO 2017. Even though most existing deployments using Smart Energy would be capable of working with the new Zigbee PRO, the working group wanted these technologies to work seamlessly together.
While previous updates have been limited to the application (product) layer, introducing dual-band operation into Zigbee PRO required changes and updates to all layers up the Zigbee protocol stack: PHY, MAC, and Network as well as the application layer changes in Smart Energy. The Zigbee Alliance’s PRO Energy Working Group worked in parallel with the development of the PHY, MAC and all other layers up the Zigbee stack, then updated the Smart Energy standard as soon as the underlying layers were completed.
Last month, the Alliance’s Board of Directors approved the Smart Energy 1.4 specification that uses the dual-band capabilities of Zigbee PRO 2017.
Why All the Effort Around Smart Energy?
The Zigbee Alliance wants to be certain that Smart Energy technology interoperates with all devices using Zigbee technology. Along with reducing emissions footprints and improving environmental health, the technology benefits our members who develop, distribute, and use it on a daily basis.
For utilities and municipalities, Smart Energy saves money by improving energy availability. It also offers more efficient energy consumption—meaning the construction of additional power plants is avoided. Man hours are also saved, as Smart Energy’s automatic meter reading prevents employees from needing to move from meter to meter to measure usage. The open market inherent with Zigbee’s Smart Energy further lowers cost by supporting a competitive marketplace of multiple vendors.
By enabling Smart Energy to work with Zigbee PRO 2017, Smart Energy also gains the benefits inherent in PRO, including functionality on a lower frequency in regions where this is required. This leads to increased signal reach, which is especially valuable for devices used in new buildings where thickness and composition of materials can interrupt signals between devices. For regions where higher frequencies are needed, as in China, Zigbee Smart Energy offers specifications to accommodate.
Smart Energy benefits end users by providing easy-to-use displays and automatic meter reading that educates them about their energy consumption habits. This information enables homeowners to save money, create comfortable living environments, and reduce their emissions footprint.
The benefits of Smart Energy for those who develop, distribute, and ultimately use the technology are of too great a magnitude to neglect. Managing the changes up the technology stacks in the Zigbee protocol was complex, but for the global environment and users who benefit from it every day, it is paramount to make sure Smart Energy will carry over to our new technologies. That’s why we pushed hard to get the Smart Energy specification completed so quickly.
Certification for the Smart Energy 1.4 specification will release in October. To certify your products or for any inquiries, please contact [email protected].
By Ian Winterburn, Zigbee Alliance PRO Energy Work Group Chair and Solutions Architect at Landis+Gyr