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More ZigBee Home Automation Info

elcano

Active Member
Look at Wifi.

Back in the late 90's we had a few perfectly working wireless LAN technologies. One of them was Symbol's Spectrum 24. It was not exactly 802.11b compliant, but in an Infrastructure AP environment it worked OK - if you could afford it. Any resemblance to the situation of lightning control today?

Who said that we needed an interoperable standard to build critical mass to make wireless LAN a commodity? The market said it, with their money as soon as the vendors made the products available. Has interoperability been a factor on the business success for Linksys? You bet it. Has it been a factor in the way that we, the people, operate our networks? Of course. Interoperability means money for smart businesses, and an higher value for consumers (in addition to a higher quality of life, in the case of the Wifi example).

I don't know, but I think that there is a few businesses that would benefit of creating new markets of the size of the Wifi market (even a fraction of it). Actually, they need it badly right now. On the other side, I as a consumer, always need higher value in what I buy, and I also need a higher quality of life. Yes, I sustain my argument that the market need this. I don't understand how to argue against a good thing (or say that we don't need a good thing).

Let me clarify, I'm not defending existing solutions against Zigbee. I just suggest (if possible), to wait some time to see if Zigbee will actually become an interoperable standard. If not, just evaluate each solution on its merits, considering the factor of vendor lock-in. Just as we have been forced to do for the past 30 years. Yes, we have become experts dealing with the current situation. And a few of us are living of it. Just as big mainframe business lived of a lot of businesses until the PC (interoperable), made computing a commodity. Anybody against that? Yes, the few businesses that didn't adapt to the change in the market.

There are also many examples of we being forced to deal without interoperability, like the IR example. Yes. Is that stopping other people trying to solve that problem? No. Even Zigbee alliance is investing time an money to solve that problem. Because the market needs an interoperable remove control system for out appliance. I don't say it. It is the same Zigbee Alliance.

Signal15 - I'd recommend waiting for the second vendor announcing interoperability. And some reviews of interoperability tests. Having a single 'interoperable' vendor does not qualify in my book.

Hey guys, I also hope Zigbee to be the winner. But I cannot stop wishing interoperability. Please don't blame me for wishing a good thing.
 

ano

Senior Member
There are many good posts here, and I think we are all mostly on the same page. I especially agree with the last post by elcano that it will take the market to drive for interoperablity. The fact of the matter is the ZigBee standards, like many other standards out there can't change an industry overnight. Even today, you can find wireless LAN solutions that don't use 802.11x, but they are very expensive compared to the 802.11x solutions, and they sell 0.001% as many units.

Look at Bluetooth and wireless keyboards and mice. This is a bit different outcome. There are Bluetooth keyboards and mice, but also probably more proprietary wireless solutions. Why? Because Bluetooth really doesn't the best here, battery life is short, and a standard in this situation isn't important to consumers. For wireless headsets for phones, 99.99% are Bluetooth. Interoperability is very important here.

There is also something else we should face, that home automation is a quite small market. If ZigBee was ONLY for home automation, I can tell you, there wouldn't be a ZigBee. The market is just too small. But ZigBee is about replacing IR in remotes, its about healthcare, and most important, its about utilities and energy control and monitoring. Home automation is really just coming along for the ride.

Now I do not believe things are going to change overnight. The 802.11 standard was approved in 1997, which is 12 years ago, and after approval it took several years for it to "take-off." Back then there wasn't a great alternative for wireless LAN, but we have several good home automation alternatives. Still, I think competition will bring down switch prices, and as more companies produce interoperable products, the proprietary ones won't be able to compete, but again, this isn't going to happen overnight, and companies like Control4 are going to use that fact to their advantage as long as they can. But you also have to believe these companies are also planning for a time when ZigBee Home Automation products are the norm.

Just head to Frys Electronics or Best Buy and tell me how many PC keyboards don't use USB? How many wired networking products don't use Ethernet? Home many wireless LANs don't use 802.11x? Why is that? Apple used to use propriety monitor connects? Do they now? They loved you to use THEIR monitors with their Macs, but even they couldn't maintain that.

I use UPB in my house, and I wouldn't give a second thought about buying more UPB switches, I just bought some last week, but at the same token, I can't help to think how ZigBee might change things, and realize I might be running a dual UPB/ZigBee network for many years like I ran X-10/UPB.

To those doubters who don't think ZigBee will catch on, I can say I've never seen any standard emerge with a wider usage or an existing base of supporters greater than ZigBee. There is no question on if, now the only question is when.
 

Zanthic

Member
I am finding this conversation very interesting and was hoping that it would keep going. I can tell you from my experience with CAN (Controller Area Network) that although the underlining communications bus is standard, there are many many higher level protocols simply because each application's requirements are too varied. Some protocols have tried to be all things to all applications and end up being far more complex than they would normally be. I have also seen just how many years it takes to get a protocol by committee to the point where it is stable enough to be used and even then, there is always, in probably every case, the ability for manufacture specific identifiers to allow for customization. Every new car has a CAN port in the OBDII diagnostic port located under the steering wheel and you can now buy one interface that can talk to every car, but, behind that connection is still a completely unique and proprietary protocol that is doing the actual work of communicating with the various automotive components. It was only the government's mandate for emissions testing that could force the entire industry to have an outside interface that was common to all. (CAN is also used in HA, BTW)

What does this have to do with Zigbee? I'm not sure exactly how Zigbee will play out but I can see certain parallels that might be closer in comparison than something like wifi. Keep in mind that wifi is still just the carrier and ultimately does not define the content. Zigbee also is the carrier but now the HA spec is trying to define the content as well leaving us with a new set of rules to contend with.
 

ano

Senior Member
I am finding this conversation very interesting and was hoping that it would keep going. I can tell you from my experience with CAN (Controller Area Network) that although the underlining communications bus is standard, there are many many higher level protocols simply because each application's requirements are too varied. Some protocols have tried to be all things to all applications and end up being far more complex than they would normally be. I have also seen just how many years it takes to get a protocol by committee to the point where it is stable enough to be used and even then, there is always, in probably every case, the ability for manufacture specific identifiers to allow for customization. Every new car has a CAN port in the OBDII diagnostic port located under the steering wheel and you can now buy one interface that can talk to every car, but, behind that connection is still a completely unique and proprietary protocol that is doing the actual work of communicating with the various automotive components. It was only the government's mandate for emissions testing that could force the entire industry to have an outside interface that was common to all. (CAN is also used in HA, BTW)

What does this have to do with Zigbee? I'm not sure exactly how Zigbee will play out but I can see certain parallels that might be closer in comparison than something like wifi. Keep in mind that wifi is still just the carrier and ultimately does not define the content. Zigbee also is the carrier but now the HA spec is trying to define the content as well leaving us with a new set of rules to contend with.

It seems that ZigBee is really similar to Bluetooth, but a bit wider in scope and a bit less defined and a bit more flexible. Although people really don't see it with Bluetooth, there are "profiles" that a Bluetooth device has that tell it how to talk to a phone or a headset or a stereo MP3 player or a mouse. I don't know of those using Bluetooth without at least using one of these profiles, and I'm not sure that is even possible. I can tell you that my Bluetooth mouse wouldn't begin to know how to communicate with my Bluetooth headset, but both are Bluetooth. That is because a Bluetooth mouse and a Bluetooth headset don't have any common profiles so both devices know how to speak to each other. Its the same with ZigBee, but the Bluetooth Headset Profile is now the ZigBee Home Automation profile. ZigBee just has the added capacity and that is to use a proprietary profile on each side, and that is what many companies used because initially the Home Automation profile didn't exist. Now that it does, I do think companies will start using it unless they have a reason not to.

What will happen is once Home Automation switches start entering the market, and they actually have already, the higher volumes and competition should drive lower prices, and the the proprietary switch makers will be forced to open up or at the least, loose lots of business. Since we are in a bit of an economic slump, and new million dollar homes are not quite selling like they used to, this may take a few years but I think it will happen.

Wi-Fi is a good example how a standard can lead to lower prices and higher volumes, but your right, not a good match to ZigBee in terms of profiles and usage.
 

Zanthic

Member
I agree, bluetooth is a good example.

When I read about your comments about proprietary switch manufacturers, I can't help but think that it would be perfect timing to create an open source (HW & SW) switch. The zigbee stacks are available free of charge, the compilers are free, there are a number of companies selling the boards ready to plug into and there are capacitive switch IC's that would allow you to make a switch with no moving parts and use a blank Decora switchplate as the front. Anyone can have vinyl decals made for the switch face and you could customize to your liking. I suppose the only catch is the AC control which is easy to do with an optically isolated module but the whole thing would not be "approved"...too bad...
 

Steve

Senior Member
The zigbee stacks are available free of charge, the compilers are free, there are a number of companies selling the boards ready to plug into and there are capacitive switch IC's that would allow you to make a switch with no moving parts and use a blank Decora switchplate as the front. Anyone can have vinyl decals made for the switch face and you could customize to your liking. I suppose the only catch is the AC control which is easy to do with an optically isolated module but the whole thing would not be "approved"...too bad...
That's a great idea, it's called a Touchpad Dimmer and made by Colorado V-Net. Personally they looked kinda cheap to me. They are a decorators dream though.
 

signal15

Senior Member
There's a zigbee mod for the Kill-a-Watt device out there now. I'm sure it would be possible to grab a cheaper off the shelf dimmer and solder a zigbee module into it. Of course, I don't have the electronics know how to do this, and the design would likely be considerably different for different brands/models of dimmers.

A zigbee module is like $20, and a Lutron dimmer at Home Despot is about $22. $42 and a bit of soldering for a zigbee dimmer? Count me in. :)
 

sic0048

Senior Member
The zigbee stacks are available free of charge, the compilers are free, there are a number of companies selling the boards ready to plug into and there are capacitive switch IC's that would allow you to make a switch with no moving parts and use a blank Decora switchplate as the front. Anyone can have vinyl decals made for the switch face and you could customize to your liking. I suppose the only catch is the AC control which is easy to do with an optically isolated module but the whole thing would not be "approved"...too bad...
That's a great idea, it's called a Touchpad Dimmer and made by Colorado V-Net. Personally they looked kinda cheap to me. They are a decorators dream though.

But that switch doesn't look like it is officially part of the home automation protocol. So it is quite possible that the switch will only work with other V-net devices. Hopefully they will use the official protocol, or other manufactures will step up to the plate.
 

signal15

Senior Member
The zigbee stacks are available free of charge, the compilers are free, there are a number of companies selling the boards ready to plug into and there are capacitive switch IC's that would allow you to make a switch with no moving parts and use a blank Decora switchplate as the front. Anyone can have vinyl decals made for the switch face and you could customize to your liking. I suppose the only catch is the AC control which is easy to do with an optically isolated module but the whole thing would not be "approved"...too bad...
That's a great idea, it's called a Touchpad Dimmer and made by Colorado V-Net. Personally they looked kinda cheap to me. They are a decorators dream though.

But that switch doesn't look like it is officially part of the home automation protocol. So it is quite possible that the switch will only work with other V-net devices. Hopefully they will use the official protocol, or other manufactures will step up to the plate.

I just emailed them. They use a proprietary stack. The only way companies are going to support it is if people like us who want it end up telling them we want it. Otherwise, what incentive do they have?

Is there a list of companies that make switches with proprietary stacks somewhere? I'm stuck in a hotel somewhere boring, so I have plenty of time to start emailing.
 

Steve

Senior Member
Sorry, I should have stated that, I was really just referring to the idea of a capacitive switch with a customizable sticker. But who knows if they may support HA Profile in the future. The only ones that I know now are Control4 and Centralite has said they have a new line of HA Profile switches that they say they will start selling when they see some controllers hit the market that they will work with.
 
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