Focusing on the short range may be bad
for business--unless you're talking about remote control technology. The
latest short-range wireless option is known as ZigBee, an open standard
created by a nonprofit consortium of companies called the ZigBee
ZigBee chips require very little power,
which means they can be operated for long periods using only a battery.
However, because they send and receive data at a low rate, these chips
are not right for pushing large amounts of data; rather, the technology
is designed to help create wireless sensor networks for close-range
remote monitoring, home control, and building automation network
applications. While many applications are consumer oriented, some
business security uses are foreseen.
RAE Systems, a Sunnyvale,
California-based manufacturer of chemical and radiation sensors, has
recently rolled out RAEWatch, a wireless sensor bundle that can be used
in applications such as monitoring public venues or securing cargo
Bob Durstenfeld, director of corporate
marketing for the firm, explains how a shipping container equipped with
ZigBee sensors could be monitored: "You'd have a transponder on the
dock, on the truck carrying the container to the dock, and on the ship.
You'd uplink it and keep track in real time of your containers." The
container could thus be tracked from ship to dock to truck to its
Durstenfeld compares the workings of a
ZigBee radio network to the Internet, where packets move nonlinearly
from server to server until they reach their destination. "The beauty of
ZigBee is that it forms an ad hoc network," he says. "It lets you have a
cloud of sensors that can talk from sensor to sensor and act as their
own repeaters. You can monitor multiple points from one central point or
one edge point of the cloud of sensors." Unlike a hub-and-spokes
configuration, where if one radio drops, the signal is lost, "ZigBee
lets you talk from the closest radio," he says.
Regardé is a new business that plans to
sell products with ZigBee technology. Cofounder Jared Richard Brandt
says the company is running a beta test with hundreds of homeowners who
have installed in their homes some ZigBee-enabled sensors that can
detect door openings, smoke, and carbon dioxide, and other sensors that
control low-power electric devices such as lights.
The sensors communicate via the ZigBee
protocol to a small Linux-based device with a built-in e-mail server
that is connected to a homeowner's computer. So, for example, a parent
can be notified at work via e-mail when a child has returned from
school. Next generation devices will tie into traditional
alarm-monitoring services, Brandt says.
One homebuilder, eager to protect homes
under construction and high-value tools left on building sites, is
working with Regardé to use Zigbee to monitor entry and exit to the work
sites using motion detectors activated after working hours. These
sensors would transmit data back to a base station that would be housed
in one of the model homes, where a broadband connection would allow a
project manager to monitor any movement on the site after the
construction site was closed for the night. An alert could also be sent
to an alarm-monitoring company.
Brandt points out that the transmissions
are encrypted; he notes, however, that some security issues are
inevitable, because ZigBee devices need to be visible to function. As
for security, Chris Lopez, an analyst with market research company ABI
Research who forecast high-growth for the ZigBee market, says the
specifications have been closely watched to ensure that the technology
is secure from attack. But like the Bluetooth protocol before it,
problems with ZigBee are not likely to come to light before products are
rolled out and security researchers start poking holes in it.