Electronic Design

Unintended Zigbee?

ZigBee remains a hot topic. Yet it was interesting to hear that 802.15.4, on which ZigBee is based, is the platform of choice for many wireless applications. Vendors expect 802.15.4 to be a major portion of chip sales, even as ZigBee continues to improve with a new set of standard profiles designed to facilitate vendor interoperability not just coexistence.

The ZigBee Developers Conference and the Sensor and Expo Conference, both in Chicago, had plenty of 802.15.4 and ZigBee products on display. These included Jennic's JN5121 module, which sports a 32-bit microcontroller (see the figure). Ember had its new EM260 development kit on display too. Most of the major vendors even had hands-on sessions at the ZigBee conference. For example, Freescale was letting developers get their hands on its BeeKit and BeeStack.

Things got a little dicey at the end of the conference s first day, thanks to membership in the ZigBee Alliance (see ZigBee Surprise at www.electronicdesign.com, ED Online 12812). It seems the Alliance would like everyone who uses ZigBee including your customers to join. This has yet to play out, so check out EIED Online for more.

This reminded me of the Law of Unintended Consequences, which correlates with Murphy's Law. Joining the Alliance is a good idea for most ZigBee developers. But requiring everyone down the buying chain to come on board is reminiscent of the Value Added Tax.

I've always wanted to write a book based on the Law of Unintended Consequences and our industry. Licensing, patents, and other restrictions are getting more onerous because there are more of them. The initial intent of these legal tools may not be worth the results in the long term because of the extremes that companies are willing to push them.

I just read about a new form of auto leasing that actually puts an electronic lock on the steering column. Send in your lease payment and get back a keycode. Enter the keycode and you can drive. Using the car to drive your pregnant wife to the hospital the day after you should have entered the code isn't going to be a good day. Things could get worse if the service contract on the control system on the nearby nuclear power plant runs out because the payment was held up because the... well, you get the idea.

The ZigBee Alliance will get its policies clarified, and developers will happily make meshes. Otherwise the less feature-laden, open 802.15.4 standard will likely gain more supporters.


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