A Train Ride, Then Making the Case for Open Standards to Stay on Track



Unwrapping a white paper with GreenPeak Technologies CEO and founder Cees Links

IoT strategy and the “defined and distinct” jobs ZigBee, WiFi and Bluetooth should have is one topic covered here.


Editor’s note: Embedded Intel ® Solutions asked Cees Links, CEO and founder of GreenPeak Technologies, to take us behind the scenes of “The Power of ZigBee 3.0—All about the new and improved ZigBee 3.0,” a white paper Links authored recently. Edited excerpts follow.

Embedded Intel Solutions: What should the decision maker who reads the white paper take away?

greenpeak2Cees Links, GreenPeak Technologies: The key take-away is that ZigBee has reached the level of maturity necessary to become a success. WiFi and Bluetooth were not slam-dunks out of the gate; they took some time to mature. The same applies for ZigBee, which resides in an even more difficult and complex space. But with ZigBee 3.0, many different and diverse requirements have been brought together in a homogeneous way, indicating that prime time for ZigBee has arrived.

Embedded Intel Solutions: Say I am one of the decision makers who has just given this white paper a couple of careful readings and I agree with its arguments. What steps should I take next?

Links: The key step to be taken is to establish ZigBee 3.0 as an integral technology of the IoT strategy, because it is becoming the dominant networking technology for sense and control networking, which means: low-cost ubiquitous chipsets from multiple vendors, universally available frequency bands and standard middleware available everywhere, integrated with application frameworks, etc.

ZigBee 3.0 needs to have a defined and distinct role in any IoT strategy along with WiFi (for high speed/high data rate networking) and Bluetooth (for wearable connectivity).

Embedded Intel Solutions: Do you anticipate that some of the individuals who will not agree with the white paper’s arguments will have stronger counter arguments in some areas than others?

Links: Some people/companies are taking the position that WiFi and Bluetooth will do the job, and that ZigBee would not be required. We think these people/companies are misguided. WiFi is for content sharing and distribution (high data rate, high power), ZigBee is for sense and control networking (low data rate, ultra-long battery life), and as such are very complementary. Bluetooth is for wearables, close proximity connectivity: it is the network that connects via your smartphone to the Internet and that you carry along with you when you go places.

Embedded Intel Solutions: How did you prepare to write this white paper—what information did you already “own” and into what topics did you have to dig deeper while preparing it?

Links: That is a funny question. In general I live and breathe this stuff. Two decades ago, I was part of the team that initially developed 802.11, which evolved into WiFi. But to address the question about preparing “The Power of ZigBee 3.0—All about the new and improved ZigBee 3.0”: After the last plenary meeting of the ZigBee Alliance in early June in Cologne, I got really enthusiastic about seeing so many things coming together that as an industry group we have been working on for years—and my thought was: we need to turn this around into a white paper—because this is all very powerful. So, on the train ride back, I just banged it out, and after a few edits and iterations we published it.

Embedded Intel Solutions: Do you have recommendations for addressing the underlying problem that led first to the symptom of competing radio technology conflicts a decade ago and now to the IoT and Smart Home conflicts you mention in the white paper?

Links: For communication to work, it needs open, worldwide standards.

In the early days of WiFi, it had to compete with several proprietary technologies (e.g. HomeRF) that were closed and not available worldwide (sub-GHz). Similarly, in the early days of ZigBee it competed with proprietary technologies as well (e.g. Z-Wave, EnOcean). These proprietary technologies have a head start, but will soon turn out to be only regionally successful and expensive.

In the early days of WiFi, it also had to compete with Bluetooth (which is also an open standard). The reason was that Bluetooth positioned itself as if it would make WiFi redundant. After a few years however, it was clear that both WiFi (networking) and Bluetooth (connectivity) had their own application domains, and both technologies became very successful building out their own parallel international ecosystems. Interestingly, Bluetooth is now claiming that it will make ZigBee redundant. This will have the same result as with WiFi—both Bluetooth and ZigBee will end up with their own distinct application domains, and both will be successful.

Photo courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

Photo courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

Embedded Intel Solutions: What issues are these conflicts distracting decision makers from and as a result of this distraction and lack of attention to other issues, what’s going to suffer now and what’s going to suffer down the road?

Links: The general attitude in the market towards standards confusion is one of “wait and see.” Standard wars paralyze decision-making and stall new developing markets. Device and system makers don’t want to take a chance on spending time and money developing solutions that may turn out to be a technology dead end.

That is why these conflicts only yield losers: nobody wins, and products that can make the difference in people’s lives are just postponed.

Sometimes technology companies deliberately start standards wars if they are behind in development, very much along the lines of: “I am too late, and therefore I cannot win, but by creating standards confusion, I will also make sure that you cannot win either.” We see that a little bit with companies today that have WiFi and Bluetooth, but no ZigBee: these companies are the major proponents of creating the confusion in the current standards today.

Embedded Intel Solutions: What were the steps you took to bring light to this subject as opposed to “winning” for your side—or can both those things happen at once?

Links: Down the road we expect that common sense will prevail. There is simply no alternative for ZigBee as a key cornerstone of the IoT for low-power-sense-and-control networking, and it makes a lot of sense to see ZigBee next to WiFi and Bluetooth each with their own application domain.

The key characteristics of communication standards are simple: (1) they need to be open (low cost, multiple suppliers, peace of mind) and (2) they need to be available worldwide (one product, one certification, no different settings per region, no worry). These requirements sound simple, but in reality they are very hard to accomplish. However, once they are accomplished, there is practically speaking, no alternative to eliminating the wait for real market adoption.

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