ZigBee: The Language of the Internet of Things

Sensors Insights by Ryan Maley

In today's fast-paced, technology-centered world, companies and consumers are pondering the implications of the Internet of Things (IoT). How can IoT change our everyday lives? How will companies take part in this increasingly lucrative market? Recent announcements and initiatives by a variety of organizations demonstrate the rapidly growing interest in this exciting market. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand exactly what IoT is and how to address the market.

While a large number of devices can be improved with network capability, the real difficulty rests in enabling these devices to work together reliably and efficiently. What devices need in order to work together efficiently is the right language. The ZigBee Alliance, a non-profit association of organizations creating open, global languages, or standards, that define IoT for use in consumer, commercial and industrial applications, has many members bringing successful IoT solutions to market. These organizations are closely connected to market demands and understand the key requirements of technologies to address this market.

Defining the IoT

What is IoT? The ZigBee Alliance, home to the leading Internet of Things experts, has a simple definition of IoT: everyday objects communicating with each other and with people. IoT enables objects to communicate all types of information to people, enables people to have more control over the objects around them, and allows objects to communicate with and control each other to help people.

The term "everyday objects" encompasses a wide range of devices from the smallest battery-operated device, including light bulbs, thermostats, shopping carts, smart meters, refrigerators, set top boxes, and more. With the right language as the basis for this innovation, the potential of IoT is endless.

How Will the IoT Affect My Life?

The goal of IoT can be summed up in two words: comfort and efficiency. IoT can improve your comfort by providing increased control over your devices. Do you want a brighter, more efficient light when you're cleaning, but a warm, soft glow when you're reading a book at night? Control your lights with IoT to tailor your lighting experience. If you're sitting on the couch and want to turn the TV on, the lights off, and shut the blinds, an IoT remote can control these objects through your set top box without forcing you to get up.

IoT can increase the efficiency of our interaction with everyday objects. Do you want your window blinds to open during the day while you're at work to heat your house, instead of increasing your gas bill? Do you want your lights to turn off at a certain time every night to preserve energy? IoT devices will allow you to control your home as efficiently as you desire.

Security is an underlying consideration for IoT users. IoT-enabled door locks can alert you to intruders when you are inside or outside of your home. A grocer can be alerted when there is a prolonged power outage and groceries in a refrigerated section have been compromised. Smart devices can protect our everyday lives when we are on-the-go or at home relaxing.

Key Technology Requirements

How is IoT different than the way our laptops and smart phones communicate with us? Everyday objects have very different needs than we do. They must connect to each other and communicate between themselves without complex setup. Your light bulbs don't need to watch videos, and your thermostat won't be sending large emails. Everyday objects only need to send simple messages like "turn on," "the temperature is 70 degrees," or "lock the door."

Everyday objects need to be efficient with power and should not be required to be frequently charged or plugged in. In other words, their power needs shouldn't change drastically once they've become smart objects.

Communication between everyday objects must be reliable and objects must communicate between themselves under any condition, and automatically correct errors without your intervention. Of course, security is critical and communication must be protected and private.

Many technologies have been proposed as the solution for IoT. As more and more organizations claim solutions for IoT, the market is muddied with devices that don't work together. We don't need more complex, erratic devices complicating our lives. The IoT is meant to improve our lives and the language used to connect devices is the key component of its success.

The preferred standard must be open, preventing high costs and fees by proprietary technologies and single sources of supply. An open standard guarantees that smaller companies will have the means and opportunity to seamlessly work with devices from other companies. A global standard will ensure that companies don't have to invest in multiple technologies in multiple devices for different areas of the world, but rather deliver one device that can work with any other device, anywhere.

In addition to being open and global, the language of IoT should standardize both the network and application layers. It is not enough to standardize only one part of the communication between objects. For devices from different manufacturers to work together, every part of communication must be standardized.

ZigBee: One Viable Language of the Internet of Things

Over 10 years ago, as companies began to consider the potential of IoT, ZigBee was born. After the first ZigBee-enabled products were released in 2006, companies began to join the growing alliance and soon hundreds of the world's greatest technology experts from a variety of companies and industries were collaborating to refine the only open, global wireless language for devices.

Today, the ZigBee Alliance has developed leading wireless standards for multiple industries and certified over 1,000 devices. Tens of millions of devices are already deployed in homes and businesses today, improving comfort and efficiency all over the world.


Current Examples of the IoT

Consumer Products

ON World has predicted that by the end of 2014, most major LED lighting manufacturers will offer wireless LED light bulbs and the majority of these will use ZigBee. The popular Philips Hue is a ZigBee-enabled light bulb that has revolutionized lighting in many homes. Consumers can control these light bulbs with their phones, changing the color of each bulb, adjusting the intensity, scheduling them to turn off at a specified time or to flash when their favorite team scores. With this exciting product, IoT is directly enabling new ways to use light in the home and promising even more options in the future.

Comcast, a well-known cable provider, offers xFinity Home, a home security and control program that uses ZigBee to connect a consumer's door locks, security system, lighting, and thermostat, allowing a home owner to improve security and deliver greater convenience even when they're away. This is an excellent example of IoT changing the efficiency of people's interaction with everyday objects. xFinity Home users control their home on-the-go, without having to return to the house and check that the lights are off or the doors are locked.

Energy Efficiency

ZigBee increases energy efficiency in many industries, but especially with utilities. ZigBee's standards are low-power, reducing energy consumption and, for some products, eliminating the need for a battery or electricity. Smart meters are an excellent example of ZigBee's ability to minimize energy use. The Guardian reported, "ZigBee is in tens of millions of smart meters around the world, helping consumers save money. Smart meter usage by British Gas customers has led to 54% of consumers taking steps to lessen energy usage, equaling average savings of $124 USD a year." This kind of green awareness can have massive effects on global energy usage.


This year, Kroger partnered with ZigBee and several others to unveil Retail Site Intelligence, an initiative that uses ZigBee standards to improve the retail experience. Kroger has tested this initiative and enjoyed improved customer experience, operational efficiency, and workforce management. For example, Kroger is using ZigBee to analyze a customer's movements through their stores, tracking common traffic patterns for marketing and providing customers with coupons in relation to the products they linger in front of.


The Internet of Things is a reality quickly permeating our everyday lives and will soon be a convenience that is simply a part of our life. The only hindrance to a complete IoT world is the lack of universal acceptance for one standardized, open, global IoT language.

Several contenders for IoT language have risen up over the years. With over 1,000 certified products and 400 member companies, the ZigBee Alliance is poised to deliver on the promise of the IoT with its wireless language. Already the language of choice for prominent companies like Comcast, Samsung, Philips, Kroger, Texas Instruments, and more, ZigBee promises to improve the control, comfort, and efficiency of daily life.

About the Author
Ryan Maley is the Director of Strategic Marketing for the ZigBee Alliance. He has previously served as Director of ZigBee Certified, the Alliance certification program, and as chair of the Alliance's Marketing Working Group. Ryan holds BS degrees in business and psychology and has had a long career in a variety of product development, information technology, sales, and marketing roles.

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