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When you hold the TV remote and wish to use it you have to necessarily point your control at the device. This one-way, line-of-sight, short-range communication uses infrared (IR) sensors to enable communication and control and it is possible to operate the TV remotely only with its control unit.

Add other home theatre modules, an air- conditioner and remotely enabled fans and lights to your room, and you become a juggler who has to handle not only these remotes, but also more numbers that will accompany other home appliances you are likely to use.

Some remotes do serve to control more than one device after ‘memorizing' access codes, but this interoperability is restricted to LOS, that too only for a set of related equipment, like the different units of a home entertainment system

Now picture a home with entertainment units, security systems including fire alarm, smoke detector and burglar alarm, air-conditioners and kitchen appliances all within whispering distance from each other and imagine a single unit that talks with all the devices, no longer depending on line-of-sight, and traffic no longer being one-way.

This means that the devices and the control unit would all need a common standard to enable intelligible communication. ZigBee is such a standard for embedded application software and has been ratified in late 2004 under IEEE 802.15.4 Wireless Networking Standards.

ZigBee is an established set of specifications for wireless personal area networking (WPAN), i.e., digital radio connections between computers and related devices. This kind of network eliminates use of physical data buses like USB and Ethernet cables. The devices could include telephones, hand-held digital assistants, sensors and controls located within a few meters of each other.

ZigBee is one of the global standards of communication protocol formulated by the relevant task force under the IEEE 802.15 working group. The fourth in the series, WPAN Low Rate/ZigBee is the newest and provides specifications for devices that have low data rates, consume very low power and are thus characterized by long battery life. Other standards like Bluetooth and IrDA address high data rate applications such as voice, video and LAN communications.

The ZigBee Alliance has been set up as “an association of companies working together to enable reliable, cost-effective, low-power, wirelessly networked, monitoring and control products based on an open global standard”.

Once a manufacturer enrolls in this Alliance for a fee, he can have access to the standard and implement it in his products in the form of ZigBee chipsets that would be built into the end devices. Philips, Motorola, Intel, HP are all members of the Alliance . The goal is “to provide the consumer with ultimate flexibility, mobility, and ease of use by building wireless intelligence and capabilities into every day devices. ZigBee technology will be embedded in a wide range of products and applications across consumer, commercial, industrial and government markets worldwide. For the first time, companies will have a standards-based wireless platform optimized for the unique needs of remote monitoring and control applications, including simplicity, reliability, low-cost and low-power”.

The target networks encompass a wide range of devices with low data rates in the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) radio bands, with building-automation controls like intruder/fire alarms, thermostats and remote (wireless) switches, video/audio remote controls likely to be the most popular applications. So far sensor and control devices have been marketed as proprietary items for want of a standard. With acceptance and implementation of ZigBee, interoperability will be enabled in multi-purpose, self-organizing mesh networks

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