Looking Ahead – Industry Trends and New Zigbee Features

Over the last two years, changes to how we live and work have accelerated the need for digitization and integration of technology across all industries. Consumers and businesses are looking for products and related services to be smarter, more connected, more secure, high impact, and high value.

The Internet of Things is a key enabler for these smart, connected experiences, and several trends will continue to play a critical role in IoT’s adoption, growth and value delivered: Security and Privacy, Automation, and Energy Management and Sustainability. 

Zigbee, which has been enabling smart and connected experiences for nearly twenty years, is at the forefront – adapting and evolving to meet needs of the industry, customers and consumers, with new features in the works to address these trends. 

Security and Privacy 

The number of internet-connected devices reached over 10 billion in 2021. In turn attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in these connections increased as well, with the number of cyberattacks rising to 1.5 billion. Policymakers, looking to protect consumers, have enacted and continue to consider regulations in the hopes to address risks and close gaps; but concerns persist. 

To build consumer confidence and increase adoption, it’s essential that connected technologies include features making devices more secure. Different features, including secure cloud connections, communication protocols, encryption keys, and secure edge computing can help to boost consumer confidence. 

Zigbee was developed with security in mind. Today, Zigbee 3.0 uses cryptographic algorithms for two levels of symmetrical AES-128-CCM encryption: network and APS. It provides both authentication and confidentiality and makes network-wide encryption mandatory. This means any device that would like to join the network must receive a network key and that any device data payload is encrypted in peer-to-peer connections.

Zigbee 3.0 Revision 23 (R23), the next version of the Zigbee PRO standard, expands on existing security by adding new security features: 

  • Dynamic Link Key (DLK) joining: Using elliptic curve Diffie-Hellman key negotiation to establish keys and authenticate devices before joining the network 
  • Device interview: Using DLK, information is requested to identify the device before accepting it into the network 
  • Frame counter synchronization to provide advanced message replay protection
  • Network parameter security with PANID and channel management

Zigbee 3.0 R23, as with previous versions, will enable interoperability with backwards compatibility for prior versions of the stack and released devices. Newer devices will be able to take advantage of new security features when networks make use of them. 

“Nothing is more important than protecting our customers’ privacy and security. We are honored to have championed security features in R23, specifically ‘Dynamic Link Key’ which will provide a powerful security solution to our customers by integrating an industry standard cryptographic key exchange process.” – Jim Kitchen, VP of Product, Connected Home & IoT Devices, Comcast.

Beyond security, privacy concerns have made protecting consumer data, data privacy transparency and providing users more control over their data key to consumer-focused privacy approaches.  Zigbee includes key controls for products to keep data both secure and private, as part of manufacturers enabling end-to-end security and data privacy. Zigbee enables secure, trusted communication channels between devices where only the needed information is shared, uses a well-defined, time-tested, lean data model and further supports data privacy by preventing unauthorized data access and leaks.  

“Whatever the domain of application, from industrial automation to consumer equipment, Zigbee technology enables ease of use for device management, improved automated user experiences and user privacy. We continue to integrate and develop Zigbee based products because Zigbee is widely adopted, reliable and suitable for a wide range of application types. The STM32 portfolio supports this wireless trend with MCU wireless solutions for Zigbee and Bluetooth Low Energy technologies within the STM32WB family.” – Nathalie Vallespin, Wireless Product Line Marketing Manager, STMicroelectronics

Acceleration Towards Automation

Global digitalization is serving as a catalyst for automation in both residential and commercial market segments in areas like healthcare, smart home, remote asset monitoring, maintenance and self-healing of industrial assets, process optimization, and supply chain digitization.

“We continue to see immense value in Zigbee, which has wide adoption among customers and we support today through Alexa. Many sensors and devices today are built on Zigbee and they play a key role in enabling our vision of ambient intelligence.  Customers can create routines and automations for Zigbee devices in the Alexa app to help them to simplify their lives and take care of their homes. In addition, we have built Alexa Hunches to take automations to another level – Alexa can proactively turn off lights and adjust the thermostat to your preferred sleeping temperature If she has a hunch that you’re away from home or everyone has gone to bed.”Chris DeCenzo, Principal Software Development Engineer, Amazon Lab126

Consumers seek more convenience, comfort, safety and security through automation. Zigbee has a wide range of smart home sensors and devices produced by major consumer brands that are widely available for retail sales. Lighting continues to be one of the leading IoT categories, among others.

“Lighting is the only product that is in every room of your house and you interact with every day. With Zigbee technology we are able to offer consumers comprehensive options of how they interact with their products whether it be via our mobile applications, voice integrations, automated behavior linked to the time of day or in interactions with low power sensors or switches.” – George Yianni, Head of Technology, Signify

Zigbee’s newest product feature, Zigbee Direct, will improve consumer experience and simplify automation by bringing together two market-proven technologies, Zigbee and Bluetooth Low Energy. Zigbee Direct allows users to seamlessly interact with their Zigbee networks using a smart phone, tablet, or other Bluetooth enabled device. The Zigbee Direct feature simplifies set-up and commissioning and improves usability in any setting. 

Partially motivated by the pandemic, digital healthcare has gained momentum with connected devices now monitoring various health conditions, and Zigbee is ideal for connecting medical devices. In addition to Zigbee Direct capability, Zigbee offers low power consumption, a high transmission rate, and efficient data transmission – all of which help more successfully enable digital healthcare use cases. 

For commercial buildings, automation enabled by IoT sensor data in offices, warehouses, hotels and other public places can provide occupancy information, access control data, assist with energy management, and improve comfort. There are a wide variety of commercial-grade Zigbee sensors available today to create a smarter building.

“Occupants inside a building care for safety, comfort and security among other things. At the same time, building managers want increased visibility into the building for efficient, flexible use of floor space and operational efficiency delivered through early detection of potential failures and predictive maintenance. Building energy management and automation just make good business sense. In addition to the cost savings, many buildings are integrating local generation, EV charging as they aim to achieve net-zero 2050 goals and meet other regulatory requirements. Zigbee-based sensors, room controllers and automation equipment are an important component of the building management solution.” – Mak Joshi, Director – Strategy, Innovation and Standards, Schneider Electric

The industrial market will also continue to see more applications for IoT-enabled automation. Zigbee is well-positioned to serve in this space with its low-power, long battery life and reliable operations for wireless remote monitoring and control. Many industrial assets are often remotely located, making monitoring a challenge. Zigbee makes efficient remote monitoring of critical assets and equipment possible. Buildings can use occupancy data and environmental sensing to automate air flow, improve building hygiene and support energy conservation goals. The expansion of Zigbee into SubGHz, slated to be released in 2022, will support even more industrial and commercial use cases by extending the range of Zigbee’s reliable, proven mesh network. Zigbee sensors can also play a role in supply chain digitization.

“As factories are getting connected for increased monitoring and control, uptimes are directly linked to reliability, security and scalability of underlying connectivity technologies. Industrial environments have varying performance requirements for these connectivity protocols. For the safety critical applications, often the reliability and response times mandate wired connections. In some scenarios, customers are looking for a wireless, battery-less, reliable, and modular solution that offers the mobility, flexibility, and interoperability needed for their digitization efforts. Schneider Electric Harmony push buttons leverage Zigbee for remote-controlled industrial applications. XB5R push button operates without wires or batteries and delivers unprecedented flexibility and mobility, enabling operators to remotely control machines at ranges of up to 25 meters. Since a single receiver on a conveyor belt can be paired with up to 32 transmitters across the factory floor, XB5R push buttons can be particularly effective in the control of conveyance machines in automotive, mining, and food and beverage industries.” Mak Joshi, Director – Strategy, Innovation and Standards, Schneider Electric

Push for Energy Conservation and Sustainability 

Awareness of our impact on the environment and rapid depletion of natural resources bring energy conservation and sustainability into sharper focus. Many markets around the world have been investing in smart energy and smart city innovations –  connecting utilities, parking meters, traffic lights, charging infrastructure and the electric grid. Zigbee has been a leading technology in this area – widely adopted for energy management in electric and gas meters, providing information transparency to consumers, supporting consumption optimization and enabling utility grid management.

Energy conservation has also been a factor in the growing demand for electric vehicles (EVs), with charging a key component in EV operation – be it at home or on the road. The challenge of larger-scale charging stations need to be solved near term to address the infrastructure needed to support growth. Zigbee’s Smart Energy standard has added capabilities to support installation, configuration, firmware updates, prepaid services, user information and messaging, load control, and demand response. EV Smart Energy Zigbee modules eliminate the need for costly hard-wiring by providing a reliable, redundant wireless connection. 

As charging infrastructure takes shape, solutions to better manage demand will become critical. Load management and demand response technology will need to be integrated into charging stations with the reliable efficient connectivity that a technology like Zigbee can bring. 

“Zigbee Smart Energy has a rich history of deploying Smart Meter technology to help utilities manage energy in secure encrypted HAN networks to manage demand and alignment with supply. Supply has shifted from steady coal supply to lower cost renewable wind and solar supply with intermittent energy peaks that don’t align with demand. At the same time the electric demand is increasing as consumers switch to Electric Vehicles as costs decrease and global environmental concerns rise. Zigbee provides tools to help utilities optimize grid revenue with minimal investment and save consumers the ongoing cost of driving electric vehicles with 80% of charging occurring at home.” – Michael Cowan, Principal Systems Engineer, Xylem. 

Sustainability goals require the use and integration of renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, too. Solar is becoming an affordable and convenient option for residential and commercial applications. Zigbee’s low-power consumption and high reliability make it one of the prime technologies to wirelessly connect solar inverters to the cloud. As a solar monitoring system, Zigbee’s wireless sensors can be used in remote operations of off-grid ​​photovoltaic installations to monitor and change the angles of solar panels. 

“Zigbee Time of Use (TOU) pricing when price delta is 4x difference between supply peaks and demand peaks have proven to change consumer behavior to shift demand to solar/wind supply peaks. This helps utilities with oversupply issues and consumers save money for a win-win environment. Zigbee Demand Resource can also be used to help shift demand when TOU pricing is not enough. Zigbee Electric Vehicle Management provided a standardized non vendor specific solution that delivers information like EV plugged in, state of charge, size of battery, and EVSE health helping utilities and consumers to work together for mutual benefit for more reliable low cost energy. As Electric Vehicles and Electric Vehicle Station Equipment (EVSE) evolve to support Vehicle to Home (V2H) and Vehicle to Grid (V2G), Zigbee can evolve to support these use cases.” – Michael Cowan, Principal Systems Engineer, Xylem. 

Zigbee Green Power technology delivers automation for residential and commercial spaces using energy-harvesting technology from heat, kinetic, inductive and light energy to allow wireless devices to be used virtually anywhere – including hard to reach places –  without connecting power and without using batteries, which contribute to water and soil pollution. As global automation trends continue to evolve, Green Power can be adopted for new use cases that help create a greener Earth.  

“Buildings account for over 70% of the overall emissions in cities. As a result, sustainability and regulatory goals are driving the buildings of the future to be more electric, more connected and more digital. We see an increasing number of new and retrofit digitization projects in buildings and factories and commissioning remains a complex and expensive task. Monitoring electrical and other environmental parameters inside equipment wirelessly can cut down cabling costs and delays, and reduce installation costs by up to 20%. Also, since battery replacement costs require sending technicians on-site, technologies like Zigbee Green Power that enable low-energy usage connectivity are extremely valuable for batteryless use cases. Zigbee Green Power protocol defines compressed, secure, and highly optimized message traffic for ultra-low-power devices. The approach not only saves energy but also reduces pollution and material footprint as there are no batteries to be disposed of and reduced copper use for cabling.” – Mak Joshi, Director – Strategy, Innovation and Standards, Schneider Electric

Zigbee’s broad market adoption, proven technology, and hundreds of millions of embedded based devices deployed world-wide position it for even greater success in 2022 and beyond. To stay connected with the latest news on IoT standards and Zigbee, including our upcoming releases, follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter.

Join the Connectivity Standards Alliance

The Connectivity Standards Alliance is the foundation and future of the Internet of Things. The Alliance’s wide ranging and diverse membership, robust certification programs, and full suite of open IoT solutions are leading the movement toward a more intuitive, imaginative, and useful world. If you are not part of the Connectivity Standards Alliance, we invite you to join us and our hundreds of members around the world making an impact on the IoT. To learn more visit the Connectivity Standards Alliance website