ZigBee vs WiFi smackdown!


Zigbee the much touted wireless sensor network standard has been around a while now. Yet, it’s adoption has been limited. Already several variants and versions have emerged. Any willing vendor can obtain chipsets and protocol stacks and get started right away. But what always makes or breaks a new standard is how well it is adopted, and how the cooperative ecosystem develops. I see very little multi-vendor activity out there. Zigbee vendors seem to be offering closed loop systems with the standard stamp.

WiFi on the other hand is past adoption cycle, it is ubiquitous like the 19th feature you add to your candy bar phone. It’s not the most elegant approach to wireless sensors, but recent advances in the integration level of the chips, and specific targeting of low power applications by chip vendors such as G2 and Gainspan, have provided a challenge for Zigbee that may be difficult to fend off in more controlled applications such as offices and hospitals where managed Wifi has become a necessity.

But before you dismiss this as another standards flame war, let’s consider the closely. What separates these two standards is mostly software (meshability and device profiles), and some inherent efficiencies of the protocol. But users could care less about protocol, and we’re all aware of SMOP. If Wifi can be in the same order of magnitude as Zigbee in battery life and cost, and mesh is an unneeded or easily added capability, Zigbee may not fly for being just another protocol.

Protocols are an apples to apples comparison, but let’s consider the larger use case. Wireless sensors are most useful when their data ubiquitous, and all the other devices you want to use to display, notify, and interact are on IP networks. So WiFi has a huge advantage there in that it is IP friendly. In fact, I foresee a time when wireless sensor devices can use web services directly, rather than need application servers. Data analysis and messaging could be done in the cloud where it is reliable and manageable.

Companies have proposed solutions to this, such as http://www.archrock.com/ but they are just a bridge. Why do we need a bridge if we already have everything we need on this side of the river?

Please comment. Use your sharpest weapons. Let the games begin!

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