Interview - What is ZigBee RF4CE?
Author: Cees Links, GreenPeak
Removing the clutter of multiple remote controls scattered around the coffee table is a silent desire of many consumers. But the real driving factor for acceptance of RF4CE is cable TV companies and service providers who want to expand their service into the home. Specifically, the remote control has become the key point of contact with the consumer, so what more can be done with it?
Operators are recognizing the opportunity to provide additional services. Examples are using the remote control to turn up or down the lights, the heating or air-conditioning, but also to monitor/manage the energy consumption, to manage security, to control the locks of the house – in essence the longer term view for the remote control is as a dashboard, controlling many functions in and around the house.
What is ZigBee RF4CE? Where did it come from and why?
ZigBee RF4CE is an ultra low power network that has its roots in the CE world (Consumer Electronics) to replace the “good old” IR (Infra-Red) and has been designed to be work under all circumstances in a home environment. RF4CE has been designed to be very robust against Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interference, and it has a range covering a reasonable sized house, enabling two-way traffic not requiring line-of-sight. Like Wi-Fi, RF4CE is not inhibited by walls and other obstructions.
Why does the world need another ultra low power home wireless network?
Interesting question, as ZigBee is not an “other low power home wireless network”. There is Wi-Fi, which is a high speed home network, but not low power, and there is Bluetooth, which is not a network, but functions mainly connect a headset to a phone or a keyboard and/or mouse to a computer: with the range of a personal area, too limited to be a network.
All ZigBee standards are truly open networking standards: ZigBee (IEEE 802.15.4) spun out of Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11) to implement low-power Wi-Fi and therefore is THE “low power home wireless network”. ZigBee has over 400 members and is complementary to Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi takes care of the high speed information data streaming, and ZigBee takes care of the low power control data.
What are the latest flavors of ZigBee RF4CE? What do these new specifications provide to the end user? What are ZigBee Remote Control, ZigBee Input Device and the pending ZigBee 3D Sync?
ZigBee RF4CE has been developed as the standard for remote controls, for TV’s, DVR’s and STB’s. In technical terms it is called ZigBee RF4CE/ZRC. There are two market trends that are driving the extension of the ZigBee standard:
- the emergence of Internet TV and the need to extend the remote control with keyboard capabilities, as well as the need for motion sense and touch sense on keyboards, etc. This lead to the development of ZigBee RF4CE/ZID.
- the emergence of 3D television and the need to supporting 3D TV glasses. This has lead to the development of ZigBee RF4CE/Z3S (S=Synchronization). Note: there are two types of 3D glasses, passive and active, where the active ones are superior in brightness and dynamic. These require synchronization with the television, which happens over RF4CE.
Who is pushing the market acceptance of ZigBee RF4CE and why? Why are the cable companies so interested?
The starting point is the consumer, who today is really annoyed with all different non-interoperable remote controls. Getting rid of the remote control clutter, having a single remote that controls all the home's entertainment, climate control and automation systems is also very important for end users.
But for the service providers and cable companies, the real driving factor is that: the remote control is the key point of contact with the consumer, so what more can be done with it? Operators see the opportunity to provide and market additional services. Examples are using the remote control to turn up or down the lights, the heating or air-conditioning, but also to monitor/manage the energy consumption, to manage security, to control the locks of the house. In essence the longer term view for the remote control is as a dashboard, controlling many functions in and around the house.
Why are standards so important, what are the benefits over proprietary wireless technology?
For proprietary technology there is usually a single chip supplier for the underlying technology. Not only does this pose disadvantages in cost, but also large companies do not want to expose themselves to the risk of being dependent in one single company. Standardized technology has the advantage that no one has to worry if it will work on their equipment or not. For example, look at Wi-Fi. It is an international standard. When buying a laptop or a home router – it does not matter what brand, it works: that is the power of standards.
What is the next step for RF4CE? (MSOs & added value via new applications)
This summer the ZID standard will be certifiable and ready for mass roll-out. Later this year the Z3S (3D TV ZigBee) will be completed and certifiable. The cable companies have brought forward some special requests, like making it simple to connect TV’s to remote controls, etc. In the meantime, the RF4CE group is considering the addition of other applications, the interconnection with other ZigBee applications. Much more work to be done on the road to have an affordable dashboard!
How is RF4CE better than Bluetooth LE?
This is an understandable question, but also confusing. RF4CE and BLE are different in application, so neither one of them is better as such, only better for certain applications. Let’s start with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, both exist today, even in the same device (PC or smart phone). Wi-Fi is for networking, Bluetooth is for peripheral connections.
In essence ZigBee (RF4CE) is for low power networking, BLE is for low power peripheral interconnecting. Both technologies are better when used for the application that they were designed for.
What does GreenPeak do? What does GreenPeak make?
GreenPeak is a chip company that makes ZigBee RF4CE chips and solutions. GreenPeak differentiates itself with the best range and the longest battery life. By using GreenPeak's ZigBee Rf4CE chips, the life of the battery can exceed the product life of the remote control (if not too many other functions are added!). Also the GreenPeak solution is highly integrated from a hardware and software perspective, making integration into an end product very cost effective and quick to market.
Cees Links is the Founder and CEO of GreenPeak
Cees [“case”] Links is a pioneer of the wireless data industry, a visionary leader bringing the world of mobile computing and continuous networking together. Under his responsibility, the first wireless LANs were developed which ultimately became house-hold technology integrated into the PCs and notebooks we are all familiar with. He also pioneered the development of access points, home networking routers and hotspot base stations, all widely used today.
In late 2004 Cees started with GreenPeak Technologies (originally under the stealth name of Xanadu Wireless). GreenPeak is a fabless semiconductor company with a strong focus on wireless for sense and control networks in combination with battery-less technology, targeting communication devices working on ambient energy. Cees’ vision is to “build a smarter world” by developing a communications platform between devices sensing and enabling us to control our lives.
Cees started his career at NCR Computers where he was responsible for the development and launch of the world’s first wireless LAN product in 1990, a major innovation at that time. Throughout several acquisitions and divestitures (NCT, AT&T, Lucent Technologies and Agere Systems), Cees continued his work in the wireless LAN area, which he turned into a multi-hundreds million dollar business for Agere Systems. He directly closed a deal with Apple Computer in 1999 that ignited the growth of the wireless LAN industry. Though this deal, wireless LANs went on to become a standard notebook feature.
Cees was involved in the establishment of the IEEE 802.11 standardization committee and the Wi-Fi Alliance. He was also instrumental in helping to establish the IEEE 802.15 standardization committee to become the basis for the ZigBee sense and control networking technology and standardization.
Cees Links holds a Masters degree in Applied Mathematics and a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from the Twente University of Technology in Enschede, The Netherlands.