What Is Zigbee Protocol in Wireless IoT Networks
Zigbee protocol stands out for its efficiency allowing developers to create affordable solutions for smart home devices integrated into a single network and other systems that can be considered a part of the Internet of Things (IoT). World-known companies use Zigbee protocol in IoT solutions and regard it highly for its reliability.
Despite some minor shortcomings, Zigbee is impressive home automation technology as it allows making smart devices more energy-efficient. You can easily scale your network and connect many devices to it.
This is why WebbyLab shares its experience with the Zigbee protocol and addresses the issues one might encounter when using it. Read on if you are wondering how we managed to do it and why this protocol remains so popular among the manufacturers of IoT devices.
What Is the Zigbee Protocol
If you are wondering how to explain Zigbee protocol in IoT solutions, keep in mind that it allows connecting smart home devices and facilitates communication between them. In addition, it makes it possible to adjust their settings simultaneously. In theory, it should enable connecting devices released by different brands. However, users reported some issues that hinder seamless integration.
WebbyLab often uses the technology to mesh networks and facilitate short and mid-range communications. Zigbee Alliance created it to speed up a wireless connection between IoT devices. These days, it has many uses, with smart home apps being only one example. Below in the article, you’ll find more information about WebbyLab’s experience with the Zigbee protocol.
This protocol operates on the IEEE 802.15.4 physical radio specification as well as 2.4 GHz, 900 MHz, and 868 MHz bands. Most smart devices worldwide use 2.4 GHz bands, however, many U.S., European, and Chinese manufacturers release devices that operate on such frequency bands as 915 MHz, 868 MHz, and 784 MHz.
It makes Zigbee an all-in-one solution for IoT devices. This protocol allows transferring data at 250 kbps.
Main Advantages of Zigbee Protocol in IoT Systems
This protocol makes it possible to create a range of Zigbee IoT applications and make networks more energy-efficient. With it, you can monitor your battery-powered IoT devices for years and control their settings using dedicated apps. Below, we have briefly outlined the key advantages of the Zigbee protocol.
Zigbee became the top choice for companies specializing in smart home devices and energy management. Global manufacturers and companies that install IoT systems and provide other services use it. This benefit was the main reason Webbylab used this protocol for the client’s case described below in this article.
Connectivity and Reliability
The frequent use of Zigbee in IoT can be explained by the fact that it allows people to connect certified devices to the same network. Users can scale their networks by adding new supported devices without hindering network performance. The more devices a network includes, the more communication paths emerge.
The devices start to function as nodes of a single mesh network, which makes such solutions extremely reliable. Even if one of the devices stops functioning properly, it won’t hinder communication between other devices. Zigbee allows connecting devices released by different brands, which makes such IoT systems more affordable.
Since Zigbee operates on the 2.4 GHz band that can be used for free worldwide, companies can sell Zigbee-based solutions without worrying about licensing. Another advantage is that this protocol supports 250kbit/s data transfer across 16 channels. It ensures that Zigbee will be connected against possible interference.
Efficient Mesh Network
Based on this protocol, it’s possible to create mesh networks consisting of multiple nodes interconnected with each other. Each IoT device functions as a node of the network that transfers signals to other nodes. Zigbee allows the creation of large-scale networks that include up to 65K nodes. They stand out for the high quality of the signal. All the nodes included in a single network can transfer and receive data.
The main advantage of mesh networks for creating efficient IoT solutions is that they don’t consume much power and are quite affordable. Companies often use Zigbee in IoT networks. This protocol makes networks easy to scale, as users can add a new node to extend their range.
The protocol enables developers to create power-saving solutions, making it perfect for every home security system, including battery-powered sensors and alarms.
In theory, all the devices supported by Zigbee can be seamlessly connected even if different brands released them. However, there might be some issues with achieving this in practice, suggesting that IoT developers need to create more complex solutions to address this problem.
Zigbee Technology in IoT Networks With a Wireless Connection
Because of its numerous advantages, the Zigbee IoT protocol is widely used in the healthcare industry and material tracking. In addition, it allows the creation of home automation solutions, connecting peripheral devices to personal computers, as well as creating solutions for commercial and industrial sectors.
Below, we have briefly outlined the main uses of the protocol:
- Smart homes.
- Gaming devices.
- Industrial solutions.
- Building monitoring.
- Smart metering.
How WebbyLab Can Help With Zigbee
The first Zigbee-based solution we created was a home-automation kit. It helped us master the basics without going into details of the Zigbee protocol in the Internet of Things frameworks. At this stage, we encountered issues even though we used devices from one brand and connected them to the Xiaomi ecosystem.
Challenges Related to Zigbee Alliance
The key disadvantage of this solution was that all the devices had to connect to the Xiaomi Cloud. In addition, we had to use only the devices of the same brand. They were more expensive than the alternatives. Besides, the choice of such devices was quite limited. In addition, as we used a ready-made solution, it was challenging to provide support, fix bugs, and implement new solutions.
The problem is that Zigbee Alliance doesn’t demand device manufacturers follow all the protocol specifications. As a result, users often don’t check whether their devices are compatible with the coordinators released by other manufacturers. It makes it challenging to use Zigbee technology in IoT to create a system that consists of devices released by different manufacturers.
In addition, while the Zigbee protocol has advanced encryption options, some manufacturers disregard them, which might result in their devices being compromised.
Another disadvantage is that Zigbee uses the same frequency as other networks. As the result, some devices might become invisible in the network. This issue can be solved by selecting the right frequency for a Wi-Fi router and Zigbee network.
Overcoming Zigbee Alliance Challenges
When working on our projects, we decided to develop an all-in-one solution for integrating Zigbee devices released by different brands into a single network that doesn’t include a coordinator device from the same brand. In addition, we decided to develop our own coordinator device that would support all the devices we need.
After analyzing the market, we selected the most popular open-source gateway application Zigbee2MQTT. It communicates with a Zigbee coordinator using one of the available protocols and connects Zigbee networks to MQTT networks. We have created a new solution for working with MQTT networks and integrated it into our automation system.
In addition, we developed a solution that allows connecting our software to a coordinator device using a UART interface as connecting to a wireless coordinator using its IP and a local network port.
In the development process, we created a solution compatible with different Zigbee coordinators that supports a huge number of Zigbee devices released by different manufacturers.
Increasing the Efficiency of the Zigbee Protocol
When bringing this solution to life, we wanted to use the Zigbee protocol in IoT networks more efficiently. We discovered that there weren’t a lot of affordable wireless coordinator devices. This is why we decided to develop our own coordinator device. It will be beneficial for situations when a server or computer with software isn’t located in the same place as devices.
We used ESP32 to develop a budget solution for communicating with Zigbee devices. Later on, we created a new solution based on this device. It is fully compatible with 2Smart Cloud.
Structure of the Zigbee System
There are several types of Zigbee devices that are integral parts of the system.
Coordinator (ZC). It’s considered to be the pivotal element of the system as it defines the root of the network tree and functions as a bridge, thus allowing it to connect a network to another network. Every Zigbee network has a coordinating element that contains all the network data and allows starting of the network itself. This device stores the security keys and other information.
You can use only one coordinator device to connect routers and end devices to it. Routers can be connected to end devices, however, the latter can’t be interconnected. If you have a co-ordinator device in one room and a temperature sensor in another, you can’t do without a router. It would ensure stable data transfer and expand network coverage.
Router (ZR). While its primary goal is to run an application function, it is also necessary for routing the data and assisting it in finding the way to the destination.
End-Device (ZED). Such devices can communicate with either the ZC or the ZR. As they don’t transfer data from other devices, the node can function in a battery-saving mode. ZEDs are the most energy-efficient part of the network.
Devices Compatible With Zigbee
These days, different manufacturers produce a variety of devices compatible with this protocol. The list includes 2,500+ items released by more than 400 companies.
Here are some Zigbee-certified products:
- Honeywell thermostats
- Hive Active Heating and accessories
- Belkin WeMo Link
- Amazon Echo
- Philips Hue
- ADT Security Hub
- Samsung SmartThings
- Ikea Tradfri
Main Zigbee Topologies
Depending on the topology, the scale of the network will be different. The topology determines how many routers, coordinators, and devices a network may have. There are three Zigbee topologies available:
- A Star network typically includes a coordinator and many end devices. While the latter communicates with the coordinator, they are not interconnected with each other.
- A Cluster Tree network allows users to use routers to connect end devices to the coordinator.
- A Mesh network enables users to interconnect nodes using integrated technologies. Such networks are more stable and reliable than networks based on other topologies.
What Makes Zigbee Different From Other Technologies
There are several reasons that explain the success of the Zigbee protocol in wireless IoT networks. While it is also used for establishing short and mid-range communications, it was created specifically for making control and sensor networks more reliable, secure, and energy-efficient. Below, we will briefly outline what makes it better than Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Zigbee vs. Wi-Fi
Among IoT protocols Zigbee stands out for its use of the IEEE 802.15.4 standard. Wi-Fi relies on the IEEE 802.11 standard. There are some differences between the technologies they are based on.
Zigbee functions on WPAN while Wi-Fi uses WLAN. Wi-Fi is more suitable for mid-range distances as it can cover 30-100 meters. For Zigbee, the standard range is 10-30 meters and the standard data rate is 250 Kbps while Wi-Fi supports 54 Mbps.
However, the key advantage of Zigbee is that it allows the creation of energy-efficient solutions, which makes it perfect for IoT networks that include battery-powered devices.
Zigbee vs. Bluetooth
Unlike Bluetooth, Zigbee uses a transmit power of 100mW. It makes Zigbee-based systems more energy-saving and allows developers to scale them by adding hundreds of devices. Bluetooth networks typically include up to 7 devices.
Despite some minor shortcomings, Zigbee technology is perfectly suitable for building home automation solutions. Zigbee devices are quite energy-efficient. Such networks are easy to scale, which allows you to expand them by adding any number of devices.
In addition, Zigbee devices don’t cost a lot, which makes them perfect for budget-conscious people. You won’t need to worry about cluttering your workspace with cords. In case you face any compatibility issues when trying to connect Zigbee devices from different brands into a single network, the WebbyLab team will help you solve this problem.
Reach out to our experts to ensure your network remains secure and properly functions. Whether you are interested in light control, security, or home access solutions, our company can bring your ideas to life and help you create an easy-to-set-up network.
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