ZigBee to the rescue of Fifth Play services
In addition to providing the existing Four Plays: TV and entertainment, internet access, phone service (VoIP), and cell phone services, operators will be adding the Fifth Play – smart home services for monitoring energy usage, home health, security, climate control, etc. Companies like Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon are already marketing and installing these types of Fifth Play Smart Home solutions.
This Fifth Play will make the set-top box evolve into the “Home Control Box” that communicates with the various sensors and devices in the home which then can be controlled and monitored via a local RF4CE remote control or over the net via smartphone applications. Where previously the set-top box was just responsible for distributing content through the home, the Home Control Box makes it possible for consumers to control all kind of applications in their homes and over the internet with smart phone apps.
Aimed at set-top boxes, gateways and Smart Home controllers, the GP 710 dual ZigBee radio chip (see figure 1) can simultaneously support ZigBee RF4CE applications – such as remote controls – as well as ZigBee Pro or ZigBee IP Smart Home applications such as security, home care and energy management.
The benefits of this GreenPeak dual-protocol communication chip are much simpler product design, cost reduction of the total product bill-of-material (single silicon) and a less complex PCB and antenna that makes it simpler and faster for developers to integrate ZigBee into their set-top box or gateway designs.
The GP 710 includes special hardware features to enable multi-protocol support, minimizing the interrupt load on the set-top box processor, and allowing simultaneous RF4CE and other ZigBee protocol operations – see the block diagram on figure 2. Its superior range covers the whole home and its ultra-low power consumption for long battery life makes it a good choice for integrated low cost Smart Home ZigBee applications.
to enable multi-protocol support, minimizing the interrupt load
on the set-top box processor. Click image to enlarge.
What you should know about ZigBee RF4CE
ZigBee RF4CE (Radio Frequency for Consumer Electronics) provides a multi-vendor interoperable solution for consumer electronics featuring a simple, robust and low-cost communication network for two-way wireless connectivity. ZigBee RF4CE is a full member of the ZigBee family and is based on the IEEE 802.15.4 specification – see figure 3. Developed for consumer electronics devices, it was designed for simple, two-way device-to-device control applications that do not require full-featured mesh networking capabilities.
network layers – RF4CE, Pro and ZigBee IP.
Click image to enlarge.
RF4CE has already found its way into TV’s, set-top boxes and remote controls. ZigBee RF4CE offers ease of installation, a high level of reliability over a longer range, a very long battery life, and it includes special features to avoid Wi-Fi interference rejection (amongst others channel agility). ZigBee RF4CE offers low memory size requirements thereby enabling low cost implementations.
A practical benefit is that the two-way communications capability of RF4CE can support new applications. For example, one very interesting application is a “Find Me” button on a TV or set-top box that, once pressed, would cause the remote device to make a sound so the viewer could easily locate it (probably under the couch, where your children left it).
A variety of sophisticated applications that offer interactive, two-way viewer participation could also be built into the remote control such as tele-voting and gaming, personal messages and reminders, real-time sports results, stock information and residential sensor network monitoring. This two way communications enables operators to create new opportunities for advertising revenues via server initiated commercial push messages on the consumers’ remote control.
The interoperability offered by the ZigBee industry standard allows a remote control to work with more systems in a house and can be used as the basis for home automation. Although the main applications of RF4CE are consumer electronics based, there are no technical restrictions to also control other devices such as lighting, heating/air-conditioning and some of these implementations are already in the market today. Leveraging the open ZigBee RF4CE standard, the remote will eventually become the dashboard for the home.
About ZigBee Pro
The ZigBee Pro network layer supports Home Automation, Smart Energy and Light Link application profiles. IEEE 802.15.4 compliant, it offers excellent range and can cover a complete home with multiple floors. It handles dead-spots or Wi-Fi interference via mesh networking: the capability where one node can find its way to the Home Control Box via other nodes and is even capable of doing this dynamically. If one route is blocked it will automatically and instantaneously find another route (if that exists) without any user interaction required.
The ZigBee Pro feature set is currently probably the most popular choice for most ZigBee developed applications. It maximizes all the capabilities of standard ZigBee, plus facilitates ease-of-use and advanced support for larger networks comprised of thousands of devices which also makes it suitable for industrial applications and building automation. The wide range of application profiles that ZigBee Pro supports in the home space makes it a very complete standard. These applications also include the so-called Green Power applications. For example battery-less light switches, where the energy for the data communications is generated by energy harvesting techniques from flipping the switch itself, offers a new generation of self-powered, battery-free and therefore green and maintenance-free ZigBee products. Green Power will become an option of the ZigBee Pro standard soon. As there is no need to run and install power cables, this also makes it easy for the consumer to position and move light switches, without needing the services of an electrician.
A truly smart home
The smart home ecosystem will combine a variety of applications, with the set-top box, the home control box, acting as a centralized home hub. Not only will this set top box handle the entertainment such as television, movies, gaming and remote purchasing, it will also be the entry point for the home’s phone, internet, telecommunications and Smart Home services – see figure 4.
Click image to enlarge.
Of course, what we know call the set top box will evolve as well. It does not need to actually sit on the TV or even be directly connected to the TV via cables. Instead, it can be located anywhere in the home, in a closet or a cabinet, and then use either ZigBee to connect to the various low power, low data sensors, device controllers, and remote controls located throughout the home, or by using Wi-Fi, transmit high data rate, high quality video and audio signals to the home’s various entertainment devices. Wi-Fi can also be used to connect the wireless VoIP handsets to the set-top box as well.
Driven by the cable TV and internet providers, this new paradigm for total home control is enabled by reliable low power wireless technologies like ZigBee. In parallel to this Smart Home – Fifth Play evolution, new businesses will emerge that will create and feed devices and solutions to the operators. Until now, the big challenge to the Smart and Connected Home was the plethora of devices already on the market which could not talk or interact with each other for the lack of a standardized communications protocol. The growing acceptance of ZigBee could solve this issue. Another challenge – the technical difficulty and cost of installing and maintaining these systems will be taken from the home owner and instead be put on the shoulders of service providers who will also be handling the monitoring and reporting for these in home systems. This will create new opportunities for service providers and equipment makers together, bringing our homes into a new digital era.
Cees Links is the CEO of GreenPeak Technologies – www.greenpeak.com