What is ZigBee?

What is ZigBee and Why is it Called “ZigBee”?

If you’ve been in the market for automation for your hotel, university housing or other multi-unit residence, you may have run across the goofy term, “ZigBee”. ZigBee is a communication protocol. It’s a way for devices to communicate with one another. Products communicate wirelessly via WiFi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and others.

We are all familiar with the term WiFi.  ZigBee is similar to WiFi in that they are both wireless communication technologies. ZigBee is commonly used instead of WiFi in devices like  lighting control, door locks, shade controllers and smart power outlets…devices commonly found in homes as well as hotels, dormitories, military bases, multi-dwelling units, and the like. Right now you might not control these everyday technologies remotely or automatically, but it’s likely you will in the future.

Have you ever noticed how quickly your wireless device loses battery power when you’re streaming a movie? It’s using WiFi to do that. ZigBee does not use as much power as WiFi, so batteries in ZigBee devices last much, much longer than batteries in WiFi devices.  ZigBee devices communicate in a “mesh” network. That means if one communication path in the ZigBee network happens to fail, a different path within the network is used instead. This is aptly called a “self-healing” network.

You might hear ZigBee referred to as a Mini-WiFi because while ZigBee operates in a PAN (personal area network) , WiFi operates in both PAN and the larger WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network). Technically, calling ZigBee a Mini-Wifi not accurate because they were developed under different standards by different alliances.

So, what’s with the name ZigBee?

It’s derived from the  zig-zag dance of the honey bees.

When bees find a rich source of pollen or nectar, they communicate to the other bees in the hive the location of the food source.

They communicate by performing a “waggle dance”: a dance that uses a zig-zag motion. So, instead of flying all the way back to the hive to communicate, they perform this dance for other bees who are in close proximity. Those bees then communicate with other bees and so on, until finally all of the bees in the hive are made aware of the food source.

In doing so, they share information among the hive members, much like ZigBee devices share information within the network. The name “Zigbee” refers to the zig-zag dance of the honey bees.

ZigBee devices are low powered and they can communicate data over long distances by transmitting data to intermediate devices to reach more distant ones. There is no main transmitter, but rather, a series, or “mesh” of transmitters.

Funny name; serious technology.

ZigBee Advantages

  • ZigBee is a network standard: there is an extensive collection of other ZigBee devices for them to talk to, and the collection is getting bigger every day.
  • ZigBee is secure. In addition to being low-powered, ZigBee devices can be easily commissioned to communicate with each other.  
  • ZigBee devices are simple to use, from anywhere in the world.
  • ZigBee can work alongside WiFi and they will not interrupt each other.