Single-Chip ZigBee Radio Solutions Will Power Wireless Market Growth

1/22/2004 - The low cost and power attributes of the ZigBee radio standard will vastly increase the wireless market, and 2004 will be the critical design-in year predicts product development consultancy Cambridge Consultants Ltd (CCL). Home and industrial automation applications in particular will benefit, and pioneering ZigBee-enabled products should start to appear before the year's end.

However, CCL expects design trends to follow a similar path to the Bluetooth market, which only started to take off with the arrival of single-chip solutions integrating both the radio and the application-specific control functions. The conditions are now right for this silicon design phase using ZigBee, but industry leaders must initiate design cycles soon if they want products on the shelf for the critical high-growth market phases starting in 2005.

"Mass volume shipments will only start to build when OEMs are able to deliver products based on single chips," says Nick Horne, Manager of CCL's Radio Communications Products business unit. "The system-on-chip approach allows complete ZigBee nodes to be built for around two dollars - a fraction of competing radio technologies - and a cost threshold that will radically change product design concepts."

ZigBee offers a particularly cost-effective approach to wireless-enabling products because the radio has been designed specifically to be small in silicon area, and very efficient on software code space. The standard also offers mesh networking, delivering longer range communication without the expense of power amplifiers, and supports a very large number of nodes. Combined with the lean control system, these attributes allow ZigBee to implement wireless communications in a form that meets the demanding requirements of home and industrial automation OEMs.

The first commercial ZigBee silicon products are highly likely to be applied to general-purpose radio-centric devices, and application-specific variants will only start to appear once market demand is proven. Moving straight to an ASIC solution has the potential to cut as much as a year off the normal timescales necessary to achieve the optimum cost-effective ZigBee nodes.

Chip design cycles might normally require around 12 months, but this timescale can be halved if the vendor has ZigBee radio IP and a library of compatible microcontroller functions.

CCL offers unique IP which allows ZigBee radios to be built very economically, employing novel design techniques that dramatically reduce the large number of external components conventionally required. These techniques have been developed over many years, through project experience including ground-breaking work on the seminal Bluetooth standard; among other innovations CCL pioneered the use of bulk CMOS for high frequency applications - a fabrication approach that is now the norm for this consumer radio segment. The leading Bluetooth IC player was spun out of CCL, and the consultancy has continued to build its library of low-power radio components, along with lean RISC and DSP processors and associated I/O functions.

"ZigBee technology and its support base have matured to such an extent that there is little doubt now that it will be a major platform for the wireless revolution," adds Horne. "Delivering cost-optimised products early in the ZigBee commercialisation cycle is likely to put OEMs in influential positions in their market segments, and CCL expects application-specific silicon to be a major catalyst for such success during the first few years of this standard's life."

About Cambridge Consultants
Cambridge Consultants Limited (CCL) designs and develops innovative new products, processes and systems. The organization enables clients to turn business opportunities into commercial successes, whether launching first-to-market products, or expanding existing markets through the introduction of new technologies. With a team of over 250 engineers and scientists, CCL is able to offer solutions across a diverse range of industries including healthcare, telecommunications, industrial and consumer products, automotive and aerospace. Operating from purpose-built laboratories on the Cambridge Science Park, CCL works for multinationals and small companies alike.

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