ZigBee: Wireless Technology

Oct. 13, 2009

ZigBee is perfect for commercial buildings and it's one of the catalysts for smart building design.

Walking into a commercial building that’s using ZigBee technology changes how you experience that indoor environment. Problems with uneven temperature zones, poor lighting control, and lack of energy efficiency – as a result of poor control systems – are turned into individualized, controlled experiences when ZigBee technology is part of the building design.

With the emphasis being placed on intelligent design, ZigBee is a standard you should be familiar with. It’s recognized by IEEE 802.15.4 for wireless connectivity for use with building sensors (security, lights, temperature) and control devices (thermostats, access control, HVAC control valves).

 A ZigBee sensor includes a radio transceiver that transmits a unique ID number, a sensor(s), and a microprocessor. When more than one sensor is used, each sensor serves as a node on a network, sending data to and receiving it from other nodes within the communication range. These nodes form a mesh network (which is more resilient than a network that relies on centralized control).


ZigBee allows your clients to:

  • Integrate and centralize lighting, HVAC, and security management.
  • Allocate utility costs based on consumption.
  • Reconfigure systems quickly to create adaptable workspaces.
  • Extend and upgrade building infrastructure with minimal effort.
  • Network and integrate data from multiple access-control points.
  • Deploy wireless monitoring networks to enhance perimeter protection.

Although it has a variety of uses, ZigBee is perfect for commercial buildings, and it is one of the catalysts for smart building design because of its focus on dependability, long battery life, and simple operation. The technology offers great energy efficiency via first-rate lighting, HVAC, and security control. ZigBee chips can be embedded in controllers, switches, and sensors, and the savings for commercial facilities come from the cabling costs that are avoided. Because there’s no wiring involved, ZigBee’s peel-and-stick devices can be added anywhere – especially in locations where installing wired sensors would be difficult.

 Lights installed with ZigBee-enabled motion detectors can be programmed to turn on or off as people enter or exit a building, reducing utility costs. Sensors incorporated into windows at the building perimeter can monitor the amount of incoming natural light and signal shade controls to be raised or lowered, and lighting can be adjusted to the level specified by the tenant/occupant. ZigBee-controlled thermostats can communicate with ZigBee-controlled baffles to modify airflow in ductwork. ZigBee control modules in lighting fixtures can send alerts to control systems about a lamp that’s about to burn out. ZigBee’s mesh network also allows the network range to be extended to increase perimeter protection or gain additional control of outdoor systems (irrigation systems, for example).

 Your clients will appreciate the fact that, by centralizing environmental controls, their tenants/occupants can adapt to changes in temperature automatically. For example, with ZigBee, in the winter, empty conference areas could be kept at 64 degrees. When people enter that zone, the temperature could automatically adjust to 70 degrees. And, if the room gets too warm, the network could adjust the temperature to a desired level.

 ZigBee can simplify and reduce deployment costs for dozens of traditionally hard-wired functions used in building automation, such as:

  • Lighting control.
  • Wireless smoke, fire, and CO alarms.
  • Heating control.
  • HVAC monitoring and control.
  • Building and room-access control.
  • Utility meter reading and submetering.
  • Presence detection.
  • Air quality/environmental sensors.
  • Blind, drapery, and shade controls.
  • Alarm notification.
  • Leak sensors.
  • Landscape systems.

ZigBee networks can accommodate up to 65,000 devices on a single network. As an architect, if you integrate building automation into your projects, you can take advantage of ZigBee to build and deploy wireless monitoring networks that help centralize the management of lighting, heating, cooling, and security systems within a building. ZigBee ensures that hardware and software, even from multiple vendors, are interoperable. And a recent ZigBee/BACnet agreement means that building owners who have existing BACnet investments can easily add new safety and control features, which is a plus for your clients.  

ZigBee also provides flexibility for your clients in the future. If they need to reconfigure quickly to adjust for changes within a building (growth, downsizing, etc.), this technology allows for that.

Another benefit is the technology’s intrinsic low power consumption. Instead of remaining active for extended periods of time, ZigBee sensors enter “sleep mode” when they’re not being used. But, in sleep mode, a ZigBee sensor can still respond within 15 milliseconds of receiving a signal to become active. For instance: If a signal is sent, it instantly triggers a series of events throughout the network (the master lights turn on, police or emergency services are notified, video surveillance focuses on the area in question, and locks engage).

Right now, ZigBee technology is being accepted mostly in new construction because of the cost of replacing wired sensor networks in existing buildings, says Stan Schatt, ABI Research vice president and practice director of networking.

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