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Long-range plans for short-range technologies

I am starting a computer consulting business for the wireless Internet that focuses on devices that use personal area networking technologies such as ZigBee (IEEE 802.15.4). When do you think first silicon will be available from the "Big Boys" that might present some opportunities for smaller developers?
The good news is that there will continue to be lots of activity and business surrounding the whole concept of the wireless Internet, no matter you define this term. The bad news is that wireless and the Internet are basically mature enabling technologies that have been around for a while and may not provide a steady flow of business opportunities unless you zero in on a specific applications area or utility. This is one of the reasons why short-range personal area networking technologies like ZigBee are exciting, because they open up a wider variety of doors for software and applications developers to create new programs and tools. These limited-range wireless brethren also inject allow the technology to expand into al sorts of other esoteric (and not so esoteric) areas that can be enhanced by wireless access to Web-based information or to the Internet in general.

For those not in the short-range loop, ZigBee is a standards-based wireless platform for remote monitoring, control and sensing applications. Since ZigBee has very low power requirements (and can, in fact, be powered by a couple of standard batteries), it can easily be embedded into products and then operate for months at a time since ZigBee networks do not transmit all the time. It is also considered to be better than Bluetooth since it can support higher data rates and is much better suited for wireless mesh networking.

ZigBee is also designed to operate in less-than-perfect environments, has a very high degree of reliability, and is perfect for home control, building automation and industrial automation applications. Motorola, Inc, and others are also looking at ZigBee for "smart" home and office appliances, perhaps installing a ZigBee device into a copier that can automatically signal when the tone is low or someone is copying sensitive information.

Our contacts within Motorola's SPS Wireless and Mobile Systems Group tell us there is a very strong possibility of an eventually huge installed base of products based on ZigBee and other short-range wireless technology. The key, however is to focus on a particular applications segment and don't try to be all things to all client/people.

In terms of when this will all happen, those in the know (which may soon be you as well!) are looking toward early next year for shipments and products. However, we already know of a number of small companies that have developed new hardware elements and software, and are talking with manufacturers now about new products. Our advice would be to first define your potential customer market, and then approach the ZigBee manufacturers with ideas. Most likely, these companies will take you under their wings if you have a valid silicon-to-sales argument.

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