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Why use 802.15.4 or ZigBee?

Why use 802.15.4 or ZigBee? Couldn't you just use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi?
IEEE 802.15.4 and ZigBee were designed from the ground up to enable "wireless network of things," where things are such modest devices as thermostats, security devices and gas meters. Four things characterize these "networks of things":
  • Low cost: Many of these networked 'things' are low cost. The networking component must also be low cost.
  • Low power: Many applications require battery power, and their batteries must last for years.
  • High reliability, low "touch": These applications need to run without ever requiring human intervention.
  • Highly scalable: Many applications require networking hundreds or thousands of devices.
By contrast, Bluetooth was designed essentially as a wire replacement, often between your cell phone and nearby devices, such as headsets and PDAs. It satisfies the low cost requirement, but doesn't do well for the remaining three requirements:
  • A Bluetooth device might last for weeks without a recharge, but not months and certainly not years.
  • Bluetooth devices generally expect a human to be in the loop for configuring and maintaining the connections.
  • Bluetooth is designed to efficiently handle eight devices (one master and seven slaves). After that, communication rates slow down substantially.
And 802.11, also known as Wi-Fi, has similar issues. Although it is an excellent solution for linking laptops and desktop machines to wired networks, 802.11 is notoriously bad on power consumption.
This was last published in June 2004

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