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Tendril Links ZigBee into Printers

Pushing ZigBee technology to a new level of visibility and active deployments, Tendril Networks has launched a partnership with MeterControl Inc. to develop an application that uses ZigBee wireless networks to remotely monitor and manage printers and copiers in large-campus environments. (See Tendril Develops ZigBee App.)

The application is among the most visible to date based on ZigBee, a radio-frequency system based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) 's 802.15.4 standard for low-power, short-range applications in the 2.4GHz band. Devices using ZigBee can transfer data at a few hundred bits per second at a range of around 15 meters to 20 meters. Typically, ZigBee-based equipment is deployed in large meshed networks used to closely monitor specific conditions in enterprise environments -- like the temperature of a climate-controlled warehouse, or security in a large oil refinery, or, in this case, the status of multiple printers across big campuses.

While major vendors including Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Philips Semiconductors (NYSE: PHG) have pushed ZigBee for sensor networks and other applications, few such networks have actually been deployed. Startups including Tendril, Dust Networks , and Ember Corp. have developed network hardware and software that allows ZigBee-based silicon to essentially act as tiny wireless routers.

In a report released yesterday, Frost & Sullivan predicted rapid growth for the market for both ZigBee and ultrawideband (UWB) chipsets. Nearly 2.5 million ZigBee chipsets shipped in 2005, generating revenues of about $11.2 million, the research firm said, and the market will grow at an annual rate of 190 percent to reach $800 million by 2009.

Founded in 2004 in Boulder, Colo. to create software to find and manage sensors on automated wireless control networks, Tendril has received around $7 million in venture funding from investors led by Appian Ventures , Access Venture Partners, and In-Q-Tel , the venture-capital arm of the CIA. The company specializes in wireless sensor and control networks powered by ZigBee.

Burnsville, Minn.-based MeterControl, created the same year as Tendril to develop remote meter-access solutions, will use Tendril's software to create a ZigBee network that will allow enterprises to measure usage, monitor device health, and respond to hiccups in machines spread across multiple buildings.

Before ZigBee and Tendril's software, "it would've taken a company like MeterControl 10 times as long to get their solution into the market," says Tendril founder and COO Tim Enwall. "The open-standard nature of ZigBee creates flexibility and price competition, so companies can enter the low-power wireless application market easily and quickly."

The Tendril/MeterControl application will allow IT managers to wirelessly monitor and manage copier and printer usage over a network of small ZigBee devices attached to each machine. It's not necessary for the ZigBee devices to run over the same LAN as the copiers and printers themselves.

Enwall predicts that 2007 will see an increasing array of new products and systems built around ZigBee.

"Based on the pipeline from the testing houses, by the end of this year you'll see over 100 new products," predicts Enwall.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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