TI Heats Up Zigbee
Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) has leapt into the short-range wireless market with its planned $200 million buyout of Zigbee chip designer Chipcon.
The Norwegian startup creates chips that can be used in "sensor networks," where a large meshed network of short-range radios is used to closely monitor specific conditions in enterprise environments -- like the temperature of a climate-controlled warehouse, or security in a large oil refinery.
Zigbee is the radio standard typically used to create these sensor networks. The radio specification is based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) 's 802.15.4 standard, which defines a low-power radio standard that can operate in the public 2.4GHz band transferring data at a few hundred bits per second at a range of around 15 meters to 20 meters. (See Radio Standard Gets Small.)
Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Philips Semiconductors (NYSE: PHG) are also pushing the Zigbee standard for sensor networks and other applications. (See ZigBee Alliance Preps Specs.)
So why is Zigbee so little known compared to other radio standards such as Bluetooth, WiFi, and WiMax? Partly it is because the vendors behind the technology have only recently agreed on specifications.
And, so far, there are no major vendors using the technology to create such networks. Like the wireless LAN switch market of a few years ago, well funded startups are currently the only companies making significant efforts in this market.
Newcomers like Dust Networks and Ember Corp. have taken the Zigbee chips and developed mesh networking hardware and software around them that allows the wireless chips to operate as a tiny wireless routers, passing data around the network.
But with TI's $200 million buy and increasing interest in all manner of wireless tracking and monitoring applications, it's quite possible that more interest, and more money, will flow into Zigbee-powered sensor networks next year.
TI expects the acquisition to close in January.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung