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Comcast: ZigBee Set-Top Box is Gateway to Home Control

Using ZigBee RF4CE, Comcast launches Xfinity set-top boxes and remotes with wireless RF to expand control of other home devices.

Cable companies such as Comcast are converting set-top boxes and remotes to RF wireless to form the "next generation of home networking" that can control security, energy, health monitoring, home entertainment and other environmental systems.

According to Cees Links, CEO of GreenPeak Technologies and the chair of the ZigBee RF4CE interface committee, connected set-top boxes will enable the cable companies to deliver the "smart, automated home" very soon.

"Many technology watchers have predicted that [with] the arrival of automated smart homes, homeowners will seek out and install the latest, coolest gizmos that will make a house truly smart. Well, it ain’t gonna happen that way," says Links. "Instead, powered by ZigBee RF4CE, a low power, low data rate version of Wi-Fi, this new network is the choice of the world’s cable companies and service providers as the way to introduce new services and applications to the home.

Cable companies have realized that is not enough to provide high quality video and web connectivity – they have the total infra-structure in place to provide a wide range of other services, if they want to engage their customers and keep them as subscribers in a web connected world.

It is the cable companies of the world that are launching the new smart homes centered around the ubiquitous set-top box – not the TV makers, not the home aftermarket or security device providers."

At CES 2012, Comcast said it is moving to ZigBee RF4CE with its new Xfinity set-top boxes and remotes.

“We are moving to support ZigBee RF4CE standards-based remote controls and set-tops because they improve the user experience for navigating all our services in the home, while allowing us to make the transition to RF technology in a very cost effective way,” says Ted Grauch, vice president, Video Premise Equipment for Comcast.

Comcast is not alone. Links says "every other service provider in the world" and several manufacturers, including Sony, are also testing and planning to move to ZigBee RF for their set-top boxes and remotes.

"Within a few years, maybe five, how everyone communicates with their home entertainment and monitoring/control systems will change," adds Links.

Because ZigBee uses 2.4 GHz, it can penetrate walls, cabinets, furniture, floors and even humans. Links says Comcast and other cable companies will have fewer service calls related to remote controls with the new ZigBee wireless. Other benefits include the future elimination of batteries for remotes, a farther range and a "find" button that will make the remote beep so it can't get lost as easily.

Links says other features coming from the cable companies include interactive messaging delivered from the set-top box to the remote for programming notifications, advertising, bill payment and product purchases. Comcast has already rolled out it entry-level control and its home security solution. In addition, an entire portfolio of "Smart Home" services such home security, energy monitoring and management, solar panel controls, health monitoring, etc., all controlled through the set-top box, can now be offered by service providers and cable companies, according to Links.

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Article Topics

News · Product News · Home Automation and Control · Control Systems · Security · Universal Remotes · Energy Management · Networking · Comcast · Catv · All topics

About the Author

Jason Knott, Editor, CE Pro
Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California.

3 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Vincent Bova  on  01/27  at  05:22 PM

It’s hard to believe that the cable company would even devote the technology, capital or manpower to such a unimportant project when there are real dangers of people not even subscribing to cable anymore.  Furthermore, control and automation is something that cable companies are specifically no good at.  I can’t imagine how Zigbee would be able to handle the bandwidth neccesary to stream content.  I just don’t see this happening, and the cable conpanies should focus on more important issues anyway.

Posted by Bill  on  01/28  at  01:19 PM

Not sure where you’re seeing that this will be used for content delivery.  I’ll just be happy that with a ZigBe module in the box, I can get rid of one flash strand intruding onto the front of my rack.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  01/30  at  08:27 AM

Vincent, as Bill says, ZigBee doesn’t stream content. In fact, the discussion here really is only about an RF protocol for universal remotes, not for any kind of home control. RF4CE is just trying to standardize on RF in order to replace today’s archaic IR for controlling A/V.

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