Implications of ZigBee 3.0: Towards a More Universal Home Automation Standard ... Kinda Like Z-Wave

Say goodbye to silos. ZigBee 3.0 creates universal open standard for home automation, lighting control, energy management and more, giving Z-Wave some competition at last.

ZigBee 3.0 will finally give Z-Wave some competition in the interoperability department.
Julie Jacobson · November 25, 2014

One big gripe about ZigBee, the home automation and energy management technology, is that it isn’t really a standard. Not all ZigBee “Pro” interoperable devices communicate with others.

Several flavors of the protocol have been implemented according to application, with multiple profiles being established by the ZigBee Alliance: ZigBee HA (home automation); Smart Energy Profile, or SEP (energy management); Light Link (lighting control); Personal Home & Hospital Care, or PHHC (digital health); and others (see FAQ below).

Now the Alliance has announced ZigBee 3.0 which eliminates the communications silos and unifies the profiles into a single universal “standard” not unlike Z-Wave.

Existing profile-specific devices would work with version 3.0, naturally, since it is a compilation of all the profiles.

With the new version, “All device types, commands, and functionality defined in current ZigBee Pro-based standards are available to developers in the new standard,” the organization says.

“The ZigBee Alliance has always believed that true interoperability comes from standardization at all levels of the network, especially the application level which most closely touches the user,” says Tobin J. M. Richardson, president and CEO of the ZigBee Alliance, in a statement. “Lessons learned by Alliance members when taking products to market around the world have allowed us to unify our application standards into a single standard.”

In other words: the markets don’t much like the confusing array of incompatible ZigBee products.

Speaking of incompatible, several home automation companies such as Control4 and Crestron still employ a proprietary version of ZigBee, meaning their thermostats, keypads, dimmers and other modified-ZigBee devices cannot be used with third-party controllers.

Some 45 million ZigBee-enabling chipsets have been shipped to date, but a big chunk of them—around 11 million—have gone into smart meters and other non-consumer products. Another chunk has gone into proprietary products like those from Control4 and Crestron.

Other “ZigBee” chips have been used for 6LoWPAN, the technology that delivers IPv6 over 802.15.4 radios—the same radios used for ZigBee. The most notable of the 6LoWPAN implementers is Nest (its own Weave technology), which will become the more open-standard Thread protocol. Also, Greenwave Reality (now Greenwave Systems), which makes (rather, made) lighting products under the TCP brand, utilizes 6LoWPAN.

The new one-standard ZigBee should be beneficial to the universe of ZigBee device makers and consumers alike, making the standard a fiercer competitor to Z-Wave, which has always been the more universal of the two home-control standards.

ZigBee 3.0 is expected to be ratified in Q4 2015.

Why the Silos in the First Place?

A response in ZigBee’s FAQ (below) tells us that the Alliance created various flavors of the protocol to optimize performance in specific categories, given the small size and low-power requirements of the hardware. But smaller, more integrated, more powerful SoCs (systems on chip) have emerged, ensuring the same strong ZigBee performance, even while serving an entire ecosystem.

Will ZigBee 3.0 create hardware and software hardhips for existing category-specific ZigBee implementers?

“We do not believe this is a significant burden,” Ryan Maley, VP strategic marketing for the ZigBee Alliance, tells CE Pro. “There may be some small additional overhead associated with supporting different types of networking formation methods. We do know that existing products with current hardware configurations are being used in testing today and expect this to continue so supporting ZigBee 3.0 will not mean that more expensive hardware or memory configurations will be required.”

ZigBee 3.0 FAQ


What standards are being unified?
The initial release of ZigBee 3.0 includes ZigBee Home Automation, ZigBee Light Link, ZigBee Building Automation, ZigBee Retail Services, ZigBee Health Care, and ZigBee Telecommunication services. This means a wide variety of smart devices can interoperate seamlessly leading to new, innovative IoT solutions.

What about ZigBee Smart Energy?
All application level functionality of ZigBee Smart Energy is already included in ZigBee 3.0. However, ZigBee Smart Energy uses advanced security based on elliptical curve cryptography specifically implemented for use by electric utilities to enable a highly secured smart grid. This level of security will be integrated as an optional feature of ZigBee 3.0 in the future and will enable merging ZigBee Smart Energy.

Why were there separate standards?
In the past, the Alliance has focused on optimizing our standards for individual markets based on limitations of hardware (including processor speed and memory size) and the particular requirements of individual markets. The latest hardware solutions like fast, low-cost SOCs combined with the increasing desire to connect an even wider variety of devices in every market led our members to create ZigBee 3.0. The new standard makes it even easier for developers to create products and services that can interoperate seamlessly with the widest variety of everyday devices.

What happens to standards like ZigBee Home Automation?
Companies will continue to release ZigBee Home Automation products for some time but the Alliance believes most companies will choose to move towards ZigBee 3.0 in order to interoperate seamlessly with the widest variety of devices and sell their products in multiple markets.

I’m currently developing a ZigBee product. Should I wait for ZigBee 3.0 to be ratified until I complete my product?
No. If you are developing a ZigBee Home Automation 1.2 or ZigBee Light Link 1.0 product, your product will be forward compatible with ZigBee 3.0. Continue to work to bring your product to market! Getting your product ZigBee Certified today means you are ZigBee 3.0 ready.

Do we have to update our current products?
End devices certified to ZigBee Home Automation 1.2 and ZigBee Light Link 1.0 will be forward compatible with ZigBee 3.0. In order to take advantage of all ZigBee 3.0 functionality, devices supporting other standards may need to be updated. The Alliance encourages product developers to include over-the-air upgrade capability in all products.

Is ZigBee 3.0 based on Internet Protocol (IP)?
ZigBee 3.0 is based on ZigBee PRO, which is designed for the particular needs of device-to-device networking. ZigBee PRO is low-power, low-cost, and low-complexity supporting mesh networking for improved reliability and still can be run in very small devices such as simple sensors.

I am a developer and used to dealing with the current ZigBee standards documents. Will the documents change?
The documents will change and be organized so you can better find the information you need. The ZigBee PRO specification will define network operations. A ZigBee 3.0 Base Device Behavior specification will define the behavior for all devices when forming or joining a network. A new ZigBee 3.0 Application Architecture document will provide guidance for implementing ZigBee in your solutions. Finally, the ZigBee 3.0 Cluster Library will provide a single document which defines all application level functionality.
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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at

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