ZigBee is the set of specs built around the IEEE 802.15.4 wireless protocol. The IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering technology involving electronics and electronic devices. The 802 group is the section of the IEEE involved in network operations and technologies, including mid-sized networks and local networks. Group 15 deals specifically with wireless networking technologies, and includes the now ubiquitous 802.15.1 working group, which is also known as Bluetooth®. The standard itself is regulated by a group known as the ZigBee Alliance, with over 150 members worldwide.
While Bluetooth® focuses on connectivity between large packet user devices, such as laptops, phones, and major peripherals, ZigBee is designed to provide highly efficient connectivity between small packet devices. As a result of its simplified operations, which are one to two full orders of magnitude less complex than a comparable Bluetooth® device, pricing for these devices is extremely competitive, with full nodes available for a fraction of the cost of a Bluetooth® node. They are also actively limited to a through-rate of 250 Kbps, compared to the much larger pipeline of 1 Mbps for Bluetooth®, and operates on the 2.4 GHz ISM band, which is available throughout most of the world.
ZigBee has been developed to meet the growing demand for capable wireless networking between numerous low-power devices. In industry, it is being used for next generation automated manufacturing, with small transmitters in every device on the floor, allowing for communication between devices to a central computer. This new level of communication permits finely-tuned remote monitoring and manipulation. In the consumer market, the technology is being explored for everything from linking low-power household devices such as smoke alarms to a central housing control unit, to centralized light controls.
The specified maximum range of operation for ZigBee devices is 250 feet (76 m), substantially further than that used by Bluetooth® capable devices. Security concerns raised over "sniping" devices remotely, however, may prove to hold true for both technologies.
Due to its low power output, ZigBee devices can sustain themselves on a small battery for many months, or even years, making them ideal for install-and-forget purposes, such as most small household systems. Predictions of its installation for the future, most based on the explosive use of this technology in automated household tasks in China, look to a time when upwards of 60 devices may be found in an average American home, all communicating with one another freely and regulating common tasks seamlessly.