What is ZigBee?

Lighting in apartments, offices or entire buildings can be controlled really conveniently ­using modern wireless solutions. Not only can a complex lighting mood be created at the press of a button, but the high costs ­associated with installing cables are also eliminated. All that thanks to “ZigBee”.

What is Zigbee?

ZigBee was developed as a wireless standard for wireless communication between close-range sensors and devices. ZigBee uses the globally available 2.4 GHz frequency range as well as various mechanisms for avoiding interference and collisions. Furthermore, the mesh network technology ensures high network reliability. The latest version, ZigBee 3.0, increases the flexibility for users and developers. ZigBee 3.0 is based on ZigBee PRO, which extends the IEEE 802.15.4 standard by adding on mesh-network and security layers together with an application framework, thus forming a fully-featured, energy-saving, certifiable and interoperable wireless solution.

Light creates atmosphere: this is equally true regardless of whether in the home, in the office or in the local store. When combined with modern LEDs especially, smart lighting systems offer a wealth of possibilities for saving and retrieving even complex lighting scenes as well as changing the ambience.

In the past, however, the switch to traditional, wired light-management systems often meant intensive construction work and high installation costs.

This problem is solved by lamps and luminaires, which are connected by means of wireless technology and use different communication solutions.

One example in this context is the ZigBee wireless protocol, which has become a widely disseminated standard. According to Sunil Kumar Singh, a lead analyst at Technavio specialising in research on semiconductor equipment:

Smart bulbs enable consumers to control their lights remotely through wireless communication technologies such as ZigBee. This enables consumers to utilise the Internet to equip their homes with smart lamps and luminaires.

LED luminaires with wireless module

Philips, for example, chose ZigBee as the communications technology for its smart, connected LED lighting system “Hue”.

The system consists of special LED luminaires fitted with ZigBee communication modules, which are controlled via a gateway, or bridge as it is known, by means of a smartphone or also using digital assistants like Amazon Alexa or Apple Siri.

The system makes it easy to select different light colours and create different moods. Thanks to ZigBee, not only can the Hue lamps communicate with each other, but potentially also with other ZigBee-based devices such as motion sensors or thermostats for example.

At the same time, they offer a wide range of signals and consume significantly less energy than traditional WLAN systems.

New lighting system without the need for recabling

EnOcean is another technology that is very popular in the area of building services: the switches and sensors developed by the manufacturer of the same name independently generate the electricity needed to transmit the signals, either by means of photoelectric cells or by converting kinetic energy to electricity when the switch is pressed.

This flexibility was also the reason why EnOcean wireless technology was used in the Anderson Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum: in this case, the legacy lighting solution was to be replaced with a modern lighting-control system that would allow the lamps to be switched on and off conveniently.

Recabling the museum would have been too expensive, however, owing to the large halls and high ceilings required to house the exhibits.

Moreover, the lighting controls were to be upgraded in the event areas of the museum. This, too, posed a challenge as the infrastructure required for installing remote sensors and control elements simply did not exist.

The wireless EnOcean lighting control systems provided the ideal solution for both problems.

Batteryless wall switches based on the EnOcean wireless standard were successfully installed where needed throughout the entire museum and, thanks to their excellent signal range of more than 90 metres, were able to bridge the large distances in the halls.

A control system was fitted additionally via the wireless interface, which made it easy to program the automatic lighting system for the exhibition.

Historic church with modern lighting

The 500-year-old church “Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza” in Farasdués, a small village in the Pyrenees, was also given a new lease of life thanks to a wireless lighting solution from the independent lighting consultant Dr Octavio Perez.

Until recently, the lighting for the church was provided in the form of 500-watt halogen lamps. The aim was to reduce the energy consumption by converting to LED lighting.

And with success too: the new LED lighting reduced the energy consumption from 9000 watts for the old halogen system to just 600 watts, with the new luminaires also offering a long lifetime without the need for maintenance.

But Dr Perez didn’t stop there: the lighting-control solution from the Finnish company Casambi allows the priest to now control the light wirelessly from a smartphone or tablet, meaning he no longer has to continually go to the back room to flick the light switch.

The lighting control is based on Bluetooth Low Energy and is therefore compatible with practically every smartphone, tablet and even every smart watch.

The Casambi app, which is installed on an iOS or Android device, can be used to communicate directly with the luminaires and dimmers, without the need for a gateway device or Wi-Fi network.

The luminaires form a self-organising, self-repairing, robust and flexible mesh network. The system offers the church numerous lighting options, according to Perez:

There are various preprogrammed scenes that the priest can select via his smartphone or also a remote switch.

In addition, the wireless technology allowed the system to be installed without additional cabling and without adversely impacting the historic building structure.

“If it wasn’t for a wireless control system like Casambi, it would simply have been ‘impossible’ to implement this project,” says Perez. “A new installation is really difficult in historical buildings since the laying of new cables is not usually permitted.”

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