They must have shared a heartfelt hug after this one.
The ZigBee Alliance and the Wi-Fi Alliance have said they will collaborate on applications for home energy management and networking. The initial goal will be to get Smart Energy 2.0, a standard promoted by ZigBee, to work on Wi-Fi.
ZigBee and Wi-Fi are both wireless protocols for allowing different devices to communicate, but they aren't the best of friends. In the early part of the decade, Wi-Fi became enshrined as a standard for notebooks and subsequently phones, in part because Wi-Fi can handle a large amount of data, and companies like Intel promoted it heavily. ZigBee was promoted by Philips and others, but the low-energy, lower-bandwidth protocol faced a problem: who needs it? ZigBee vendors tried a number of applications, but none seemed to gain widespread adoption.
Then the smart grid came about. Companies like Tendril Networks and others began to outfit home appliances with ZigBee and utilities began to conduct trials. It got an early lead but Wi-Fi and power line network companies began to pursue. GainSpan, for instance, has been promoting a low-powered Wi-Fi chip for home networking. Meanwhile, Powerline and ZigBee inked an alliance last year.
Interoperability between these three standards in marriages of convenience will essentially allow them to stay in competition in the home networking market. Appliance makers have said that they only want to support a few protocols for home area networking. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has said it wants to determine standards for home networking soon and has said it would prefer to support a few, but not an excessive, number of protocols.
By not throwing a hissy fit, ZigBee and Wi-Fi have essentially agreed to going along with the desires of the appliance makers and NIST to get solidified standards out early. Appliance makers will put boards in their systems that support ZigBee, Wi-Fi and likely power line. Consumers will be able to buy appliances without fear that they bought a ZigBee dryer in a utility zone that supports Wi-Fi. Competition between the standards will then be fought out in utility contracts and on store shelves over time.
The other winner in this could be, weirdly enough, Cisco. Cisco is one of the primary manufacturers of DSL boxes. These boxes will likely aggregate data from appliances and then deliver the data to smart meters. Smart meters in many areas will not communicate directly with appliances. Thus, there could be a boomlet in consumers upgrading their standard DSL box for computer and phone connections to one that provides Internet, phone and home networking.
These sorts of alliances further lessen the possibility that cellular will be used to let appliances communicate in the home. Other home networking standards will likely clamor for interoperability handshakes as well before NIST issues its final recommendations.
Elsewhere, Aurora Biofuels, which wants to raise algae in ponds and turn it into fuel, has raised $15 million more. That brings the total raised to $40 million. Robert Walsh recently resigned from Aurora as CEO. Last year, a number of algae and biofuel companies received grants from the Department of Energy but Aurora was not one of them.
Finally, CB Richard Ellis, the large commercial property developer, said it will start to offer solar leases, consulting, power purchase agreements and other services to clients. A Fortune 500 company getting into solar could help some companies -- imagine being on their short list of preferred vendors -- but it could also be bad news for start-ups who thought they might want to turn fallow roof space into power plants.