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ZigBee is a specification for a suite of high level communication protocols used to create personal area networks built from small, low-power digital radios. ZigBee is based on an IEEE 802.15 standard. Though low-powered, ZigBee devices can transmit data over long distances by passing data through intermediate devices to reach more distant ones, creating a mesh network; i.e., a network with no centralized control or high-power transmitter/receiver able to reach all of the networked devices. The decentralized nature of such wireless ad hoc networks make them suitable for applications where a central node can't be relied upon.
Because ZigBee nodes can go from sleep to active mode in 30 ms or less, the latency can be low and devices can be responsive, particularly compared to Bluetooth wake-up delays, which are typically around three seconds. Because ZigBee nodes can sleep most of the time, average power consumption can be low, resulting in long battery life.
ZigBee devices are of three types:
- ZigBee Coordinator (ZC): The most capable device, the Coordinator forms the root of the network tree and might bridge to other networks. There is exactly one ZigBee Coordinator in each network since it is the device that started the network originally (the ZigBee LightLink specification also allows operation without a ZigBee Coordinator, making it more usable for over-the-shelf home products). It stores information about the network, including acting as the Trust Center & repository for security keys.
- ZigBee Router (ZR): As well as running an application function, a Router can act as an intermediate router, passing on data from other devices.
- ZigBee End Device (ZED): Contains just enough functionality to talk to the parent node (either the Coordinator or a Router); it cannot relay data from other devices. This relationship allows the node to be asleep a significant amount of the time thereby giving long battery life. A ZED requires the least amount of memory, and therefore can be less expensive to manufacture than a ZR or ZC.