ZigBee® and HomePlug®

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In creating home area networks (HANs) for millions of homes, one size doesn’t fit all. Users want and need choices in the price and functionality of in-home devices like thermostats, in-home displays, and smart plugs. Choice in rate plans from utilities helps users find the balance of convenience and conservation that works for them. And with the real-world considerations of network installation and operation, users want options between wired and wireless networks – hence the reasoning behind the recently announced joint effort by ZigBee Alliance and the HomePlug Powerline Alliance to implement the ZigBee Smart Energy public application profile on HomePlug power line networks.

Wired or wireless?
The choice between wired and wireless networks is more than just convenience or preference. In some scenarios, one technology simply works far better than the other. Consider the fact that regulated utilities are charged with providing equal service to all customers in their service territory. This means, for instance, that apartment dwellers should have access to the same home area networking services available to people living in single family homes. But if your apartment is on the 23rd floor of a concrete building and your apartment’s meter is located inside a metal cabinet in the building’s sub-basement, then wireless networking between your apartment and your meter might not work.

Likewise, the thermostats for most central HVAC systems are not connected to the power line system of the house, but usually have a low voltage connection directly to the HVAC equipment. Thus, relying strictly on power line networking would exclude many thermostats from HANs. For ease of retrofitting a network into a home and for portability of devices inside the home, nothing beats the freedom of wireless networking.

Who is the HomePlug Powerline Alliance?
Thirteen companies formed the HomePlug Powerline Alliance in March 2000 and released the specification for HomePlug 1.0 in June 2001. Prior to the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, many companies offered separate, proprietary methods for networking across a home’s power lines, but there was no standard to help devices interoperate to enable the market to grow.

Today, the HomePlug Powerline Alliance has over 70 member companies including Comcast, GE, Intel, LG, Motorola, Sharp, and Texas Instruments, along with more than 60 certified products listed on the website.

In determining how to expand HANs for energy management, the HomePlug Powerline Alliance and the ZigBee Alliance knew that customer involvement would provide critical guidance. The joint steering committee overseeing the collaborative work between the two alliances includes three representatives from each alliance’s board of directors, and representatives from eight utilities. Those utilities are American Electric Power, CenterPoint, Consumers Energy, Duke, Oncor, Pacific Gas & Electric, Reliant, and Southern California Edison.

The power of standards
Both the HomePlug Powerline Alliance and the ZigBee Alliance understand the power of open standards to offer choice, help expand markets and drive innovation and competition. They know that the current version of ZigBee Smart Energy is helping launch sweeping change in the home energy management industry. Many utilities on the joint steering committee have already committed to programs that are deploying tens of millions of smart meters utilizing the current ZigBee Smart Energy public profile.

Clearly, there’s power in combining standards, as well. Consider the combination of standards behind your ability to view web sites on your desktop computer, wireless laptop computer or cellular phone. Standards help utilize the same application, like online banking, regardless of the underlying network. The same applies for energy management. By focusing on the ZigBee Smart Energy open standard application in their collaboration, the HomePlug Powerline Alliance and the ZigBee Alliance aim to create a perfect fit for how consumers understand and manage home energy consumption.