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Hawking Bets Big On ZigBee

Posted by iTech - 2006-04-03

Hawking Technologies, a manufacturer of connectivity solutions now testing the home automation market, is preparing to take the wraps off one of the first home-control solutions based on the ZigBee wireless standard.
Hawking's HomeRemote solution, expected to ship later this spring, uses ZigBee technology, which provides low- bandwidth wireless connections at up to 75 meters, allowing homeowners to remotely control lighting, temperature and appliances through a Web browser on a PC or mobile device. A variety of security sensors that attach to doors and windows allows users to monitor the security of their homes while they're away, says Jason Owen, chief marketing manager at Hawking, Irvine, Calif.

A wireless gateway with an embedded 802.11g router serves as the main "brain" of HomeRemote, which connects to the Internet and communicates to ZigBee sensors. "We've taken IP and converged it with ZigBee for a home-control system you can control from the Internet while you're at work or on vacation," Owen says.

Home automation is a huge market that's being held back right now by the high cost of solutions, which limits the market to high-end homes and businesses, Owen says. Hawking wants to lower the bar by providing advanced features in an economically priced home automation solution. "We're offering integrators a solution they can take to the lower end of the consumer market," he says.

Chris Park, president of Millennium Systems, a New York home integrator, considers HomeRemote an economical alternative to higher-end systems because it hooks into existing home infrastructure and doesn't require additional smart devices. "Cost is definitely the big upsell for this product," he says.

Hawking will go to market with a consumer version of HomeRemote to be sold through retail. More sophisticated solutions with enhanced technical support will be sold only to integrators through distributors. The consumer version will be scaled down so that users can self-install, but integrators will have a full suite of diverse options to offer to customers, including advanced lighting control and security features, Owen says. He declined to provide information on pricing or details on a new volume-based integrator program Hawking is developing.

Although Hawking plans to make the retail version of HomeRemote easy for home users to install, Park isn't concerned about potential channel conflict. "HomeRemote includes advanced features such as the ability to set up wireless alerts for delivery to smartphones and PDAs, and in order to get those bells and whistles running, you need an integrator," he says.

ZigBee's strength in home automation lies in its low power consumption and its ability to tie together controls and sensors into self-organizing networks, says Bob Heile, chairman of the ZigBee Alliance, an industry group that certifies ZigBee products for interoperability with those from other vendors. "ZigBee is about moving your information-gathering and controlling ability from the network backbone environment all the way out to sensor devices--the only economical way of doing it is wirelessly," he says.

Although several vendors are planning to use ZigBee technology in home automation solutions, the market hasn't matured to the point where integrators can assemble best-of-breed solutions, Heile says. However, he predicts integrators will have access to a significantly wider range of ZigBee home products by year's end.

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