Oki Electric Industry began running an experimental ZigBee-based sensor network in Japan's western port city of Kobe on Monday.
The company has installed a network of five solar battery powered wireless terminals on streetlights and 15 terminals in the ceiling of a shopping mall in the city to test the networking capabilities of ZigBee technology, said Naomi Takeuchi, an Oki spokeswoman.
ZigBee is a wireless system based on the 802.15.4 standard approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. It is designed to carry data at up to 250K bps (bits per second) and use very little power so that ZigBee equipment can run for years on standard household batteries.
The experiment, which will last for five days, is being conducted to test whether a ZigBee network can successfully transmit data in real-life settings: in this case, a mall crowded with shoppers or in the open with cars and pedestrians passing by, Takeuchi said.
ZigBee is supposed to be able to transmit data up to a range of 30 meters. The outdoor nodes are powered by solar cells that will also charge batteries to be used to provide power at night, she said.
In the trials, a tester walks up and down the street and through the mall and sends and receives test data with the network using a handheld communicator supplied by a Japanese government-affiliated research institute called the Ubiquitous Networking Laboratory.
The communicator is an experimental PDA (personal digital assistant) designed to connect to a variety of networks including ZigBee, WLAN (wireless LAN) and Bluetooth. It also features a smart tag reader and is capable of IP telephony, according to specifications released by the laboratory.
Oki is one of about 10 major Japanese companies that are members of the ZigBee Alliance, a consortium of around 100 companies supporting the technology. Other companies from Japan include Mitsubishi Electric and Renesas Technolog. Non-Japanese companies include Freescale Semiconductor, Royal Philips Electronics, and Samsung Electronic.
The consortium finalized the specification for the technology last December. Member companies are planning to release products for monitoring, sensing and control applications during 2005, according to the alliance.
Last May, Oki developed a ZigBee compliant chip, and the company will start shipping samples before the end of February, Takeuchi said.
If the experiment in Kobe is successful, Oki hopes the trials can be broadened. The experiment is being conducted in cooperation with Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, which wants to test the technology's performance and is considering testing more ZigBee networks she said.
In addition, the Kobe city government may consider a city-wide deployment using the technology, according to Takeuchi.
"It's about providing information about places and public facilities to people on the move," she said.