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How Zigbee and Bluetooth® LE Dual-Mode SoCs Support Smart Home Innovation

Telink Staff

June 10, 2021

Technology

Woman looking at smartphone in front of door

Many smart home use cases demand IoT devices capable of supporting protocols like Zigbee and Bluetooth® LE simultaneously.

The global smart home market surpassed $79 billion in value in 2020, and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 25.3 percent until 2026, at which point its value will be nearly $314 billion. While two of the three most common smart home device communication protocols, Bluetooth® and WiFi, are well-known among industry insiders and general consumers alike, the third, Zigbee, is not.

This is not to suggest that Zigbee is in any way less important than Bluetooth or WiFi, but only to highlight that the end users of smart home devices are less familiar with this protocol since it is not built into their smartphones, tablets, and other personal devices like Bluetooth and WiFi are.

The reality is that Zigbee is — and will remain — a critical protocol in many smart home ecosystems. In fact, according to Mordor Intelligence, the Zigbee market is set to experience a 12.6 percent compound annual growth rate between 2021 and 2026 thanks in large part to the deployment of Zigbee in smart home applications. Because Zigbee delivers a low-power, low-cost mesh networking solution, it is often an ideal fit for consumer IoT devices like video doorbells, smart lighting systems, and smart locks and security systems.

To bridge the gap between consumer-friendly protocols like Bluetooth LE and mesh networking protocols like Zigbee, many smart device developers and manufacturers are turning to a solution that provides the best of both worlds: dual-mode systems-on-a-chip (SoCs).

Using Zigbee and Bluetooth® LE Dual-Mode SoCs in the Smart Home

Building smart home devices on dual-mode SoCs has the potential to improve smart home ecosystems in a number of ways. For example, imagine that a homeowner installs a smart door lock on the front door of their home, a smart lighting system, and a smart HVAC system — all of which are connected to the same Zigbee network. This network would ensure the devices operate together seamlessly, but it would be difficult to control via a smartphone. Enter: dual-mode hardware.

If the smart lock in this example was built on an SoC programmed with both a Zigbee and a Bluetooth LE stack, it would enable the homeowner to send commands to their entire smart home ecosystem directly from their Bluetooth LE-enabled smartphone. Upon arriving home, they could unlock their front door via a Bluetooth LE command sent from their phone to their smart lock. Then, the smart lock could send a separate Zigbee command over the home’s mesh network to turn on all the lights on the first floor of the home and set the home’s smart thermostat to the homeowner’s preferred temperature.

Beyond facilitating smart home automation scenarios like the one described above, dual-mode SoCs can improve the efficiency of smart home ecosystem maintenance. Many IoT devices are maintained through over-the-air (OTA) updates, wherein a device manufacturer or device owner delivers security patches and other software updates without a wired connection. Some OTA updates involve the transmission of quite a bit of data, which can clog relatively low-data rate Zigbee mesh networks. However, if a homeowner’s smart devices are equipped with Bluetooth capabilities as well as Zigbee capabilities, the homeowner can send OTA updates via the higher throughput Bluetooth protocol.

Common Types of Dual-Mode SoCs

Previously, achieving this degree of flexibility within a smart home ecosystem was only possible with devices that featured multiple SoCs — one that supported Zigbee and one that supported Bluetooth LE. Multi-chip solutions not only increase BOM cost significantly, but complicate PCB design by forcing developers to account for the communication between two distinct radios.

Dual-mode SoCs eliminate this design complexity and reduce overall BOM costs, laying the groundwork for higher-performing, more cost-effective smart home devices. These devices are typically manufactured in one of three ways:

  • Dual-Boot Mode: During manufacturing, two types of firmware — often Zigbee and Bluetooth LE — are burned for Flash on different sections of a chip. A device’s boot settings determine the image from which the device boots. The device can switch protocols as part of a reboot, which can be initiated through an external trigger like a special key combination.
  • Dual-Pair Mode: Devices of this type are shipped from the factory with support for two protocols in unified firmware. When powered up, a device will automatically search for a protocol with which to pair. Once paired, the device will work in the paired mode until it undergoes a factory reset.
  • Concurrent Mode: Devices of this type are also shipped with multiprotocol support in unified firmware. When powered up, a device will be able to pair with a Bluetooth LE device while simultaneously joining a Zigbee network. For an illustration of this dual functionality, watch the video below.

Dual-Mode Hardware, Singular Focus on Innovation

Telink has always been committed to leading the charge on IoT innovation, particularly when it comes to connectivity technology. To empower smart home device manufacturers to deliver cutting-edge products, we have developed multi-mode SoCs that can be configured with multiple types of firmware during the software preprogramming and manufacturing process. Whether a use case calls for Bluetooth LE, Bluetooth SIG Mesh, Telink Mesh, Zigbee, HomeKit, or Thread, our hardware gives device manufacturers everything they need.

Telink chips can also be configured to support dual-boot mode, dual-pair mode, and concurrent mode IoT devices. For example, our TLSR8258 provides simultaneous support for Zigbee and Bluetooth LE communications, enabling a device to pair with a Bluetooth LE device like a smartphone while also joining — and communicating over — a Zigbee mesh network.

As smart home devices become an ever-more dominant market force over the next several years, Telink’s multiprotocol IoT solutions will become an increasingly pivotal piece of next-gen IoT ecosystems.

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