I recommend the ZigBee protocol only when a design requires interoperability with other ZigBee devices, or when someone wants a ZigBee certification. For proprietary designs or basic wireless communications, modules that operate to the IEEE 802.15.4 standard will do a nice job without the software overhead ZigBee requires.
I was once very interested in those TI 802.15.4 SoCs, but those currently in production use an 8051 core and to do anything useful with them requires a heafy investment in development tools (eg IAR which costs 2-3k$). No thank you, ARM for me please.
Using wireless chips and accessories, engineers can now extract data from the unlikeliest of places -- pumps, motors, bridges, conveyors, refineries, cooling towers, parking garages, down-hole drills and just about anything else that can benefit from monitoring.
With strong marketplace demand for qualified engineers across the board that currently outstrips the available supply, there may never be a better time for engineers and project managers to advance their careers and salaries. Whether those moves are successful in the short-term and long-term is likely to depend on how the transition from one job to the next is handled.
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