Wireless communication in commercial lighting environment: Network maintenance

Having analyzed some of the crucial factors determining the robustness of a commercial smart lighting network, we’ll now look at the issues related to network maintenance.

A list of tasks that need to be performed in order to keep a smart mesh network up and running is not much different from what traditional network administrators do on a day-to-day basis. These include replacing and upgrading both hardware and software, monitoring and tuning network performance, or troubleshooting network problems. However, the challenges that have to be addressed as part of these tasks are very different from what we’ve been used to so far. Some of these challenges stem from the resource-scarce nature of IoT devices, while others are a direct consequence of the density of mesh networks that we expect to see in the commercial environment.

Just like in the case of reliability and robustness of commercial smart lighting systems, scale is the key word also when talking about network maintenance. Taking care of a 5-bulb Philips Hue setup in your living room isn’t that much of a deal, although users do report that even this might get a bit tricky from time to time. But a commercial space – again – is a totally different story.

In commercial settings, smart lighting technologies must be ready to support high-density networks. If you look at a typical office space and try to sum up all of the nodes of a smart lighting system that could be deployed there, you’ll quickly realize how extensive such a network can be. Between LEDs, sensors and switches, you can easily hit hundreds of network nodes even in those less spacious office environments. In larger spaces, thousand-node networks should not be surprising at all, especially once you start counting in additional appliances that should be operating in concert with the lighting system – just to mention shades. And these numbers will only continue to grow. As wireless communication technologies for the IoT get more mature, and the efforts aimed at ensuring cross-vendor interoperability intensify, more and more devices and systems will be joining such networks. And as they grow, their maintenance will be getting more and more difficult.

Commercial lighting systems

Smartphones are amazing tools for personalized lighting control experience, as well as for ad-hoc adjustments in smart lighting system setup, but they cannot get all the job done by themselves. Setting up a network of 800 nodes – with all of its groups, scenes and associations – using only a smartphone would be a nightmare, regardless of wireless communication technology used.  A dedicated tool is required to make the process manageable, and it is the role of the smart lighting solution provider to develop such a tool.

The same applies to day-to-day network maintenance. One of the basic requirements for commercial smart lighting systems is that network nodes regularly report their current status. This allows relevant services to replace a faulty node immediately after it goes down – or even before this happens. However, do not expect wireless communication protocols to handle this process.  A relevant piece of software must be put in the right place to have such information automatically delivered to the right person and make it useful.

Now imagine an office space with hundreds of smart nodes. One of the LED fixtures reports abnormal temperature measurements, indicating that its lifespan is coming to an end – how do the maintenance services know which fixture is that? If smart lighting is really to make building maintenance easier, then what they need is a precise floor plan displayed on their screen, with the faulty fixture marked right on it. Such a feature also cannot be provided by any of the wireless communication technologies. This is again something that must be developed by a supplier of a smart lighting platform or a wireless connectivity stack.

Commercial lighting maintenance

The above is true for the vast majority of issues related to smart lighting network maintenance. The role of wireless communication protocols is limited here – in the sense that they only provide some very basic infrastructure for relevant maintenance processes. Specific concepts must be drawn up and specific tools must be developed to make mesh network maintenance convenient and efficient. Regardless of where you plan to buy the wireless connectivity stack, check with your vendors what type of solution they provide in this regard. You’ll save your customers many headaches, as well as time and money.

Accurate maintenance tools are important for one more reason. We must be prepared that in the case of high-density commercial smart lighting systems, the frequency of various network problems will be higher than in the case of traditional networks. Considering this, efficient predictive maintenance capabilities – including precise fixture diagnostics – is absolutely necessary to ensure smooth operation of the entire infrastructure.

Managing security keys is another important part of smart lighting network maintenance, and one of many challenges that we focus on when developing the Silvair smart lighting platform. Having driven development of Bluetooth Mesh for the past year and a half, we can’t wait for the formal adoption of the standard, firmly believing that it’s going to open a new chapter in the history of commercial lighting. But this new era will also require a new approach to network maintenance issues, and lighting manufacturers venturing into the IoT market certainly need to be aware of this.

Coming up next: network security

Silvair Team

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