Wireless technologies in lighting – what matters and what makes a difference

Editor's note: This post was originally published in May 2016 and has been completely revamped to ensure accuracy and up-to-dateness of the presented information.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be publishing a series of comprehensive blogposts on wireless communication in commercial lighting environment. We originally published this series back in 2016, but a lot has changed since then. The market is evolving, new solutions are emerging, and we keep learning as connected lighting technologies mature in parallel with rapid technology advancements. Therefore, we plan to revamp the original blogposts and update the information they contain to ensure accuracy and relevance. We will also publish completely new blogposts covering the issues that weren’t addressed as part of the original series.

If you haven’t read our e-book “A Tale of Five Protocols: The ultimate guide to the IoT wireless communication landscape”, we recommend to do so before venturing into this new series. The blogposts we are about to publish will go deeper into some of the issues addressed in the e-book. Getting familiar with the basics presented there will help you get a solid understanding of the complexities of the wireless world in the context of professional lighting applications.

Various wireless technologies

We’ll go through the most significant characteristics of wireless communication standards, explaining what they really mean for smart lighting controls. We’ll look at some of the major challenges awaiting in the commercial lighting environment, analyzing whether the existing protocols can successfully address. Between network topology, routing scheme, data transfer rate, multicast/unicast communications, duty cycle length, spectral efficiency, packet collision prevention mechanisms, and many others, the list of features characterizing wireless connectivity technologies is long and might be somewhat confusing. We will break them down and describe how they affect the actual performance of a smart lighting network under the most difficult circumstances, i.e. in commercial spaces. We’ll discuss how individual wireless technologies stack up against one another, and which of them is the most reliable choice for professional lighting applications.

Why is this segment so challenging? Because professional applications require professional solutions. The ones that are 100% reliable, fully scalable and indisputably secure. Over the last several years, this has been the major issue with smart lighting systems. Connected solutions based on various wireless communication technologies have been fairly successful in the residential segment because of how relatively uncomplicated this environment is. It certainly does have its snakes and ladders, but the volume of data exchanged over residential smart lighting networks is incomparably lower than in the case of commercial systems. Additionally, home environment is way more forgiving. Considering how innovative smart lighting solutions are, users can accept certain UX-related flaws or shortcomings, just the way they can live through occasional smartphone crashes or blue screens on their PCs. But a lighting professional won’t decide to furnish an office building with a complex smart lighting system unless such a system is perfectly dependable. Commercial smart lighting solutions can deliver enormous value, but this cannot be done at the expense of user experience and reliability. Connected technologies are aiming to change certain decades-long lighting control paradigms, and they won’t succeed unless they can ensure flawless performance in the first place.

Value of smart lighting systems

But the overall performance and value of smart lighting systems depends on much more factors than just those related to wireless networking. Issues like power consumption, complexity of the commissioning process, interoperability, or security are equally crucial for successful implementations. We’ll also be covering them as part of our series. while not forgetting about all that spicy IoT tech such as asset tracking or beaconing via the lighting infrastructure. We will look at information-centric networking, discussing how this innovative concept developed to address the challenges of the growing internet can help us solve the challenges awaiting in connected lighting. Last but not least, we will cover hardware issues, discussing how the evolution of system-on-chip technologies can affect future developments in the smart lighting industry. Based on our vast experience in wireless technologies for lighting applications, we will share our take on what matters and what makes a difference as far as wireless communication in commercial lighting environment is concerned. We’re kicking off next week so stay tuned.

Silvair Team

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