Can smart lighting technology be one-size-fits-all?

Nov. 23, 2018
Will there ever be a connectivity-technology takeover in smart lighting and building systems? Our latest webcast speaker, Ani Deodhar, weighs in from a network architecture vantage point.

With the Internet of Things (IoT) converging into our market over the past several years, we have heard a lot of discussion in the lighting industry about IoT connectivity technologies. There are many options for hardware, software, and network configuration, and we have noted that opinions sway in various directions as to what is the best course for smart lighting systems. Despite the fact that some industry insiders insist that Bluetooth Mesh will become a mainstay for smart building systems, the question remains: Will there be one protocol to rule them all? (My sincere apologies to the legacy of J.R.R. Tolkien and the excellent director Peter Jackson for my appropriation of the Lord of the Rings film series’ infamous tagline.)

According to Arm’s head of IoT solutions Aniruddha (Ani) Deodhar, who has presented not one but two webcasts on smart-lighting system architecture and security with us, the answer is not simply yes or no. During the Nov. 13 webcast Q&A, moderator and chief editor Maury Wright asked him to expand on the showdown of connectivity types based on some attendee questions.

Maury Wright: I know this wasn’t really necessarily the focus of your presentation today, but we do have one of our attendees who says, “Why use Bluetooth Low Energy [BLE] instead of Wi-Fi?” And really the larger question is how do you make decisions on networking protocol in general? And I don’t know if there are any security angles to that question or not. The attendee did not say anything about security.

Ani Deodhar: That’s a good question. Essentially, some of the protocol choices are really dictated by the throughput and coverage requirements. But oftentimes, the protocol choices are also dictated by just some of what I call the “nonstructural elements” — the big one being the resident IT department and the facility management department. Oftentimes, companies sidestep the IT department by having their own proprietary 802.15.4 kind of network outside of the Wi-Fi network. BLE allows you to do that as well as allows you to pair with your phones. A lot of devices now have that pairing function, so it has become really easy to be interoperable with other devices. And some things like range and security are now taken care of in the BLE 5.0; with BLE Mesh, issues like range hopping are resolved, so the technology is now capable of delivering range similar to Wi-Fi for huge, multi-thousand-square-foot facilities as well.

I don’t know if there’s a best answer to this question, really; things are still evolving. Every couple of years, you see new protocols emerging, but we see a lot of queries around BLE Mesh and Thread nowadays, as well as LoRa [a long-range digital wireless communication technology]. So I don’t really have one answer for that; it really depends on the BOM [bill of materials] cost, the radio range requirements or throughput capability, as well as some of the nonstructural issues I mentioned around the IT constraints.

MW: Kind of reading between the lines, if you would allow me to do so, when I was listening to your presentation and you talked about abstracting APIs [application programming interfaces] to cross really any choice of network connectivity… So what my thinking was when I heard that part of the presentation was you, clearly, or Arm doesn’t see a simple path forward where one thing’s going to take over and be the ubiquitous choice. And therefore, a way to abstract to any of that kind of connectivity is probably going to be key for companies playing in the smart lighting space.

AD: Absolutely, because […] regardless of the choice you make, you might have a standard set of offerings with that choice that you made, based on the best possible wisdom in the company, and internal knowledge based on what the right protocol is from a security, range, coverage standpoint. But when you actually go into the field, the customers may have different constraints and requirements based on the real-life situation; and so even if you might start with one of these protocols, you might end up with this and some other protocols to grapple with — and that connectivity abstraction becomes very, very critical.

You can register and view this webcast on demand to get the full presented materials and downloadable resources on building secure smart lighting systems.

Get to know our expert

Aniruddha Deodhar is principal of connected spaces at Arm, where he is responsible for driving Arm’s IoT solutions strategy for smart buildings and smart cities. Deodhar brings 20 years of experience in high technology in Asia, Europe, and North America, that includes a decade of developing technologies for the building industry. He received his MBA with Distinction from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and BA Sc. in computer engineering with Honors from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

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About the Author

Carrie Meadows | Editor-in-Chief, LEDs Magazine

Carrie Meadows has more than 20 years of experience in the publishing and media industry. She worked with the PennWell Technology Group for more than 17 years, having been part of the editorial staff at Solid State Technology, Microlithography World, Lightwave, Portable Design, CleanRooms, Laser Focus World, and Vision Systems Design before the group was acquired by current parent company Endeavor Business Media.

Meadows has received finalist recognition for LEDs Magazine in the FOLIO Eddie Awards, and has volunteered as a judge on several B2B editorial awards committees. She received a BA in English literature from Saint Anselm College, and earned thesis honors in the college's Geisel Library. Without the patience to sit down and write a book of her own, she has gladly undertaken the role of editor for the writings of friends and family.

Meadows enjoys living in the beautiful but sometimes unpredictable four seasons of the New England region, volunteering with an animal shelter, reading (of course), and walking with friends and extended "dog family" in her spare time.