MAURY WRIGHT explains why Power over Ethernet (PoE) seems ready to stake a major claim on wired connected lighting even though wireless connectivity is still a hot topic in the lighting space.
We’ve spent a lot of words in LEDs Magazine discussing which networks will stake out winning footprints in the connected lighting space. The wireless battle looks like it will continue to rage for some time. We updated that situation briefly in recent coverage of developments at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). And wireless connectivity is critical in many retrofit installations where new wires simply can’t be installed. Still, Power over Ethernet (PoE) wired technology seems poised to take major market share, and I’m starting to think it may be the best choice on any new construction and for major retrofits where a larger area of a building is remodeled.
PoE offers the benefit of using one Cat 5/6 cable to power and network a luminaire. Mostly you will read about the networking benefits of PoE, and commercial lighting is moving full speed to a connected future. Ironically, LED efficiency has ramped to the point that further efficiency gains attributable to networked controls may not justify a network installation. But other applications such as security and space optimization that are enabled by networked sensors in luminaires will likely keep the lighting network momentum strong.
I, however, don’t think that the inherent network connectivity is the biggest selling point for PoE. Ultimately, a DC-based power-distribution scheme is going to prove the best option for lighting in commercial buildings. As I wrote in a feature article on the topic, eliminating AC/DC conversions is good for efficiency, and the DC scheme pairs better with renewable wind and solar energy systems installed at the building level.
Really, there are only two technical reasons that PoE might not succeed. One is the ability to deliver the power levels required by commercial lighting. But thanks to efficient LED sources and new PoE standards that are raising the power capacity, the technology seems perfectly viable for powering lighting.
The second possible deterrent could be reliability of the power. There is the expectation that if you throw a switch, the lights will come on in a building even if nothing else works right. But today, businesses can’t operate without their computer networks any better than without lighting.
PoE proponents do need to get the control scenarios right. Autonomous and network controls are great. Still, local controls - read switches - are probably necessary. Smartphone control sounds great. And our Last Word column in this issue argues that the switch will disappear. But sometimes using a smartphone will not be the most convenient way to adjust light levels.
Of course, technology-centric arguments are rarely the basis for technology choices made in an industry. Ethernet was probably not the best choice for a networking technology back in the 1980s. But the Ethernet proponents did the best job of promoting and proliferating the networking platform.
It’s hard to predict how the market debate will evolve. Some entrenched lighting companies will not willingly support the upstart. The reasons will range from existing proprietary options to keeping the IT industry out of the lighting sector. But as we covered in another recent article, powerful companies such as Cisco will push the PoE agenda.