Having just attended LightFair International (LFI), the key trends in LED-based lighting remain just as we have reported earlier this year starting with our Strategies in Light (SIL) wrap-up. Connectivity is critical for the solid-state lighting (SSL) industry to support applications and services beyond lighting. Moreover, connectivity is sometimes intertwined with DC power distribution, and as I have opined before, DC power distribution is a good idea for SSL. Alas, LFI made it clear that rather than coalescing around a limited number of power and networking technologies, the lighting industry is still adding to the options, and that fact could impact growth.
It's tough to be negative about what is happening in the SSL industry, and the technology demonstrations at SIL, Light+Building, and LFI were compelling. But the underlying message in private meetings was clear. Many are sitting on the sidelines watching the developments in smart lighting and waiting for maturation. I equate that maturation in part to a whittling down of the technology options.
Consider the wireless space. There are multiple mesh networks based on the IEEE 802.15.4 physical layer. ZigBee is most prominent, but that may change as it may become more associated with the upper layer application protocols than with the networking. As covered in a recent feature, there are a growing number of proponents of the evolving mesh version of Bluetooth. Wi-Fi could yet prove to be the best choice based on ubiquitous usage. And even the cellular networks may have a play, as Shonika Vijay of Strategies Unlimited espouses in our Last Word column. Of course, there are still many fully- or partially-proprietary wireless networks such as Lutron's ClearConnect that underlies the company's Vive platform, which was launched at LFI.
As Vijay points out, there is a need in some cases to match connectivity to application. Perhaps cellular networks would be good for street lights but not for indoor office lighting.
My point is there are too many choices. It's almost as bad in the wired area. Power over Ethernet (PoE) has been the hot flavor of late as we have covered regularly. There are numerous proprietary wired schemes along with DMX and DALI (digital addressable lighting interface).
Moreover, with a system such as PoE you get a DC power grid and connectivity. But that's not your only choice for DC power. The EMerge Alliance has been pushing its DC scheme for years that can also support connectivity. And at LFI, Eaton unveiled a new Distributed Low Voltage Power platform that also inherently includes connectivity. But Eaton has also been a member of the EMerge Alliance and is a partner in Cisco's PoE Digital Ceiling initiative.
The options are so confusing that many customers will simply wait to adopt smart lighting. I do see a possible light at the end of the tunnel. The lighting industry is not exactly comparable to the IT segment where, for example, disagreements on wireless protocols delayed what would become Wi-Fi for years. We are mostly building on technologies already promulgated in the general IT segment. At least technology maturity will not be an issue.
Maury Wright, Editor