The Connected Lighting Alliance has formally selected ZigBee Light Link as the network and protocol of choice for connecting lighting products and controls in homes. The ZigBee standard isn’t specific to LED-based solid-state lighting (SSL) but such products are especially amenable to controls, and the endorsement by the alliance should help broaden deployment of connected SSL in residential applications.
The Connected Lighting Alliance was formed just less than a year ago in August 2012 by GE Lighting, Lutron, Osram, Philips, and Toshiba. Subsequently, a number of other companies joined including IC vendors NXP Semiconductors and Silicon Labs and networking specialist Daintree Networks. The stated mission of the organization is development of an open standard wireless network that supports interoperable products from multiple vendors.
"Having such broad support from leading companies is a significant milestone in residential wireless lighting becoming mainstream," said Zoltan Vamos, chair of the board of directors of The Connected Lighting Alliance. "It will increase the number of interoperable wireless lighting solutions, and simplify decision making for lighting companies and consumers."
ZigBee Light Link details
ZigBee Light Link is a natural choice for residential applications. The standard was published in April 2012. It includes a definition of the wireless network and the protocol that allows a plug-and-play approach to linking, say, a dimmer control with a lamp or fixture. ZigBee Light Link does not require a centralized controller to operate, although it does allow for use of such a controller in whole-home systems. In contrast, the ZigBee Home Automation standard requires a central controller.
Already there are a number of products on the market that use ZigBee Light Link. For example, the color-tunable Philips Hue lamps that we've covered repeatedly use the technology and Osram Sylvania uses the standard in several products including the Ultra iQTM LED BR30 floodlight that the company is selling in collaboration with Comcast and the Xfinity home-automation service. On the other hand, Samsung announced LED lamps at Lightfair International that use the ZigBee Home Automation standard, yet Samsung has joined the Connected Lighting Alliance as an associate member.
"ZigBee Light Link is specifically developed for interoperable and easy-to-use consumer lighting and control products," said Tobin Richardson, CEO of the ZigBee Alliance — the organization that promulgates the ZigBee family of standards. "Products using this standard will let consumers change lighting remotely to reflect ambiance, task, or season, all while managing energy use and making their homes greener."
Commercial markets and roadblocks
The actions of the Connected Lighting Alliance apply, for now, just to residential applications. "Our members first wanted to address wireless lighting connectivity for the residential market, because they noted a clear customer need for product interoperability in this market," said Simon den Uijl, secretary general of the Connected Lighting Alliance. He said that members evaluated a number of wireless technologies for the residential market and scored each on characteristics such as number of nodes supported and ease of use, and that ZigBee Light Link was the clear winner.
The alliance has yet to decide if it will address the commercial market, although den Uijl said there is no organizational boundary that would prevent that eventuality. He said that the organization would provide an update on future plans in September when it also plans to host a webcast on the ZigBee Light Link endorsement for residential applications.
The commercial space is far more fragmented for sure. Lutron, for instance, has a proprietary wireless technology. At Lightfair, GE Lighting said it was using 6LoWPAN (IPv6 over low-power wireless personal area network) in an outdoor street-lighting network in Los Angeles.
The one negative that has been regularly associated with all the ZigBee standards is the cost of intellectual property (IP) that's inherent in any implementation. There is no explicit cost to use any ZigBee standard. But the ZigBee ICs from various vendors carry a price that is to some degree inflated by the cost of IP licenses and there is an IC in every product whether a lamp, luminaire, dimmer switch, or sensor.