LEDs Get Smart with the IoT

07 July 2016

Connected lighting and the partnerships that will be required to make them more widespread are starting to gel, and big-name players are leading the way.

One of the latest deals indicative of this cross-industry interest in bringing together the Internet of Things (IoT) and LED lighting come from Cisco Technology Inc. and Cree Inc.

The companies are going to market with a product dubbed SmartCast® Power over Ethernet (PoE). The scalable, open platform brings together Cree's smart lighting SmartCast® technology and Cisco's ethernet technology, a combination that will enable IoT for buildings through better lighting, the companies announced.

The product will be commercially available during the second quarter of 2016. Initial rollouts are underway, including a deployment in the Mobile, Alabama, County Public Schools, which cover more than 1,600 square miles and 89 facilities, administrative buildings and schools.

While the SmartCast® Technology with PoE is said to deliver energy savings up to 70% greater than LED lighting alone, it is the promise of new services and user experiences that the companies are touting.

Cree's SmartCast® Power over Ethernet (PoE) is the first LED lighting platform that makes the Cisco's Digital Ceiling framework ready for mass deployment and adoption. Source: Cree. Cree's SmartCast® Power over Ethernet (PoE) is the first LED lighting platform that makes the Cisco's Digital Ceiling framework ready for mass deployment and adoption. Source: Cree. Cross-Industry Collaboration

Cree's SmartCast® PoE platform, along with similar and related products being jointly developed by Cisco's other partners and collaborators, expands the idea around the Cisco Digital Ceiling framework. The Digital Ceiling aims to connect disparate systems into a single IP network to create smart, secure, seamlessly connected building systems.

The Digital Ceiling partner community, currently composed of 15 partners including lighting giants Cree and Philips, is looking to use the overhead space in offices, hospitals, schools and similar infrastructures for more than traditional lighting or networking cabling. Tying together smart lighting (which will eventually go beyond efficient LED lighting options and include a greater number of sensors and perhaps even cameras in the luminaries) and networking capabilities (wired and wireless) will allow improved lighting use and create more productive environments, provide more accurate business analytics, lower total costs, and eliminate the need for separate data and high-voltage power connections.

The interoperability among devices, sensors, actuators, routers and networking equipment also provides open and secure communication flows and improved building lighting automation, said John Baekelmans, Cisco's chief technology officer of Vertical Solutions. Baekelmans said the company has been experimenting with network-powered lighting for about four years, and relationships with companies like Cree and Philips are expanding those initiatives.

"We already use the network to transport voice, video and data. The time is right to use the network to power lighting as well," Baekelmans said. "There is an evolution, or we like to say a revolution, in the lighting industry. With the changes in lighting and LED products, we can now natively and directly develop connected buildings. The first wave in doing that is by creating connected lighting."

Forging cross-industry relationships and joint go-to-market agreements are fundamental parts of that, with each segment drawing on their expertise to increase lighting's efficiencies and capabilities. It's still a young market, but some of the initial offerings could blend efficient LED lighting with sensors and network connectivity to do temperature sensing in a room, automatically dim or brighten lights when people enter or leave an area, or optimize the luminaires to share data, he added.

"We are expanding our Digital Ceiling ecosystem and looking for ways to add more native components inside buildings to make it easier for people to connect," he said, noting that currently many of the initial rollouts are small projects designed to test the lighting-networking technology and understand the cross-functional capabilities that stem from an intersection of lighting, routers, switches and ethernet cabling. He expects to see larger-scale initiatives in the next two years when the platform gains wider acceptance, particularly in new building construction, where the lighting and networking cabling can be integrated from the get-go; an extensive cabling retrofit would be required for older and already-wired buildings.

A similar sentiment is echoed at Cree.

"In order to achieve 100% LED adoption and for the technology to reach its potential, smart lighting needs to be better than what it is replacing and simple to implement and use, while delivering better results and performance," said Gary Trott, vice president of product strategy at Cree. "Partnerships, such as with Cree, a leader in LED technology, and Cisco, a leader in IT innovation, offer a complete intuitive lighting package to simplify the process and create better user experiences. This allows the industry to simply adopt intelligent light solutions, without the misconceptions of it being costly and difficult to implement."

Many companies, particularly lighting companies, are looking for ways to tap new market segments and are developing relationships beyond their primary circle of influence; however, interest in connected lighting has been growing for a number of years. The product development cycle has reached a point where partnerships like the one between Cree and Cisco make more sense now than in the past.

For instance, traditional lighting did not have the power capacity to run ethernet networking. But today's LED's power requirements are a fraction of what they were in the past, and they have reached a point where enough power can be supplied, said Mike Hornung, IEEE's LED and lighting market analyst.

Where Cree and Cisco may meet resistance, at least initially, are in the areas of standards adoption and on the question of whether to go with a wired or wireless connectivity building option.The Digital Ceiling standard is different than the commonly found Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI) and KNX building control standards, and many people are looking for less wiring and moving toward wireless solutions, Hornung said.

"DALI and KNX already have traction in the industry and in building standards, and this new standard is different than the others and will require a redesign and reconfiguration of the lighting systems," he said. He added that there are and will always be multiple standards in all industries, and companies will continue to choose how and which ones to align with them.

Two advantages of PoE are higher bit rates and installing one integrated cable instead of two, Hornung noted.

Cost savings will also be an important driving factor, Trott added.

"Lighting typically accounts for more than a quarter of a commercial building’s electricity use, or about 10% of the building’s operating costs. With Cree SmartCast® Technology, building environments can reduce lighting energy costs up to 70% while saving money, improving aesthetics, lowering total cost of ownership and making an enterprise more productive," he said. "In new construction the total installed cost of SmartCast® PoE is less than ordinary LED lighting with controls. Its cost is equivalent to dimmable fluorescent systems with controls."

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