Current debates about lighting controls reminds me of the Beta-max VHS debacle back in the late 70’s, now that’s a hint to the age of this writer! Although the following technologies have generally been used in larger smart buildings, often with an eye on energy saving; the options are beginning to be offered more generally for use in smaller Commercial and Residential developments.
So do you understand what is on offer to you now and in the near future? If not; here’s a brief introduction:
Your devices – a variety of luminaires, thermostats, movement sensors, locks and voice assistants can all work together and be relayed from device to device via modules within each device around an entire mesh network. Much of this technology has been developed close to Lamps and Lights here in Cambridge, so we may be biased in introducing this protocol first!
Can operate over long distances and even around a group of buildings within a radius of about 1 km. This wireless system also has the added benefit that if one devise in the system fails it can be “leap frogged” so maintaining the functionality of the whole network. A unified standard has also been agreed for Bluetooth enabling multiple devices to all communicate with each other from different suppliers. Bluetooth mesh network devices consume very little electricity and data each; but can be grouped into hundreds or even thousands of devices to create a very personalised Bluetooth Mesh lighting system.
If you regularly lose your signal & therefore your Network this may not be a good system for you. Not all manufacturers are supplying Bluetooth mesh enabled/qualified devices yet.
ZigBee networking technology is also a local mesh network.
Scalable to thousands of devices. The most common smart home wireless lighting protocol. Zigbee is an open technology which often leads to higher evolution and adoption. Can be controlled using a Smartphone & App. Uses very little electricity.
You will need to buy a ZigBee gateway router to connect your ZigBee devices to enable Internet control and cloud connectivity. It is slower than other popular wireless standards.
Is a Local Area Network (LAN) that uses Wireless Radio Frequency from a central Hub to Various devices.
Delivers a high amount of data over short distances. Because Wi-Fi connects to the internet, you can control your smart devices individually (lights, switches, thermostats etc) through your Smartphone using an App & you don’t need to be in the building. Most people already have a router in their home.
You may need to buy a new router/Hub and nodes to extend coverage throughout your building. Can be complex if using more than one manufacturers products. Router distance limitations for larger buildings limiting range of applicable devices. If your Wifi goes down for any reason, you wouldn’t be able to control your lighting system. Wi-Fi capacity may also become an issue in the future as bandwidth becomes overcrowded. More expensive than Bluetooth or Zigbee.
Li-Fi (Light Fidelity)
Uses light to transmit data at high speeds over the visible light spectrum.
It works over a higher bandwidth than Wi Fi so is faster and can be used on Aeroplanes and in Hospitals. The light waves cannot penetrate walls which makes this system much more secure from hacking, relative to Wi-Fi. Is expected to be cheaper than Wi-Fi.
Because the light waves cannot penetrate walls you would potentially need multiple set ups. Not yet adopted by many manufacturers.
Bluetooth Low energy/Smart
Uses Wireless Radio Frequency to transmit data much like “Classic” Bluetooth.
Uses less energy than “classic” Bluetooth and is cheaper than Wifi. Compatible with a large number of your existing devices, if you are on a tight budget. Simple to use.
Bluetooth Smart doesn’t allow you to control devices when outside of the range you must schedule them to turn on/off at certain times before you leave home if you want lighting schemes to change when no one’s in. Bluetooth Smart only allows 1-to-1 connections, meaning a bulb can only be connected to one phone at a time. Therefore, if you’re in a home with multiple devices, only one of them can connect and control the bulbs at a time. There are limits on the number of devices you can control, hence the move recently to Bluetooth Mesh.
What can you do now to future proof your buying decisions?
Whichever system you choose just check the devices you buy from now on are enabled for that system. Many devices are compatible with more than one technology so choose devices with multiple protocols being supported. Also check smartphone interchangeability so if you want to switch from Android to Apple next year you can.
If you already have devices that you want to include in your lighting system don’t worry there are also free Web based services such as IFTTT that can help with getting your devices to communicate with each other nicely.
Which smart lighting solution would, or do you use?