Lighting, Yes, Lighting As An Area That Needs IT

Overview

In this article I will share what I have learned about lighting – specifically, IP (internet protocol) based lighting. This field has been around for a few years now but is mainly known at the consumer levels with individual lights that fit into existing sockets replacing traditional “dumb” lighting.

Terminology

The terminology surrounding lighting seems a little confused to me. I’ve heard the terms smart lighting, PoE lighting, IP lighting, and LiFi all used when describing this technology (or some aspect of it). It seems that Googling multiple terms will result in somewhat different results but highly overlapping in content / theory between them. Here are a few definitions to help clear things up:

  • Smart Lighting – This is oftentimes used when speaking of consumer lighting (smart home). It uses the existing lighting infrastructure (e.g., wires) but with light bulbs that have electronics within them to make them “smart.”
  • PoE Lighting – PoE stands for Power-over-Ethernet. This stand has really come into its own over the last number of years. It utilizes standard ethernet (e.g., Cat 5, 5e, 6, 6a) cabling to transmit power to devices. In this system, the infrastructure for lighting is replaced.
  • IP Lighting – Delineates lighting which operates using the Internet Protocol (the IP in TCP/IP) to control lighting.
  • LiFi – Involves using light bulbs as wireless access points. They are capable 100x-200x the speed of our current WiFi systems.
    • Also known as Visible Light Communications (VLC).
    • The downside is that they require light in order to communicate, though there are some work-arounds.

I’d suggest that a term like IP/PoE lighting (with or without LiFi) may be helpful. What most folks will be looking for, and where I see this technology heading is towards the combination of these three features:

  • Physical – The lighting infrastructure is built using PoE switches, ethernet cabling, intelligent bulbs.
  • Logical – The IP tells us what sort of protocol is being used to communicate between switches, software, and the bulbs.
  • Features – the optional “with(out) LiFi” tells us whether this particular infrastructure is capable of delivering wireless internet through the lighting system.

Or we could just go with a mouthful: smart PoE IP lighting (with/without LiFi).

LED

Sometimes these intelligent lighting solutions are paired with LED because LED seems to be the lighting of the future. That said, it is not necessary to use a PoE/IP based system to utilize LED lights. When reading materials on the advantages/disadvantages of PoE/IP lighting, be sure to separate out what is actually a pro/con for PoE/IP versus LED.

Pros/Cons of PoE/IP Lighting

  • Pro – Each light can be individually controlled.
  • Pro – Individuals can have control over the lighting in their own offices, changing brightness, etc. as needed.
  • Con – While IP and PoE have been around for a while, their use for lighting is a more recent innovation, and none of these can compare to the longevity and proven reliability of traditional lighting.
  • Con – Adding addressable IP devices means increasing surface exposure for compromised security.
    • I would suggest that lighting should be separated onto a VLAN or even a physically distinct switching infrastructure.
  • Pro – Uses low-voltage wiring which oftentimes reduce the cost and ease inspection requirements over traditional lighting.
  • Pro – Eliminates the AC-to-DC conversion required by traditional lighting.
  • Pro – Removal of the AC-to-DC converter removes one of the more prone-to-failure components in LED lighting.

Major Industry Players

Who are the folks heading this lighting revolution?

My Requirements

Based on what I have read and discussed with others, I’d suggest the following as some base-line requirements for a lighting system:

  • Utilizes Ethernet Cabling.
  • Operates over IP.
  • Utilizes an open protocol for device communication.
  • Allows for cross-manufacturer integrations.
  • Utilizes open management protocols allow for different applications to control the network.

Bibliography / Further Reading

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