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Bluetooth Mesh Networking and LEDs: What to Expect

Bluetooth Mesh Networking and LEDs: What to Expect

By John Curran

Bluetooth SIG recently announced compatibility of the far-ranging standard with mesh networking. In the world of solid-state lighting, mesh networking and other ways of providing internet of things (IoT) capabilities has been an important push as more and more and users seek integration.

Mesh networking, as opposed to point-to-point networking, allows for self-healing systems. There is no central hub that can fail and drive the entire system offline. With the number of sensors, luminaires, access controls and other devices on a given office floor, let alone a major facility, this becomes critical and can reduce downtime and repair costs.

In talking with experts, among lighting designers and manufacturers, the benefits of Bluetooth for helping to control luminaires as well as receive data is clear in these environments. However, solid-state lighting and IoT are still in their infancy. So, this may represent an opportunity in the near future rather than an immediate game changer.

“Standards are in abundance within our industry,” says Rob Freitag, Director of Product Marketing at Halco Lighting. “But I believe most would concur that while these standards have been a challenge to manage, develop product around, and communicate to the market, they have helped establish a level of integrity for the products and systems of today’s new lighting technologies.”

For example, a standard already exists for wireless communication adopted by many LED manufacturers. It’s called Zigbee and it’s already been in use for years. Zigbee was the first step toward using radio frequencies (RF) band. However, building control system manufacturers like Legrand no longer work with Zigbee, citing security concerns, and that they’ve used IPv6 protocols that can already work with Bluetooth low-energy devices.

That change to IPv6 will be an important one, Legrand Vice President of Product Marketing, Building Control Systems Division Andrew Wale argues. Previously, Legrand and other control manufacturers worked to meet building codes. The next stage is not just IoT but the “holistic performance.” That includes the comfort of occupants, which “is as important if not more important than saving five percent” on energy costs, Wale says.

“After the smoke and mirrors of the last 10 years… the way to get true interoperability is through true IP standards,” Wale notes. “These devices will then be able to talk to each other… and work both in [a] wired and wireless sense.”

In the interim, things are likely to remain fairly complicated. A key point, as lighting designer and educator Steve Mesh notes, is that all of these systems are necessarily complex. Mesh explains that many systems that integrate HVAC controls and lighting controls, among other sensor systems, connect using a proprietary interface called BACnet. So even though the systems may interoperate, the engineers who integrate the systems are still responsible for creating an interface for the end-user so that they can actually take advantage of the data.

That’s a point where Wale agrees. For manufacturers of luminaires and distributors of LEDs, it’s going to be critical to keep finding out how their offerings match up with the control systems. After all, any device can include a Bluetooth LE radio, but it’s up to the specifiers and engineers to understand how to integrate them.

Also, as sales members have learned in the past, it’s not about the features alone to sell these products. There is a Wild West as people rush towards IoT and Bluetooth standards and work on interoperability.

“In regards to Bluetooth, it is similar to any technology in that it has pros and cons,” Freitag sums up. “[For distributors,] their face to face interactions, combined with their online presence, put them in a unique position to provide information needed to help customers and contractors alike make informed decisions.”



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