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Industrial Ethernet Book Issue 101 / 24
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Smarter lighting systems with Ethernet and WiFi

Everybody knows that wiring up a new lighting system can be quite a headache, and if you want to install a control system, you′ll need yet another network. Basically, there are three options to connect the light bulbs to the control system. The control signals can be sent wirelessly, over the electrical cabling using powerline communication, or the power can be supplied over the data cables via PoE.

THE EFFORT IS WELL WORTH it because of the level of intelligence that an Ethernet-based control system can bring. Every light becomes a point on a network, with its own IP address.


LED lighting helps to cut the electricity bill, because the amount of energy needed is much lower than that of traditional forms of lighting.

Schematics of a Power-over Ethernet lighting system.

But lower energy consumption isn′t only about saving money, it demonstrates other benefits too. The electrical load of LED sources is now so low that they do not need mains cables to power them. Instead they can be connected to standard network cables.

This technology is called ′Power over Ethernet′ (PoE) and provides power for electrical equipment through Ethernet cables, which already form the backbone of the IT network in offices and many homes.

Ethernet cables are of course designed to carry data and not power, but up to about 60W they can power and communicate with devices at the same time. What makes this option attractive is that Cat 5 cables are relatively inexpensive and cheap to install. There is no need for an electrician, as the cables simply connect via RJ45 plugs. Philips, who supply power over Ethernet systems for lighting, estimates that installation cost can be up to 25% cheaper than conventional electric wiring.

But an Ethernet-based system is not only cheaper to install, it also brings the lighting to a whole new level of intelligence. Every light becomes a point on a network, with its own IP address. That makes it easy to monitor and control every single bulb, both locally and remotely over the Internet. Furthermore, the light fittings can incorporate presence, temperature, light sensors and and more, and can send this data back to the control system.

With PoE the lighting becomes part of the ′internet of things′ (IoT), and can be connected to heating, ventilation, security and other devices in the building. The home owner or a facilities manager then has a single system that shows how a building is used, and provides detailed data to opti mize energy consumption

Powerline Communication

As in an existing installation all lighting fixtures connect to a powerline to convert electricity to light some manufacturers are turning to Powerline Communication (PLC) as the primary communication and control link.

Powerline networks use a bus topology which provides a high level of reconfigurability and the ability to control more than one device from a single controller. This controller can manage all the lights in a room or even in the entire house. Because of the bus topology, several controllers can control a single light. Thus the lights in one room can be controlled from other rooms, for example to switch all the lights in a house on or off from the bedroom. The bus topology makes it easy to expand the system with "plug and play" installations when new fixtures are added later on.

However, there are some real-world challenges with powerline communications. Communication will fail if the controller and receiver are on different powerline phases, or if the distance between the receiver and controller is too great.

If the controller and receiver are on different phases, the user can try to move one of them so that they are on the same phase. Where this is not possible, phase couplers are available to bridge the powerline communication signal across the phases.

If the distance between the receiver and the controller is too great repeaters can be used to re-transmit signals until they reach the intended destination. But even with a proper installation, the communication may fail if there is too much noise on the powerline, because vacuum cleaner, heavy-duty appliances are switched on.

Wireless control

Controlling the lighting via wireless signals overcomes the limitations of Powerline communications. There is a number of wireless-enabled smart bulbs on the market which can be controlled via a smart phone or tablet.

Some models use Bluetooth. In that case, the remote control only works in the house within Bluetooth range. The same applies for systems that connect directly to a WiFi or Zig Bee network. The trend today is to use a dedicated home automation hub.

While this means spending a bit more money and adding another step to the installation process, it makes the whole system a lot more versatile. Via the Internet-connected hub the system can be controlled or scheduled not only from inside the house, but from anywhere in the world. This can save energy costs, e. g. if you forgot to turn off the lights before leaving the house.

Using an app, the SmartFX light bulb can be set to 16 million different colors. There is even a Disco Mode, in which the bulb changes color to match music and sound.

There are now bulbs on the market that feature geofencing. This technology uses the GPS in a smartphone to pinpoint the users location, and automatically turns the lights on or off when movi ng from one room to another.

While some smart bulbs are just white, while others have the ability to take on any color of the rainbow, which can be used for mood lighting. For example, they can be programmed to wake you up with a cool, blue morning light or fade to an orange sunset in the evening. A fun way to add atmosphere to a home.

The Ikea Tradfri smart lighting starter kit includes hub, remote control, and two smart LED bulbs

Advanced lighting systems can be connected to Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit or Google Home, so that they can be voice controlled. Integration into such a larger home automation ecosystem also enables the lights to communicate with other smart devices like security cameras or weather stations. With simple "If This Then That" (IFTIT) commands, users can create recipes that let lights automatically react to certai n triggers. This can be a doorbell ringing or a change in the weather.

Of course, the smart bulbs are generally more expensive than traditional incandescent light bulbs, especially if the system includes a dedicated hub. But the LED smart bulbs use less energy and also last a lot longer, so the user saves money in the long run.

And prices are starting to come down. Ikea already offers a starter kit with hub, remote control, and two smart LED bulbs at US$ 79.99.

Leopold Ploner

Source: Industrial Ethernet Book Issue 101 / 24
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