The Internet connected billions of computing devices, unlocking trillions of dollars of value in commerce, services, and information. The Internet of Things (IoT) aims to similarly connect sensors and controllers to enable programmable, data-producing smart buildings and cities. The upside could be similarly enormous; according to McKinsey (2014), the IoT will generate $3.9 to $11.1 trillion, or roughly 10 percent of the global economy, by 2025.
The lighting industry quickly saw a strong role for itself in the IoT. After all, intelligent networked lighting control already effectively offers an Internet of Lights. With the LED revolution, many buildings are upgrading with new luminaires, providing opportunities to install sensors that could monitor everything from occupancy patterns to temperature to air quality. The networked control system may have the wireless communication, bandwidth, intelligence, and software to deliver this data to other building systems and third-party software.
Networked control and connected luminaire manufacturers are now promoting their products as “IoT enabled.” This means when the IoT does arrive, the lighting system will stand ready to play a part in it without significant additional cost. The converse may also be regarded as true, which is without connected lighting, any new LED lighting may instantly become obsolete after installation.
Since the IoT itself is still in an early adoption phase and remains poorly defined, however, the idea of “IoT enabled” may mean different things, making any future-proofing claims true in theory but requiring diligence in specification. At its core, the term means the lighting system features connectivity, intelligence, sensors, and bi-way data communication. Specifiers should ask: Is the connected lighting flexible enough to connect to different technologies, and both wired and wireless devices? It is based on an open or proprietary standard? Is it readily scalable?
Right now, the IoT is clear in its promises but muddy in how it will be implemented. Currently, everything from development to standards is in its infancy, creating a Wild West environment similar to the application of white-light LEDs to illumination. Protocols are fighting a fierce war for supremacy, with interoperability being a major issue. Security remains a concern, with the challenge being balancing protection against hacking with user convenience. The immediate ROI benefit is building management, but the biggest value is in data—though it’s unclear yet how that data will be managed and translated into meaningful action.
Currently, the industry is talking about the exciting opportunities of the IoT, though achieving these opportunities remains challenging. As the technical hurdles are addressed, however, exponential growth is predicted as businesses and homes see value in automation and information.
For the lighting industry, the IoT’s mass adoption phase will be another time of disruption. The IoT has attracted interest from tech giants who don’t understand lighting but covet the industry’s prime real estate, which is sockets and sensors. In the industry itself, the line is already blurring between tech and lighting company due to growing demand for LED and connected lighting. LED longevity and connected lighting unlocking new services may lead more companies along the path of selling “light as a service,” another term with different meanings.
For specifiers, contractors, and distributors, lighting will keep changing. Specifiers will need to design more sophisticated lighting systems that juggle connectivity, tough energy codes, and quality of light. Distributors may find more profit in selling solutions around customer business problems than products. Contractors may discover differentiation in expanding their skillsets to better understand integration, debugging, and protocols. Lighting professionals will need to speak the language of IT departments and often deal with them directly.
As with LED lighting, the IoT is another technology wave promising disruption, making this a time of uncertainty and opportunity. As the IoT develops, the industry must navigate the interim hype, learn as much as it can, and have the education and skillsets needed to accommodate change.