Wireless lighting control has a bright future
The ZigBee Alliance has announced that it has started development on a new open standard – “ZigBee Light Link” – which is designed for LED lighting control. This standard is designed to create an interoperable ecosystem of a variety of lighting and control products that can all communicate wirelessly in the home. It is currently being developed by lighting heavyweights such as GE, Philips, and OSRAM Sylvania.
ZigBee found its calling card with the smart meter and has already been widely used in the United States as well as in other countries. Additionally, automation systems from companies such as Control4 and Colorado vNet also use ZigBee to connect an array of wirelessly controlled devices in the home. The uptake of these systems and the ability to connect to them could be a driving factor in the adoption of ZigBee Light Link. The ZigBee Alliance has also stated that this new standard will also be interoperable with other existing ZigBee standards such as ZigBee Home Automation, ZigBee Input Device, ZigBee Remote Control, ZigBee 3D Sync, and ZigBee Health Care. It is, however, not clear whether this level of interoperability is available node to node, or whether it is at hub level.
Also, are two different ZigBee standards really required in the home? There is some overlap between the capabilities of ZigBee Home Automation (which is already able to do lighting control as well as control a range of other appliances in the home) and ZigBee Light Link (which only controls lighting). Is a further standard needed?
There is already competition in the industry for controlling standard lighting. Google and the Lighting Sciences Group previously demonstrated a wireless LED light in May 2011, showing it was possible to control an LED light via an Android smart phone using the Android@Home system. One of the advantages of this system is that the wireless technology was directly incorporated into the light bulb (it is unknown whether ZigBee Light Link will be implemented in the same way) It is also unclear which technology is being used by Google and Lighting Sciences as they remain tight-lipped on this subject (although an unconfirmed rumoured suggests it to be 6LoWPAN over JenNet-IP). However, no matter what it is, it will come into direct competition with this new standard from the ZigBee Alliance.
A possibly worrying factor for the ZigBee Alliance is that Google has the largest share of the smart phone market, with their Android operating system accounting for over 40% of the total. If all Android phones could control devices in the home, it certainly would put them in the driving seat, considering Google’s marketing power. From a technology stand-point, Google has kept very quiet about which technology will be used in this system and it is likely that whichever is chosen will get a head start in the market.
Another competing technology is Sigma Design’s Z-Wave standard. It is also capable of controlling light systems as well as other devices within the home. Motorola recently teamed up with Verizon to offer Motorola’s 4Home automation system. With this system it is possible to monitor and control lighting in the home, as well as things such as smart thermostats, from an internet-connected smartphone or tablet. These systems are already available to those in the US who use Verizon.
These issues, as well as a combination of others such as the effect on wired lighting solutions will all be addressed in IMS Research’s upcoming report “Connectivity Opportunities in Lighting – 2012 Edition."