Bluetooth Lighting Up the Corridors

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By Harriet Sumnall | 1Q 2020 | IN-5627

A variety of different technologies are used to connect the different sensors used to create the several applications that put building automation systems together. Wireless technology is being introduced into this market, especially as older buildings are undergoing retrofitting projects and automated systems are being implemented in new buildings. Wireless technologies bring a number of benefits to the market, including the ability to implement with ease—there’s no need for any major work to current infrastructures to take place. While wired solutions are well established and backed by many leading vendors, they are also more labor-intensive and costly to implement, more difficult to retrofit, upgrade, or reconfigure, and less flexible. Wireless solutions are also more scalable, able to support monitoring a few thermostats and Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) devices to thousands of lighting fixtures over a mesh network. In 2017, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) introduced Bluetooth mesh, and since then over 400 qualified mesh products have arrived in the market. One key area Bluetooth mesh is heavily targeting and in which it will likely carve out most of its initial success is within smart lighting environments. Data gathered from sensor-rich light fixtures can include humidity, temperature, occupancy, and room or work plane lux sensors, among others, and can act as an entry point to wider smart buildings applications. Longer-term integration with beacons, asset management applications, indoor location, and wayfinding services can help drive additional insight and value.

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What Does Bluetooth Offer?

NEWS


A variety of different technologies are used to connect the different sensors used to create the several applications that put building automation systems together. Wireless technology is being introduced into this market, especially as older buildings are undergoing retrofitting projects and automated systems are being implemented in new buildings. Wireless technologies bring a number of benefits to the market, including the ability to implement with ease—there’s no need for any major work to current infrastructures to take place. While wired solutions are well established and backed by many leading vendors, they are also more labor-intensive and costly to implement, more difficult to retrofit, upgrade, or reconfigure, and less flexible. Wireless solutions are also more scalable, able to support monitoring a few thermostats and Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) devices to thousands of lighting fixtures over a mesh network. In 2017, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) introduced Bluetooth mesh, and since then over 400 qualified mesh products have arrived in the market. One key area Bluetooth mesh is heavily targeting and in which it will likely carve out most of its initial success is within smart lighting environments. Data gathered from sensor-rich light fixtures can include humidity, temperature, occupancy, and room or work plane lux sensors, among others, and can act as an entry point to wider smart buildings applications. Longer-term integration with beacons, asset management applications, indoor location, and wayfinding services can help drive additional insight and value.

Bluetooth Mesh Emerging from the Shadows? Connectivity is Lighting up the Building Automation Industry

IMPACT


Wireless connectivity is growing traction within the smart building market, offering a cost-efficient manner in which building operators are able to automate their systems. Unlike wired technology, wireless technologies are simpler and less costly to deploy and maintain, as wireless devices are easy to relocate and replace as and when is necessary. Previously neglected Small to medium-sized buildings are increasingly able to take advantage of lower cost Internet of Things (IoT) building automation solutions that can be retrofitted with ease.

One of the biggest retrofit implementations of Bluetooth Mesh lighting control to date has taken place in Brussels, Belgium, where the headquarters of software developer Macq is the home of a 360-node retrofit project. Due to the architectural diversity of the building, more than 50 different lighting zones were created during the planning stage. The retrofit took place over a weekend due to there being no requirement of disrupting the pre-existing infrastructure because there was no need for wires to be installed. The solution doesn’t include any wireless switches, and a fully automatic solution was deployed. The solution was driven by occupancy and lighting sensors to maximize efficiencies that are offered by the solution.

Silvair, a pioneer in Bluetooth-based smart lighting technologies, has several use cases implementing the Bluetooth mesh network. It partnered with the Jaworzno City Council for the installation of a new wireless lighting control system at the Jaworzno Centre of Vocational and Further Education. Another example of the implementation of the Bluetooth mesh network is the retrofitting of McWong International’s Warehouse, which is a 25,000-square-foot facility in Sacramento, California. Silvair is one of the lighting vendors that is embracing Bluetooth Mesh over other wireless technologies and even competing mesh networks such as Zigbee.

Bluetooth Mesh and Lighting-as-a-Service Business Models

RECOMMENDATIONS


However, even though the benefits of wireless connectivity within this market are significant, wired technologies, especially for lighting services within building automation, are still forecasted to outweigh wireless connectivity. While these new products and implementations clearly demonstrate a growing interest around Bluetooth mesh solutions, they also highlight the fact that the large-scale adoption of Bluetooth mesh across smart building is still some ways away, and the technology still has a number of challenges to overcome if it is to reach mainstream market success. Many of the new end markets that Bluetooth mesh is targeting have traditionally been more averse to wireless technologies—most notably smart building and industrial environments.

Wired technologies have been used for a significantly longer period of time, and therefore have become well established and can be perceived as more trustworthy, whereas wireless technologies are still considered to be less reliable or secure and therefore more open to attacks. Wireless connectivity also has opposing disadvantages, such as the challenges with interoperability; several different wireless protocols being used within one building can cause difficulty for each of them to integrate with each other, and it can be challenging to integrate with existing systems.

Though they are cost-efficient in the long run in comparison to their wired counterparts, wireless solutions that are offered within this market can incur a significant upfront cost. Environments such as commercial buildings are extremely cost-sensitive and any Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) that goes beyond immediate necessity or provides Return on Investment (ROI) over a longer term faces severe pushback from building owners. Challenges like these can only be solved by a fundamental transformation in the existing business models of lighting suppliers, and the transition to smart lighting is being accompanied by innovative Lighting-as-a-Service (LaaS) business models seeking to alleviate these key pressure points. LaaS business models shift the responsibilities of design, installation, management, maintenance, upgrading, value-added services, and ensured quality of performance away from customers and back to the lighting providers themselves. Rather than paying a large up-front fee, the cost of deployment is spread over the terms of a multi-year contract, with much of the payments funded through the reduced energy costs and other benefits brought about by smart lighting.

While many existing LaaS deployments have been limited to upgrading to LED infrastructure alone, the true potential with this business model lies in its ability to deploy additional technologies and infrastructure, and many lighting providers have already begun to see the value of rolling out additional services alongside the transition to LED lighting. To a certain extent, smart lighting can act as a trojan horse for Bluetooth mesh due to its ability to perform as a backbone network from which to build upon, allowing messages to be relayed across a whole building, support an increased number of sensors, act as friend nodes for low-power sensor devices, and integrate valuable location services. Industrial and manufacturing environments can also effectively integrate sensors and asset tracking services to drive productivity enhancements and increase efficiency. By incorporating indoor positioning technologies, such as beacons, into the lighting infrastructure, people and assets can be more effectively tracked and managed across the facility. The incorporation of sensors into the lighting fixtures can also drive new insights regarding the building environment, improve health and safety, and enable more effective decision making.

So that Bluetooth Mesh can grow and really take a stance within this market, Bluetooth needs to establish connections with more lighting suppliers, so that they have the ability to prove their stability within the building automation space.  Key elements of the mesh network that Bluetooth is deploying need to be highlighted to users, reliability, scalability, a low cost, and the ability to open up additional services that lead to greater automation, increased sensorization, and enable valuable Real-Time Location System (RTLS) services. Bluetooth vendors looking to target these emerging smart building environments should strongly emphasize the unique and additional capabilities that Bluetooth mesh in conjunction with sensors and Bluetooth beacons can bring about versus competing wireless technologies.

 

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