LED lighting is best known for its energy efficiency and long service life, but the technology also has a high potential to improve Internet communications.
Lighting manufacturers and tech companies are partnering to explore connected lighting solutions, and an example of this is the business partnership between Philips Lighting and Cisco Systems, two market leaders in their respective industries.
There are two promising technologies that could soon become mainstream in the lighting industry: Power over Ethernet, where Ethernet cable is used to deliver power and data to lighting fixtures; and Li-Fi, the potential successor to Wi-Fi communications.
Power Over Ethernet in LED Lighting Systems
Traditional lighting installations use conduit and wiring to distribute electric power among lighting fixtures, and the cost of these circuits can be significant in larger facilities. However, conventional lighting circuits often end up oversized when the installation is upgraded to LED; the new lamps and fixtures draw currents that are small enough to be delivered through Ethernet cable instead of conventional wiring. This concept is called Power over Ethernet, or PoE, and it offers two significant advantages in new constructions:
- Data networks and lighting circuits are unified into a single system, which lowers their total upfront cost.
- Lighting fixtures are connected to the Internet through the same cable used to power them. This allows lighting automation and customization measures to be implemented directly, without having to purchase additional hardware.
The concept of PoE can also be deployed in existing installations. However, since conventional electrical circuits are already installed, it is more cost effective to reuse them and deploy a wireless system to control lighting.
How Li-Fi Can Improve Internet Communications
The concept of Li-Fi consists on transferring data through light pulses emitted by LED fixtures. These pulses are invisible for humans, so they don’t cause disruption, but can be picked up by sensors in lighting fixtures or Internet-connected appliances. In addition, devices other than lighting fixtures can be equipped with LED emitters to allow bidirectional communication.
In theory, Li-Fi systems based on LED lighting can process data 100 times faster than conventional Wi-Fi networks. Also, since data is carried by light, networks can become safer: Li-Fi signals can’t cross walls, so it becomes easier to control access. The inability of Li-Fi to cross walls can seem like a disadvantage at first, but the solution is as simple as using another fixture in and adjacent room – lighting is everywhere in indoor spaces.
LED lighting offers much more than energy and maintenance savings. The technology could soon become the backbone of wireless Internet communication, offering superior speed and security than conventional Wi-Fi networks. Once PoE and Li-Fi become mainstream, the lighting systems and Internet networks of buildings will merge into a single high-performance installation.