23 Apr 2019

Transform your city or business with the three Ps of lighting

Lighting systems are taking on a new role as the connectivity backbone for IoT applications in smart cities, smart buildings, and smart businesses.

smart lighting

Lighting systems are taking on a new role as the connectivity backbone for IoT applications in smart cities, smart buildings, and smart businesses.

Over the past decade, energy efficient LED lights have been replacing a growing fraction of the world’s incandescent lightbulbs. More recently, connectivity and lighting have given rise to connected lighting systems that can be monitored and controlled remotely. Now, this smart lighting infrastructure is starting to make its connectivity available to a variety of new services, in connected cities, stores, offices, and factories.

Today, lighting consumes just under a fifth of the world’s power. Replacing traditional light bulbs with LED lights alone can yield 27-29 percent energy savings, and a 6 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Intelligent lighting systems that incorporate occupancy sensing, scheduling and dimming can offer energy savings as high as 66 percent.2

Connected lighting gives building managers remote control over their infrastructure, allowing them to quickly detect and fix outages, enabling preventative maintenance, and increasing the wellbeing of indoor residents. Outdoors, it can help deliver the right light at the right time and place, reducing power consumption and light pollution, and increasing public safety.

Easy to deploy, maintain, and scale

A variety of technologies meet the needs of smart lighting systems. Cellular low power wide area (LPWA) networks such as LTE-M and NB-IoT directly link any number of lights with control platforms on the cloud via cellular network base stations. And short range technologies such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi can connect a number of lights to control devices.

Mesh technologies such as Bluetooth mesh, Thread, or Zigbee greatly extend coverage by letting messages hop from node to node until the reach their destination. And capillary networks use cellular or Ethernet connectivity to connect mesh networks to the cloud, from where they can be monitored and controlled.

Irrespective of the specific choice of technology, they all share the main benefits of wireless applications: they are easy to deploy, maintain, and scale.

The three Ps of lighting

You’ll find lights wherever people spend time. Just take a minute to count how many fixed lights you can see. Unless you’re way off the beaten path, you’ll be surrounded by plenty of them. They’re usually well positioned. And they are powered by necessity.

The three Ps of lighting – Plenty, Position, Powered – are just as important for applications in the Internet of Things, which typically also need plenty of well-positioned and powered wireless nodes.

[tweetable]By creating a network of wireless nodes that spans a city, an office, a factory, or a shopping mall that other applications can latch onto, lighting networks pave the way for a new generation of services that are affordable and easy to install, maintain, and operate.[/tweetable]

Enabling new value-added services

Shopping malls and individual retailers have already begun to exploit this wireless communication backbone. By tracking their customers with Bluetooth beacons integrating into the lighting infrastructure, they are able to offer dynamic and personalized loyalty schemes via smartphone apps, monitor the customers to optimize shop layout, and help them find their way around the store.

In industry, the lighting infrastructure can be used to enable indoor positioning services to track valuable assets, tools and equipment, and personnel. Even more applications will become possible with the recent Bluetooth 5.1 specification announced by the Bluetooth SIG earlier this year, which uses a new direction finding feature to enable down to centimeter-level positioning accuracies. Finally, companies can set up distributed sensors to monitor room occupancy to optimize space allocation and track employees to manage their access to restricted locations.

Smart street lights provide a natural connectivity backbone for a range of smart city applications. Battery-powered smart parking sensors could, for example, transmit the status of the parking lots they are monitoring to the nearest street light, from where the information could be sent to the cloud. Traffic congestion monitoring, smart digital signage, and intelligent traffic control applications such as V2X communication, traffic light control, and deployable surveillance for public events are just some of the other smart city applications that smart street lights could enable.  

With plenty of powered lights strategically positioned both in- and outdoors, smart lighting infrastructure is establishing itself as a viable backbone to deliver value-added services for our connected future.


1 Bahga, A.; Madisetti, V. (2014). Internet of Things: A Hands-On Approach:. Vpt. p.50. ISBN978-0-9960255-1-5. Retrieved February 10, 2015.

2 The Internet of Things in Smart Commercial Buildings 2018 to 2022, Memoori Research, Q2 2018.

Stefan Berggren

Senior Product Marketing Manager, Product Strategy Short Range Radio

Diego Grassi

Senior Manager Application Marketing, Industrial Market Development, u-blox

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