Geoff Archenhold: Digital Lighting Revolution

PaE System Configuration

The transition from traditional light to LED is continuing to dominate the architectural lighting industry. Dr Geoff Archenhold talks us through the digital lighting revolution, the benefits, the problems and everything in between.

Will Digital Lighting PaE?

One of the big issues rocking the lighting industry is the transition from traditional light to LED. Traditional routes to market are under significant price pressures as the barriers to markets have been reduced. The traditional players have already started to divest lighting assets, with the most recent being Royal Philips which has released 25% equity in Philips Lighting’s IPO to raise €750m to spend on healthcare activities instead. The advantage of being the world’s largest independent lighting company will enable Philips Lighting to significantly rationalise its cost base and look to jettison unprofitable areas in a timely fashion. This is similar to Osram when it was carved out of Siemens, which has sold whole divisions and created a new strategy but took several years to transition and no doubt Philips will follow a similar course of disruption.

The problem is that the second wave of technology change has hit the sector and this time it’s a much bigger tsunami, with the potential to make even larger market disruptions that could see companies such as Osram and Philips completely acquired within the next five to seven years.

This new Digital Lighting transition will require:

• New technology development more suited to smaller and more nimble businesses.

• Different skill sets for deployment.

• Network designers, engineers and technicians.

• Security consultants and advisers.

• Different lighting installers.

• Data analytic engineers.

• Marketing teams utilising the new  lighting associated assets.

• Understanding that new routes to market will occur through different sectors such as IT and Value Added Resellers.     

So the question is: will new Digital Lighting technologies PaE? (PaE relates to Power and Ethernet Systems, which combines LED fixture power and Ethernet digital connectivity.

Digital Ceiling Concepts

Cisco is currently undergoing a technical revolution by connecting more devices, people, and processes to drive new user experiences and better business outcomes. The digital ceiling concept converges multiple building networks – lighting, heating and cooling, IP video, IoT sensors, and much more – through a secure and intelligent network platform. Such systems help unlock new experiences and efficiencies whilst lowering building operating costs over typical 50 year lifetimes. Through digitisation it’s possible to put high-resolution sensor data into huge databases that can be analysed using Neural Networks and AI to gain a deeper insight into the building and its environment. Digital Ceilings utilise IP to connect disparate building networks, systems and services through converging services to enable:

• Lower-cost, more efficient building and tenant services: the Digital Ceiling lowers the cost of building system installation, operation, and management through unified communications and centralised control of global facilities.

• Transformative new experiences: different building systems can now easily and securely work together.

• New business insights: by combining connected building endpoints with sensors, organisations gain deeper insights into how employees, customers, and guests are using indoor spaces.

The fundamental difference is that the disruption takes place around standard IT based systems that are already installed throughout modern buildings. Therefore, there is no need to invent new protocols, wiring systems and solutions to overcome old lighting systems and utilise what is already installed throughout the building.

Here lies the issue for the lighting industry – it doesn’t know anything about IP addresses, RJ45’s, PoE, Network configuration or Network Security.

What are Power and Ethernet Systems?

The majority of Power and Ethernet Systems for lighting would consist of a centralised LED power system that provides DC currents passed to light fixtures or sensors held in the digital ceiling. There are two ways of achieving a PaES:

1. Power over Ethernet: Allows both power and control signals to be transmitted along the same RJ45 cable to an intelligent light containing an electronic LED and control interface.

2. Non-PoE solutions: Power to LED fixtures is provided from centralised LED driver units which may include the ability to use sensors with RJ45 or other connecting systems.

PoE systems are commonly used today within buildings to support telephone and security CCTV systems where devices have low power requirements. There are two reasons why PoE isn’t being deployed in lighting installations:

1. No ratified standard for high power (>25W) devices.

2. Current high power systems are hugely expensive (>£200 per light).

PoE systems have a significant cost implication as the only high power (>25W) systems available are proprietary, which limits high volume deployments. The good news is that new PoE standards are shortly to be ratified to allow LED fixtures of up to 96W to connect to standard IP networks which should drastically cut PoE hardware costs moving forward.

It is expected that PoE++ known formally as 802.3bt (types 3 and 4) will be ratified by the first quarter of 2017 with compliant systems available on the market by the end of 2017 with prices of PoE++ devices predicted to rapidly fall to less than 25% of today’s costs.

Non-PoE solutions

In contrast to PoE a much lower cost solution is providing Ethernet connectivity to a centralised LED driver which then provides DC power to remote fixtures or sensors. Such solutions offer the same benefits as PoE without the cost of expensive PoE end points (similar to LED drivers).

The advantages of PaE solutions

There are significant advantages of Power and Ethernet solutions above and beyond the digital ceiling concept, covering all sorts of installation phase savings and maintenance phase savings.

Creating new User Experiences and Lighting Services

With an IP backbone linking multiple building systems in a smart, connected architecture, future lighting systems will enable highly customisable indoor environments and personalised employee workspaces that improve safety, comfort, productivity and business deliverables.

New services can be offered by Digital Lighting Solutions including:

• Optimise employee workspaces: Many organisations are using ‘hot-desking’ or ‘hoteling’ to create reserved work spaces. Employees can customise light and room temperature in their reserved spaces. • Create comfortable environments automatically: Indoor spaces could dynamically adapt heating and cooling systems based on real-time occupancy.

• Get people to destinations faster: Digital solutions can be integrated with digital signage and wayfinding applications that automatically connect with employees’ and visitors’ personal devices.

• Create human-centric environments: One can control lighting intensity, colour, temperature, and other factors in every space to adapt to the needs of occupants. • Power new retail experiences: Lighting powered by the network can be used to feature special promotions and sale items; guide customers to specific items with light; closely approximate natural light to show truer colours and reduce returns; measure store traffic patterns, better understand customer and staff behavior, and optimise sales with light-fixture sensors.

PaE helps optimise business operations

PaE systems and digital lighting creates business value beyond pure lighting by utilising built-in sensors and harnessing big data analytics to drive better business outcomes:

• Improved building use: With in-depth analytics it is possible to gain visibility into real-world usage of spaces to better manage, plan, and optimise a building’s use. • Improve physical security: Integrate physical security applications, video surveillance, and security controls that use presence sensors.

• Boost business results with analytics: Collect light, sensor, and usage data of the environment to optimise traffic flow in retail stores, track and optimise sales, and identify premium locations for featured products and services.

With the ability of being based on standard Ethernet solutions, PaE systems allow scalable lighting systems to many tens of thousands of devices making them uniquely positioned compared to RF based solutions limited to hundreds of devices at most.


The digital lighting revolution is upon us and I strongly believe that Ethernet based solutions will prevail as the prominent future lighting technology platform moving forward. With the soon to be ratified PoE++ standard set to reduce PaE system prices over the next three years, the lighting market will enter a new evolutionary phase. New lighting players will be created such as IT network security and configuration consultants yet traditional lighting fixture manufacturers will suffer as they find they cannot add any value in the new supply chain, resulting in a significant shakeout of players.

The leaders in lighting may be companies such as Google, Facebook, Cisco, Microsoft or Apple moving forward – Watch out Philips and Osram!

Geoff Archenhold is an active investor in LED driver and fixture manufacturers and a lighting energy consultant. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of mondo*arc.