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Articles - new technology - lighting controls (1)

Based on these characteristics, some manufacturers see ZigBee as more suitable for large-scale commercial than residential applications.

One such manufacturer is Philips Lighting Electronics, which, through its Advance division, is planning to introduce a ZigBee-based wireless integrated lighting control system (including ballasts, sensors, controllers and software) in 2006. The system, controlled by a central computer, will enable dimming and on/off switching, daylight and occupancy sensing, scheduling and the ability to group and reconfigure fixtures.

“Until now, there have not been as many wireless options for commercial applications,” says Sandoval. “Over the coming year, however, the demand for wireless control solutions in commercial applications will increase and may at some later point even surpass sales of these products within the residential market based on the number of nodes required in a commercial application versus a residential application.”

He points out a number of advantages for wireless control as a means to achieve the benefits of lighting automation in a commercial setting:

  • Reduced capital and operating expenses. Wireless control reduces the amount of wiring needed. According to Sandoval, wireless controls can save as much as 30-40% on installation and material costs compared to a wired control system. This will make wireless control an attractive option for retrofit projects as well as new construction. In addition, wireless technology makes it easier to maintain systems, as the owner can replace devices one to one without control wiring being involved.
  • Flexibility. Wireless technology allows mobility; in a building that is dynamic and where changes occur often, wireless technology allows the owner to move devices or group devices without changing wiring.
  • Scalability. Devices can be easily added to and removed from the system to account for future needs. Wireless also provides a suitable platform for incorporating new technologies.
  • True building integration. Wireless technology enables easier integration between lighting, HVAC, security and other building systems that incorporates equipment and environment monitoring.
  • Centralized and decentralized intelligence. Controls can receive commands from a central computer and can also interact with each other independently, increasing responsiveness. Devices can also engage in two-way communication.
  • Personal control. Wireless control permits each occupant to be able to control his/her local lighting and temperature without location restraints.

“Complete SCADA systems can be configured using wireless technology,” says Walters. Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems gather and analyze real-time data, enabling the system to respond to a variety of inputs as they occur. “The main benefit will be a lower cost of implementation. A secondary benefit will be increased flexibility in deployment. With wireless components, the system can grow over time and be reconfigured if needed at a much lower cost for a hard-wired system.”

The potential for new wireless control technologies includes systems that enable control of lighting wirelessly from a central computer through a simple, flexible, and fully customizable screen interface, and via interaction of control components in the system. The system monitors the lighting and receives information as well as transmits control commands. Courtesy of Advance.

“It appears that protocols that are public and open will, in the future, be ideal for commercial applications,” says Sandoval. “Today, there are very few open protocols, such as ZigBee and BACnet, in the marketplace, but they are starting to take command. Customers like options and open protocols allow for those options. In addition, customers do not want to be tied down to a single vendor. In the wireless arena, ZigBee as an open standard will allow other devices to integrate and interoperate so that building owners can choose how, why and when to use a specific vendor.”

He adds that the possibilities in commercial control are endless, but it will take time for new technologies to penetrate the market. Sandoval believes wide adoption will occur in 2-3 years. The first customers, he says, will likely be applications such as commercial A-grade buildings, hospitals and big box retail stores.

Walters agrees that ZigBee is positioning itself as the leading technology for commercial building control primarily due to its higher node counts. He believes wide adoption may take a little longer than Sandoval estimates, but that it will likely occur in 3-5 years.

He sums up his view of Z-Wave and ZigBee. “Z-Wave systems place the emphasis on low power consumption to allow for battery-powered devices while maintaining excellent range, node count and sufficient bandwidth for residential control,” he says. “ZigBee provides greater bandwidth and node count at the cost of range and power consumption, and is more suitable for commercial applications. Both of these technologies promise reliability and attractive price points. Both emphasize low power consumption so that battery-powered devices can be used, providing application solutions such as ‘peel and stick’ occupancy sensors. Finally, there are powerful, flexible, affordable technologies that can be used to bring high-performance automation to the mass market.”

Table 1. Comparison of RF wireless control protocols. Source: Philips Lighting Electronics/Advance, with additional comments by Leviton.

RF Protocol Bandwidth/Range Pros/Cons Topology Application Comments
Bluetooth (IEEE 802.15.1) 700 kbps

30 feet

  • Voice
  • Higher level of security
  • Limited adoption
  • Limitations with scale
  • Wireless PANs
  • Cable replacement
  • Personal ad hoc networks
Sandoval: “Made for short distance transmission, not very suitable for control systems.” Walters: “Great for cell phone and PDA synchronization, not used in home control due to range and power consumption.”
WiFi (802.11b) 11 Mbps

100 feet

  • High data transfer rate
  • Wide adoption
  • Limitations with scale
  • Wireless LANs
  • Consumer and enterprise use
Sandoval: “WiFi offers high bandwidth, but is sometimes unstable. Not very suitable for control systems.”

Walters: “Too expensive, too much power consumption for residential control applications.”

Z-Wave 9.6 kbps

~100-400 feet

  • Low data transfer rate
  • Highly reliable
  • Limitations with node count
  • Low power consumption
  • Residential and light commercial applications
Walters: “Ideally suited for residential and light commercial applications. Current shipping with numerous companies supporting. This currently is the most widely adopted wireless solution for residential control. Keep an eye on this one.”
ZigBee (802.15.4) 192 kbps

100-1000 feet

  • Low data transfer rate
  • Highly reliable
  • High node count
  • AES hardware encryption
  • Highly scalable
  • Wire replacement in building environments
  • Commercial applications
  • Enables decentralization of intelligence for sensing and control
  • Condition monitoring
Walters: “In theory, IEEE standard with multi-vendor support. Moderate bandwidth and range, high node count. In practice, not shipping yet. This is a good one to watch. However, it is still unclear what ZigBee wants to be when it grows up.”

Sandoval: “ZigBee is highly suitable for commercial applications with wide adoption to be realized in 2-3 years.”

Craig DiLouie is principal of ZING Communications, Inc. (, a marketing communications firm specializing in providing consulting, analysis and journalism services to the North American lighting and electrical industries. 



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