Selecting a smart lighting system can be daunting partly because you need to have a basic understanding of networking. How will the luminaires, sensors and controls connect and reliably communicate with each other on your smart lighting network?
System Architecture Options - Wireless, Wired, or HybridDoes this sound complicated? It really isn’t, but understanding a few basics before you get started is essential. There are two major decisions you will need to make; the first is the system architecture and the second is the communications protocol. Let’s break it down a bit.
Lighting control systems can be wired, wireless or a combination of the two (hybrid). The system architecture refers to how control signals are communicated and not how a control device receives power.
In a typical wired lighting control system, control signals travel over communication wires. In a wireless system, control devices communicate through the air using radio-frequency RF waves without the need for wires. Hybrid solutions use wired for areas where it is feasible (such as new construction), and wireless as an extension of the wired network to provide coverage in hard-to-reach areas or where it is too expensive to wire.
Choosing the right architecture for a particular site is influenced by many factors including whether it is new construction or an existing building, the space or building itself, installation requirements, and overall costs. Let’s take a look at the advantages and challenges of each architecture type.
Factors that Influence System Architecture Decision
Building Status - Is your building already built or in the process of being built? If it is in the construction phase or under development, it is the most opportune time to integrate a wired lighting control system. For a pre-existing building, a wireless lighting control solution will probably be your best option.
System Reliability - Although wireless technology has come a long way, there are some situations where a wired solution is still the most reliable. In some applications, building materials and technology interference can cause wireless systems to be less reliable. To mitigate this issue, a wireless mesh network topology can be used. In this case, each network node (connection point on the network that can send, receive or store data) can communicate with every other device, and can relay messages for its neighbors. Mesh networks are self-healing, in that if any disruption occurs, data is automatically re-routed helping provide better coverage and reliability.
Scalability - A wireless system requires more nodes/repeaters (hardware) in a given radius to keep the signal strong as compared to a wired system. The range, or maximum transmission distance of a signal, is dependent on a number of factors including the wireless communications protocol used, building structure, and line-of-site obstructions. A wired system uses less hardware because it can support long cable runs (for example, 2500 ft.). Both are scalable, however as building size increases, the cost of wiring can exceed the cost of a wireless installation.
Budget - Equipment and installation costs are generally higher for wired systems.
Once you have decided on your system architecture, it is now time to determine the communications protocol that runs on the network.