current and forthcoming control standards

There are several new communications standards being employed by various lighting tech startups.  I found many of them to be confusing, so here is my best “I’m a designer, not an engineer” summary survey of what they mean.

I highly recommend an excellent article called “6LoWPAN: The wireless embedded Internet ” by Zach Shelby and Carsten Bormann that was published in EE Times.  Refreshingly, this article is written in plain language and describes the context of each evolution, not just the technical stuff.  I quote it several times below.  Also, there is an excellent article in LEDs Magazine by Maury Wright surveying the current state of lighting control standards (or lack thereof).

The unfortunate punchline is that right now, there is no singular “open” network or software protocol for networking architectural lighting devices using wired or wireless Internet/Ethernet standards.  This is a huge gaping whole in the lighting industry that will soon hold back the progress of the industry.  The progress of digital lighting is soon to be squandered by lighting controls companies, each promoting their own proprietary system “advantages”.  Ultimately, to an end customer trying to get a construction project complete, the lighting industry simply looks like a bunch of bickering, medieval feudal states.

Internet of Things:

EE Times:

As the Internet of routers, servers and personal computers has been maturing, another Internet revolution has been going on –The Internet of Things. The vision behind the Internet of Things is that embedded devices, also called smart objects, are universally becoming IP enabled, and an integral part of the Internet. Examples of embedded devices and systems using IP today range from mobile phones, personal health devices and home automation, to industrial automation, smart metering and environmental monitoring systems.

IPSO Alliance:

“The IPSO Alliance is the primary advocate for IP networked devices for use in energy, consumer, healthcare and industrial applications. The IPSO Alliance is a non-profit association of more than 60 members from leading technology, communications and energy companies around the world.  IP provides the freedom of ultimate flexibility that will help manage your world whether interfacing with household appliances and integrated home systems for security and lighting or monitoring an entire factory.”


IPv4 and IPv6 are the fundamental addressing system of the whole Internet.  IPv4 ran out of addresses, so IPv6 was created to include a much larger pool of addresses.


IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) is a version of the Internet Protocol (IP) …that is intended to succeed IPv4 as the dominant communications protocol used for Internet traffic.  It was developed to deal with the long-anticipated IPv4 address exhaustion by implementing a new address system with a greatly increased number of possible addresses.

IEEE 802.15.4:

EE Times:

Hundreds of millions of embedded devices are already IP-enabled, but the Internet of Things is still in its infancy in 2009. Although the capabilities of processor, power and communications technology have continuously increased, so has the complexity of communications standards, protocols and services. Thus, so far, it has been possible to use Internet capabilities in only the most powerful embedded devices. Additionally, lowpower wireless communications limits the practical bandwidth and duty-cycle available. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s we have seen a large array of proprietary low-power embedded wireless radio and networking technologies. This has fragmented the market and slowed down the deployment of such technology.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) released the 802.15.4 low-power wireless personal area network (WPAN) standard in 2003, which was a major milestone, providing the first global low-power radio standard. Soon after, the ZigBee Alliance developed a solution for ad hoc control networks over IEEE 802.15.4, and has produced a lot of publicity about the applications of wireless embedded technology.

Unfortunately, on top of IEEE 802, the market fractures into different software “stacks” to make the actual communications language, including ZigBee, 6LoWPAN, and JenNET:



ZigBee is a low-cost, low-power, wireless mesh network standard. The low cost allows the technology to be widely deployed in wireless control and monitoring applications. Low power-usage allows longer life with smaller batteries. Mesh networking provides high reliability and more extensive range.  ZigBee is a specification for a suite of high level communication protocols using small, low-power digital radios based on an IEEE 802 standard for personal area networks. Applications include wireless light switches, electrical meters with in-home-displays, and other consumer and industrial equipment that requires short-range wireless transfer of data at relatively low rates. The technology defined by the ZigBee specification is intended to be simpler and less expensive than other WPANs, such as Bluetooth. ZigBee is targeted at radio-frequency (RF) applications that require a low data rate, long battery life, and secure networking.


ACM Digital Library:

6LoWPAN is a protocol definition to enable IPv6 packets to be carried on top of low power wireless networks, specifically IEEE 802.15.4. The concept was born from the idea that the Internet Protocol could and should be applied to even the smallest of devices.


ZigBee and proprietary networking solutions…only solve a small portion of the applications for wireless embedded networking. They also have problems with scalability, evolvability and Internet integration. A new paradigm was needed to enable low-power wireless devices with limited processing capabilities to participate in the Internet of Things, forming what we call the Wireless Embedded Internet.



JenNet-IP is a proprietary IP-based networking solution [developed by semiconductor manufacturer NXP] enabling the ‘Internet of Things’. Using an enhanced 6LoWPAN network layer as defined by the IETF, it targets ultra-low-power IEEE802.15.4-based wireless networking for residential and industrial applications. With a “mesh-under” networking approach, it places NXP’s JenNet network layer at the heart of the platform to provide a self-healing, highly robust and scalable network backbone, serving wireless networks with an excess of 500 nodes.


About Brad Koerner

Venture Manager - Luminous Patterns Philips Lighting
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