Lighting Company Pushes for Open Industry Standards
(08/05/2011)

While wireless lighting networks work to communicate with each other to better manage a building's usage, most networks don't use open industry standards — something Daintree Networks is pushing to change.

Today, most of the products in the wireless lighting industry are proprietary — meaning the parts within a system typically only work with other products with the same brand.

"When we talk about open standards and interoperable and nonproprietary standards, what we really mean by that is there needs to be a standard that any manufacturer can adopt, that anyone who wants to write to that code can build a product that works with any other product that's been built to that standard," said Daintree's Director of Solutions Marketing Josh Slobin.

Daintree uses the Zigbee Alliance wireless communications and control standard to allow communication between lights and light fixtures, sensors, wall switches and other devices, he said.

"What that means in our case is anyone using the Zigbee standard within our network - and that's pretty significant to building operations managers - we give them a choice of what products to buy. They're not locked in to certain vendors to make changes to the set up."

Open industry standards in lighting control can future-proof a building owner's investment into that technology, he added.

Slobin said the goal is to get intelligent software systems into buildings to reduce the energy usage within those facilities.

"Because there are about 400 companies in the Zigbee Alliance, there is 400 times the ability for new innovation that use that industry standard to come into the market," he said. "If you think about how a proprietary system works, if you take your cell phone, think about a world where the only people you could call were that use the same brand cell phone as you."

In such a closed system, each manufacturer has to create new features from the start since there is no base to build on, he said.

"We're talking about a world where there are a lot of companies innovating and making the standard better and building new features into that standard, then use those new features so you don't have to build them from scratch," he said.

Companies in the wireless lighting industry currently tend to innovate in specific areas that they specialize in, according to Danny Yu, CEO of Daintree.

"As an example, the company that's making fixtures or luminaries is focused on whether the efficiency of that fixture is very high, the lighting quality is very high, the light is optimal," he said. "What they don't do or have any experience in is trying to develop interoperability."

Using a recognized standard supported by multiple suppliers helps these manufacturers to focus on what they do best, he said.

"We therefore offload the time and expense and risk of them trying to do something that is potentially proprietary and leverage other companies, which allows them to innovate in the areas they're really good at," Yu said.

Open Industry Standards for Building Management

Open industry standards came about in the building management system industry as the result of a push from major companies, according to Daintree officials.

Prior to the adoption of the standards, customers often had to use proprietary standard-based systems where vendors didn't support other platforms or charged high prices for products that customers didn't have any other choice but to buy, Yu said.

"A movement in building controls for interoperability is now the primary approach the market is looking for," he said.  

Many of the parties interested in energy efficient building systems are now looking to lighting for the next wave of energy reductions, particularly in existing buildings, he said.

While open industry standards for building management systems have been adopted into 47 percent of U.S. commercial buildings, only 1 percent of those buildings have a wireless network lighting system - despite the fact that lighting represents 40 percent of building energy usage, according to the company.

Yu said that proprietary systems have been the force holding back penetration of wireless lighting controls into the market.

"We firmly believe that the main issues have been cost and lack of interoperability," he said. "We're addressing both of those head on with our wireless approach and ability to bring that to the mass market."

Bob Heile, chairman for the ZigBee Alliance, said that in any industry, standards exist because they are an effective way to promote competition, rather than a lot of niche markets that are small and specialized.

"You get a higher level of functionality, reduced costs, and if you're a user, it really eases any doubt in your mind that over a long period of time - any long haul systems tend to be in place for quite a while — really improve your ability to maintain your systems," he said.

The alliance was formed to address the lack of an effective way to manage wireless networks.

Heile said the old-fashioned way of doing things was having one thermostat set at 73 degrees because it was easy and required one simple wire. By having a centralized system to collect data on occupancy, equipment usage and proximity to sunlight, the temperatures can be set to varying degrees in different spaces to save energy.

With the increase of renewable wind and solar energy, Heile said it's important to be able to manage that asset - being able to use it at particular times, paying what it's worth at that time of day, and being able to integrate that into the broader whole.

"That's the kind of stuff you can do if you have a rich sensor environment giving you lots of useful data," he said. "That's why this whole thing is very important, why this is emerging, this essential capability to really get smart — getting people much more aware of how they use energy, how they buy energy, what's the real cost and just generally achieving green building."

Heile said the approach to networking capability developed as a result of trying to connect a large number of devices without wires, which caused a problem when trying to connect hundreds and thousands of devices in a single building.

While member companies saw good connections for local area networking, they wanted to apply it to larger scale building wireless connections.

The standard was developed nine years ago, and today offers a large set of cost-effective, battery-friendly capabilities to connect huge numbers of devices or lighting systems, he said.

More than 400 buildings actively deploy the standard.

"To really develop effective solutions you want to have global standards," he said.

The Zigbee Alliance, which relies on volunteer efforts, brings together competitors to discuss what is necessary to create industry solutions.

"They're there because they're interested in solving the problem and using the results."

Daintree's Full-Set Solution

Daintree is working with about a dozen other companies to create a full solution set of lighting controls. The partnership includes companies that are developing specific products to work within the network so all devices, fixtures and switches are managed an area wireless control, he said.

"What we've done to build the movement is recruit companies that are innovating and want to be part of the retrofit and lighting control," he said. "We make it easy for them by giving them options on how to create wireless connectivity to our platform."

Slobin said that while there are always going to be companies who desire to have proprietary communications, the companies they've worked with see the value in interoperability.

"Even if they didn't before, they're certainly coming around as the network effect of having many vendors and alliances and partnerships grows and increases their desire to be part of that standard," he said.

Daintree is driving the creation of a network like that in the building management systems to help lighting companies, Yu said.

"There's a world of opportunities if you can join the overall movement because there's leverage," he said.  "The more products that are built, the more the market will be open to trying and ultimately implementing based on value, so that's attractive to companies."

An added benefit to installers is only having to learn one system for all wireless networks rather than continuously learn complicated new systems, he said.

"Part of the allure of a standards-based set of solutions is that as with anything else there's a learning curve but once you've done it once, that knowledge and expertise will carry over to other products and solutions," he said.

Being able to connect a variety of wireless products can lead to significant energy savings, especially compared to a wired system, Slobin said.

 "That's the goal, at the end of the day, is to be able to offer the cutting edge lighting controls, the cutting edge energy savings," he said. "At the end of the day it'll be about offering something customers can trust that they feel is future-proof and growing the market for everyone involved."

The company sees a future where lighting controls joins building management systems in having a significant penetration and market share, according to Slobin.

"We're really trying to do the right things for the lighting controls market and bring some intelligence and energy savings to commercial buildings," he said.

"A lot of this goes beyond green, trying to figure out how to be effective in implementing that," he said. "You have standalone good ideas, but now they become an important part of a much larger whole with standards like these."

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