Part 1: Frequently Asked Questions about Smart Buildings and PoE Technology

August 27, 2019


Converge PoE Webinar With PoE Texas and DwightThis spring, Igor’s Founder and CTO, Dwight Stewart, joined Tyler and Maria from PoE Texas to talk about PoE Lighting and PoE Smart Buildings. It was an engaging and interesting session with everyone who joined the conversation live. If you missed the event, you can watch it on demand here

Participants asked some great questions, including many that are among some of Igor’s most frequently asked questions. We’ve summarized their questions and our answers from the show. And, where appropriate, we’ve added some additional context or resources that we did not have time to touch on while live. 

Watch our events calendar for updates on how to see Igor and Tyler live AGAIN on October 1st. Their rematch will be streamed on Converge PoE live while at BICSI Fall 2019 Conference. 

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General Questions

Can you discuss the topic of bandwidth in the network?

[Dwight] This is a strength of PoE. Typically, with lighting control systems, the bandwidth is very narrow. And so you can only send little bits of data, to turn lights on and off, and that has to happen in real-time. Power-over-Ethernet IP networking can easily handle that. This takes up very little bandwidth with PoE. And then the advantage becomes, with all of this bandwidth, you can leverage your light as a hub for data and to connect sensors, actuators, and more. That’s the real benefit of PoE lighting, it can manage any protocol, manage multiple protocols, it’s real-time, high bandwidth, and plug-and-play. It can transform a building and make the light the center of the building to deploy smart building technology. 

[Tyler] You can correct me if I’m wrong, but in my experience typically a 100 mb network is sufficient for PoE lighting. You don’t need high bandwidth.

[Dwight] Yes, you can do 100MB for PoE lighting. It’s really the other applications that you’d attach to the lighting that may require a higher bandwidth. 

Will the PoE power supply need for the size of the house be big enough? Is it scalable?

[Dwight] You have the power and the data aspect. For the power itself, you can go up to 60W per port and deliver and attach anything to that home run. With our daisy chain technology, you can load as much as you have power available. And now we have a new node that can handle up to 90W. You can easily add 2-3 large LED commercial lights on one home run, and if you imagine low-voltage sensors you can use multiple items.

With our USB port on the new node, you can install a node and add devices later. Imagine going back to an install a few years later and all you have to do is plug in a device in the USB port.

Do I have to do a separate home run for each light or device connected to PoE?

[Tyler] Separate home runs can get expensive very quickly. With the Igor node, there is the option to daisy-chain nodes together to limit home runs with the import and secondary output connections. The limitation being the power on the node – if each light draws 20W and I have three lights, then I should use the 90W node for that home run.

[Dwight] That is correct. Keep in mind that not all PoE lighting is created the same. Ours has the ability to daisy-chain, and that is unique to us. You can also install one node and connect multiple devices to a single node, if needed, which can further maximize a home run, but also maximize the efficiency of your use of nodes.

Are there plans for residential applications, especially regarding the style of fixtures available?

[Dwight] The residential space is not something we’re focusing on, in part because its crowded. The enterprise area has immediate opportunity. Residential applications are in the plans but are not the main focus right now.

Types of fixtures are a challenge with residential, though that’s becoming less of an issue. We’ve spent enough time onboarding many OEMs so it’s becoming less of an issue. We now have enough solutions with decorative type fixtures even where it requires a screw-in bulb. There are screw-in bulbs that are really interesting, that are DC, that look exactly light normal bulbs so we can now support more residential applications.

[Tyler] Tell us what you want and what you’re looking for, we’re committed at PoE Texas to the smaller applications. The answer really is yes, as long as it works with the Node it can work with the Igor system and there are many ways we can tackle residential.

[Additional Comments from Igor] Read Dwight’s response to a similar question with Lux Review’s Q&A of the day here

My question is about using lighting for data transmission using technologies such as Li-Fi.

[Dwight] That’s a wide-open topic. It’s really uncertain about what technologies are going to be the most viable, and I think it really comes down to the application. Are you using it to signal location data, such as one-way beaconing? Or is it two-way to create a new way outside of Wi-Fi? And does that application make sense for what you’re doing? Right now, the technologies are expensive, but it could make sense with the right application.

[Additional Comments by Dwight] LiFi specifically requires line-of-sight.  This is a difficult requirement when communicating with mobile devices that could be in someone’s pocket.  Also, LiFi requires robust processing speeds and very high-performance LED drivers to operate at GHz PWM frequencies.  A good PWM LED driver will operate at 1.25kHz+, which is currently an order of magnitude less expensive than what is required for LiFi.  Regardless, LiFi is well positioned to address niche concerns of electromagnetic espionage.

Do you still have control devices such as a light switch, for offices or small rooms?

[Dwight] Yes, but ultimately that becomes more of a convenience. Imagine if you had Bluetooth that told the room who was entering it, and the room could adjust the lighting and other devices to that person’s preference. You wouldn’t need motion detectors or wall switches, but you could have them if you wanted to. It creates a lot of advantages around personalization. Imagine if you have macular degeneration and the room could elevate its lighting up to accommodate you automatically. Or if you have migraines the room could respond and dim. You can activate light through all kinds of sources. Then, at that point, wall controls and light switches become optional.

PoE requires switch ports which are expensive. Is retrofitting of small commercial spaces (50 or fewer troffers) viable if competing against standard LED solutions?

[Dwight] There are a few different answers. One is, there are PoE switches that are plenum rated, which means they can go in the ceiling, which means they can be mounted in the ceiling and you can use the existing AC wiring that’s nearby to connect the PoE switches. Then, you can have short runs of those switches to nearby devices you want to power and connect.

The other answer is that there is no magic bullet for anything all the way to the end device. We truly believe PoE is the best backbone to accommodate devices. Maybe there are cases where you want to put a wireless transceiver on one of our nodes via USB, and then you drop that in and you get wireless coverage and you can accommodate some devices that way. We believe using PoE as close as possible to those end devices is best.

[Tyler] One way we make this more affordable is by using a managed PoE midspan. That managed midspan allows you to add up to 80W of power per port on a device that you can slide into the rack, but it doesn’t fiddle with the data. The PoE switch in this example is communicating to the data on the network and its adding power to the cables.

Should customers consider a high-end infrastructure so they can take advantage of future apps, like perhaps LiFi or other bandwidth intensive apps that may not be on the market today?

[PoE Texas] As we mentioned in the show, the technology is only getting better so it makes sense to invest where you can. Think about where your facility will be in a few years and how fast the tech is changing. If you can invest now, you could save quite a bit later when the tech upgrades!

[Additional Comments by Dwight] A major advantage of PoE is that it can run multiple protocols simultaneously, fast data rates, and highly secured.  Look for versatile nodes that demonstrate extensible physical connections such as USB and RS485, and demonstrate an easy process for communicating with connected devices. 

Igor emphasizes this interoperability: quickly connect standard or non-standard equipment, and developers deploy data adapters to communicate to new devices.  When you can quickly and easily connect a device to a nearby node, and have that device access immediately available to apps, then you are just leveraging existing physical infrastructure and the costs are minuscule.

These new devices for buildings will be as transformative as GPS for mobile phones, which first enabled map navigation and then facilitated the entire ride-sharing service industry!  Fortunately, Igor’s platform makes it easy to incrementally connect new devices to an existing install, unlike the cell phone industry which requires a full phone replacement to get the latest capabilities.

Is there any relationship of PoE lighting with LEED certification?

[Additional Comments by Dwight] A robust PoE lighting can address all lighting control requirements, measure and generate rich data, and provide the tools for continuous data-driven and verifiable improvement.  Additionally, Igor provides a full PoE IoT platform whereby lighting is just one application. 

The platform is well positioned to satisfy LEED Points in several ways by contributing to LEED's: 

  • “Water Efficiency” category via connected water sensors and control
  • “Energy and Atmosphere” category via connected electric/gas sensors and utility demand response
  • “Indoor Environmental Quality” category via light/acoustic/PPM sensors and controls
  • “Innovation” category via PoE’s DC grid and data-centric design

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