When installing or upgrading a lighting system, it is often believed that a wireless solution will reduce reliance on electrical contractors and the subsequent costs of on-going maintenance. However, is a wireless solution suitable for all projects? Here, Mike Welch, Managing Director of Control Network Solutions compares the features and capabilities of a wireless lighting solution and a wired smart web-based solution.

Wireless technology is increasingly being discussed as becoming the technology of choice in residential, business and commercial environments for connecting mobile phones, computers and televisions as well as controlling a building’s facilities such as the heating or air conditioning. Recently joining the wireless revolution, the lighting control industry is now embracing the technology, however, just how suitable is a wireless solution for every application?

When installing a lighting control system it is assumed that by choosing a wireless solution there will be a reduced reliance on electrical contractors and the subsequent costs associated with maintaining a wired system. However, installing wireless lighting controls requires the support of electrical contractors to connect the system components to a mains power supply and potentially a resilient mains supply. This means that if any issues or faults were to arise, the electrical contractor would, as per a wired solution, be the first point of contact.

Considering international standards and interoperability, like a majority of technologies, there are many competing wireless technologies that offer varying levels of interoperability and multi-vendor support. Although international standards often imply interoperability, further research into individual legislation must be carried out to confirm. For example, although the ZigBee IEC standard is based upon the International Electrotechnical Commission, it does not address wireless mesh techniques, its key selling point for reliable communications. However, by choosing a system based upon an internationally recognized standard such as the Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI), which requires no regulatory approvals, ensures a solution can be deployed globally, sharing costs and skills across international organisations.

Further lighting control requires a deterministic communications technology. It’s not that the ON command will eventually arrive at the light fixture but that the ON command arrives at the light fixture within 0.5 secs every single time. Wireless solutions are not deterministic within the same response time and with 100% reliability. Wireless by its very nature operates in an uncontrolled environment so it simply can’t be guaranteed to meet such tight deterministic requirements and to do so would incur extreme cost.

Also important to consider is the flexibility of the control solution and the implications of making changes to an installed system. For example, a wireless solution requires an initial Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) survey. This assesses the potential interference risk with devices such as other wireless smart devices, pacemakers and defibrillators along with the impact of nearby train lines, power lines and elevators etc. However, as environments and employees within large businesses are constantly changing, EMI surveys have a considerably short shelf life. Comparing this to a wired, smart web-based solution such as elitedaliTM, where the lighting is controlled via the Internet, an EMI survey is not required.

With the drive toward sustainable buildings, only by accessing live data can true efficiency measurements be gained. Device data and monitoring is therefore an increasingly important aspect of any installed system for building and facilities managers. Through elitedali, all the data according to the IEC DALI standard from each individual light fixture is accessible by the end-user, providing total access to all the information required within the buildings existing Building Management System (BMS). Although this may soon be possible for wireless offerings, nothing currently matches the total access offered by the wired elitedali solution.

With rapidly developing technology, it is also imperative to remain aware that a new superior technology can quickly supersede a recently installed system, leaving a solution that is unable to be repaired if the previous version is discontinued. This can often result in a ‘stranded investment’ where an installed system no longer successfully addresses all of a company’s requirements, leaving the investment ‘stranded’. This is particularly of concern with current wireless lighting control solutions which are mostly single vendor offerings.

Wireless can have its place and, for example, EnOcean® energy harvesting wireless input control devices, used with lighting control solutions such as elitedali, can work very successfully, both reducing cable and maintenance costs, whilst offering highly flexible multi-vendor interoperable total solution.

Therefore, when choosing a technology to base a lighting control solution upon, it is critical to the operation of a business that it must remain sustainable and cost effective for the following years. Although its often tempting to embrace the newest and most popular solutions, emerging technologies are often yet to have their disadvantages discovered. And with the availability of smart web-based solutions that can provide total control and access to your lighting system anywhere in the world with an Internet connection – why would you choose a wireless solution?