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The Future of Lighting is Connected

November 2022


The Future of Lighting is Connected

 With spiralling energy prices and looming net zero targets, what options do local authorities have to curtail energy usage in street lighting? In this example, we examine how connected control of street lighting can lead to dramatically lower costs and reduced carbon emissions through increased lighting control.

The use of cellular and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in intelligent street lighting delivers flexibility and interoperability, resulting in significant cost and energy savings, increasingly making it the go-to choice for a more sustainable connected lighting solution.

However, there is a wide range of options when deciding which wireless IoT technologies to deploy, with not all being suitable for every deployment scenario. In addition, factors ranging from regulatory (planning and deployment logistics) to ensuring an area’s aesthetic is maintained and, of increasing importance, power consumption must be considered.

Each solution has different capabilities and strengths, making them better suited for certain scenarios and applications. However, increasingly the most important of these are longevity, ongoing accessible support, and power consumption – especially in light of the recent global surge in energy costs. 

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LED lighting technology’s advantages are well documented, significantly improving both power consumption and night-time visibility. Cellular Nodes connected to Central Management Systems (CMS) build on these benefits, allowing precise control of lighting outputs through remote ‘dimming and trimming’ techniques, which enable significant energy (and therefore cost) savings. They can also automatically provide reporting on faults, further saving monitoring and maintenance costs.

When paired with additional sensors, Cellular Node® can provide dynamic lighting, automatically adjusting depending on pedestrian footfall or road traffic. This can ensure adequate light levels during peak periods, offering a sense of security while minimising wastage during quieter periods. 

Connected CMS platforms use street lighting infrastructure to communicate data via nodes attached to the luminaire, allowing control of a portfolio of city and highways assets. The vast array of data that can be captured and reported means customers can make intelligent decisions about how they manage their asset portfolio, enabling energy savings, increased safety and reduced maintenance costs.

For example, Urban Control and its parent company, DW Windsor, recently worked with Surrey County Council to provide more efficient street lighting. Together, they upgraded 89,000 streetlights to energy-efficient LEDs, delivering expected energy reductions of around 60 per cent – saving more than 7,500 tonnes of carbon emissions each year. Urban control provided the Central Management System (CMS), while DW Windsor was responsible for the lighting upgrade.

Why cellular doesn't just mean mobile

The most important and successful standards we have seen to date are the 3GPP family of cellular IoT technologies – ‘Long-Term Evolution for Machines’ (LTE-M) and ‘Narrowband-Internet of Things’ (NB-IoT), deployed in the licensed spectrum and managed by mobile operators. These have been designed to support IoT applications that are low cost and use low data rates, with devices boasting long battery lives that can operate in remote and hard-to-reach locations.

But why is this technology having such a disruptive impact on IoT and connected street lighting?

Traditionally low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs) have required extensive network planning and additional hardware (base stations/gateways/access points) to be meticulously deployed and installed in pre-selected locations before street lighting controllers and IoT devices can be installed.


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This adds increased complexity and costs in terms of stocking, project management, installation and ongoing operation and maintenance of the privately managed networks. In addition, these networks operate in unlicensed spectrum, which inevitably brings problems with interference, bandwidth, and signal disruption, which can mean lost data and disruption in service. Protecting against this and preventing loss of signal all add further costs to the network hardware and loss of reputation, along with the cost of trying to resolve these issues.

Cellular IoT, however, exists in licensed spectrum with no such problems, as these frequency bands are protected and enforced by the UK government via the regulator Ofcom. Cellular IoT devices are also as close to ‘plug-and-play’ as we can get, with automatic location, LED lantern and driver information upload and commissioning all carried out within minutes of powering up the unit.

With Urban Control's Cellular Node, we can easily connect one to one million streetlights – and beyond across diverse areas such as car parks, business parks, and retail estates or even across a city. And all this without the need for additional hardware or extensive network planning.

Interoperability and scalability are key...

It’s clear that interoperability and scalability are critical; however, we also need to bear in mind that when a product or system must adapt its solution to a proprietary system, we will be speaking about compatibility and not about interoperability.

One major factor present in all wireless technologies that have successfully transitioned from pilot to the mainstream is that they are based on standards-based technologies rather than closed proprietary ones. It’s been clear for some time that the vendors promoting proprietary technologies have struggled to gain traction, with Harvard Technology and Sigfox entering administration in the last few years and the much-hyped LoRaWAN now facing its own public network challenges.

Interoperability is a crucial topic in today’s IoT world. Unfortunately, proprietary solutions frequently lead to vendor lock-in, complicated and expensive integration with others, poor or non-existent updates and, eventually, obsolescence. 

With an increasingly urbanised population and more than 80 per cent of global GDP generated in cities, there is a growing demand for data-driven solutions that can address key urban challenges at scale. IoT-connected LED lighting controls offer a scalable, affordable, and interoperable solution that helps lower energy usage and will stand the test of time. 

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