One of the advantages of smart homes is that aspects like heat or air conditioning can be controlled remotely. While such capabilities suggest images of someone controlling their home’s utilities from afar, lighting is increasingly being adjusted remotely from both inside and outside the house. Using a smartphone, for example, a user can turn off their hallway and bathroom lights from bed before turning in for the night. The rise in such usages will lead to the emergence of RF-embedded light bulbs in 2013, predicts IMS Research.

According to the organization’s recently published report, “Connectivity Opportunities in Lighting Controls – 2012 Edition,” shipments of RF-embedded light bulbs and their associated remote controllers will top 600,000 in 2013. That number is predicted to rise to 11.7 million in 2017. Several large manufacturers are planning to release new wireless-lighting products using a range of technologies.

Currently, most RF-embedded lightbulb systems, such as Insteon’s, use a proprietary technology or a proprietary IEEE 802.15.4 software stack. Greenwave Reality is currently showcasing NXP’s JenNet-IP protocol. According to NXP, that protocol is being made an open one so that other semiconductor firms may use it.

Meanwhile, the ZigBee Alliance recently launched a lighting-specific profile. Called “ZigBee Light Link,” it is designed specifically to control both the color and light level of light-emitting-diode (LED) light bulbs. Several tier-1 lighting manufacturers, such as Osram and Philips, have already had devices certified using this protocol. In fact, IMS Research predicts that ZigBee will emerge as the main wireless technology for these systems.

Most of the systems are expected to offer remote access via an application or cloud-based service. While this feature is available on current residential lighting-control systems, the cost can be too high for many consumers. The RF-embedded light bulbs will be sold at a more consumer-friendly price, leading to higher residential adoption.

The Commercial Angle

According to IMS Research, the market for lighting-control devices in commercial buildings will double from 2010 to 2017. From 29.6 million, shipments of devices are expected to reach 61.6 million. Driving much of the adoption in commercial buildings is the need to reduce energy consumption in accordance with energy legislation. According to the US Department of Energy, lighting accounts for 25.5% of a typical commercial building’s energy usage.

Most of these systems’ components will be connected ballasts that contain a connectivity technology, such as DALI or ZigBee. It is expected that a standard for both ballasts and sensors will be released in 2013. This will drive the adoption of DALI, as lighting controls from different manufacturers may then become widely interoperable. For wireless communication, IEEE 802.15.4 technology is widely used. Because of the closed nature of the lighting-control industry, however, proprietary systems are used in most cases.