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Mesh networks support smart lighting

When outdoor lighting giant Schréder decided to launch a smart lighting division, the company didn’t choose a low-power wide area network technology. Instead, Schréder’s Owlet Nightshift went with Zigbee, a protocol typically used for smart home applications. Zigbee is a shorter range technology, but it supports mesh networking, so Zigbee modules can be daisy chained when they are in close proximity to one another. This made Zigbee ideal for Owl Nightshift.

“Outdoor lighting is big for Zigbee,” said Ron Konezny, CEO of Digi International. Digi makes the modules that fit into the Owl Nightshift street lights and the gateways that aggregate the data from the lights and connect to cellular networks for backhaul.

According to Owl Nightshift, cities that use its connected lighting systems are saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. Energy bills are lower because the cities can dim the lights remotely from computers or smartphones, and maintenance costs have plummeted because lights that need attention can send alerts before they go completely dark and require an emergency truck roll.

Recently Owl Nightshift asked Digi to migrate its Zigbee networks to Thread, another mesh networking technology. Thread and Zigbee both use the IEEE 802.15.4 protocol and the 2.4 GHz frequency bands. Each Thread node has its own IP address so routers can communicate directly with endpoints, and the network can scale by adding more routers in a star topology.

Digi foresees significant Thread-based deployments in industrial lighting, tank monitoring, and solar energy. Currently the company’s Zigbee modules are used for digital oilfield applications and solar energy panels in locations that are not well covered by cellular. Over time some of these could migrate to Thread.

Thread can be more secure and more reliable than Zigbee, and it is also more flexible because its software stack is independent of application layers. The Thread networking protocol is open source, and is supported by Google, Samsung, Huawei, and SoftBank’s ARM, among others.

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