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Qualcomm promotes wireless LED lamp technology at CES fair


At the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at Las Vegas,USA, Qualcomm said that its Qualcomm Atheros business unit had coopeated with LIFX to develop a smart, Wi-Fi-based, solid-state (SSL) LED lights platform that is compatible with the AllSeen Alliance Internet of Things (IoT) platform. The partners will release a reference design for LED-based lamps as well as a module that manufacturers can use in a lamp design.


The AllSeen Alliance is an industry syndicate led by Qualcomm that is based on the companys AllJoyn open-source software project to allow everyday devices such as home appliances to communicate in a plug-and-play manner. AllSeen is in a fierce battle with an Intel-led group called the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) that also includes Samsung, Broadcom, Atmel, and Dell Computer as supporters. Both groups hope to set standardized support for products in vertical markets such as LED lights.


The Qualcomm and LIFX partnership is based on using Wi-Fi as the network that connects LED ligthing products to the Internet and therefore to devices such as smartphones for control. Proponents would think that homes and businesses already have Wi-Fi networks, making it the obvious network choice for IoT usage.


Except the existing LIFX Wi-Fi-based LED lamp, however, most other smart lighting product developments are being based on lower-power, lower-cost network technologies such as ZigBee, Bluetooth, or proprietary systems. For example, The Connected Lighting Alliance showed the interoperability of ZigBee-enabled LED lights products at CES with six major manufacturers from the lighting industry companies.

At first glance, Wi-Fi would seem to be especially suitable for most IoT applications and LED Lamps.  Leading-edge Wi-Fi products push the high network bandwidth required to transmit video, use far more power than can be neglected in a product such as a wireless LED lamp, and cost too much as well. The Wi-Fi group, however, has kept backward-compatibility with older and slower versions of the technology. The Qualcomm Atheros QCA4002 Wi-Fi IC used in the reference design and the Lighting Connectivity Module (LCM) is optimized for low power and applications with relatively short range and low-speed requirements. Qualcomm said the IC uses less than 1 mW of power when in sleep mode waiting for active communications.


Of course, both of the IoT groups are well behind ZigBee when it comes to support for LED lighting applications. As we have mentioned previously, the ZigBee Light Link standard endorsed by The Connected Lighting Alliance has covered a complete framework for plug-and-play interaction between controls such as dimmers and LED lights products.Also, the ZigBee Home Automation and ZigBee Building Automation standards are equally well expressed for more complex lighting networks that included a dedicated lighting controller on the network.


The AllSeen group is working on the Lighting Service Framework (LSF) within a working group led by LIFX CTO Marc Alexander. But apprantly that ZigBee-like capabilities are relatively far off. The LIFX wireless LED lamp greatly cuts down the sophisticated control capabilities of products like the ZigBee-based Philips Lighting Hue products. Moreover, Qualcomm said at CES that AllSeen-compliant SSL products were a year away.


For now, the only lighting company associated with the AllSeen group is Havells Sylvania, not to be confused with Osram Sylvania who participated in The Connected Lighting Alliance demo. And Havells Sylvania also has a cooperation relationship with LIFX.


"We are pairing the networking feature provided by Qualcomm Atheros and LIFX with our nearly-century-long tradition in lighting," said Edward Lees, LED lamps business unit manager at Havells Sylvania EMEA. "By leveraging the Lighting Connectivity Module and the AllJoyn Lighting Service Framework, we can quickly enable a wide range of products in our lighting scope of products to become connected."


For sure, Qualcomm is the leader in the mobile wireless communications space. Besides, the company is among the leaders in Wi-Fi via its acquisition of Atheros. But there is no guarantee at this point that either the Qualcomm- or Intel-led groups will become overriding in IoT applications. The OIC seems to have broader support and is pursuing its mission regardless of  network choice, assuming its protocols will run over different networks.


Ironically, the challenge both groups face may have less to do with good networking capability and more to do with understanding a vertical market such as LED lighits. That statement applies to things such as protocol standards like ZigBee Light Link and knowledge of how to cover an LED lamp design and drive down cost. Networking may be far more easily added to a lamp design with an integrated driver circuit and microcontroller (MCU) as opposed to trying to base a LED lamp product development around a networking IC.

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