Comment, IoT/Smart Lighting

You should never buy a light again. Here’s why.

In the future, we'll rent the lighting for as long as we want it, believes Alan Tulla.

WILL THE lighting industry become a service industry? By this I mean, that in future, will you lease or rent the lighting fixtures rather than simply buying them as a capital expense?

I believe the days of simply buying a luminaire will disappear and the reasons are all to do with the Internet of Things, connectivity, smart buildings and the miniaturisation of technology.

We all know that the interest in using luminaires for IoT and connectivity comes from the fact that almost everywhere that people go, there are luminaires.

Miniaturisation of sensors and processors is important because it enables just about any kind of detector to be incorporated into a luminaire at low cost and using very little space or weight.

Did you know that all the active elements of a smartphone such as the satnav, image processing, temperature sensors (to prevent the circuits overheating) and telecoms circuitry weigh less than 2 grams? The weight of a phone mainly comes from the non-processing parts such as the battery, cover glass, and the body itself.

This means that the luminaire can provide many more functions than simply lighting a space.

We are used to movement detectors such as PIR switching on the luminaires and many installations use photo-cells to dim the luminaires according to the available daylight and movement of people.

More recently, thermal sensors can track people’s movement anonymously and provide information to the building management system. This can be used to optimise maintenance schedules and the heating and ventilation. Location data, provided by the luminaires, is used in the retail environment to send notifications to shoppers offering them the best deals.

Manufacturers need to be much braver. They need to grab the whole connected and smart lighting business.

Similarly, in the exterior environment, connected sensors can be used to control traffic, find parking places or give warnings about icy weather.

All these features go way beyond the traditional function of a luminaire. They also require the expertise of many other non-lighting disciplines.

The problem for the luminaire manufacturers is that robotic assembly and manufacturing, the low cost of materials, LEDs and sensors combined with fierce global competition means that there isn’t much profit to be had from simply making light fittings. The situation is made worse because the long life of LEDs means that you can’t financially help the luminaire manufacturing business by selling replacement fluorescent or HID lamps.

Somehow, or other, if the manufacturers want to stay in business, they need to find another way to add value. Some have started on this path by offering ‘smart’ luminaires but these mainly been standard luminaires with extra features such as wireless dimming and constant illuminance drivers.

In my opinion, the luminaire manufacturers need to be much braver. They need to grab the whole connected and smart lighting business. This includes the data collection, software, maintenance, controls and communications.  You will ‘rent’ the lighting for as long as you want it and pay for what additional services you need.

One major company, Zumtobel, has done exactly that in the launch of the Zumtobel Group Services division which offers a whole range of additional connectivity, data collection, leasing and maintenance. I expect that other companies will follow a similar route.

My worry is that if lighting companies don’t grab the opportunity, other companies that know nothing about lighting will take over the lighting industry, but that’s a discussion for another day.


  • Lighting as a service will be one of the topics at this year’s Lighting Fixture Design Conference which takes place on 20 and 21 June 2018 . Organised by Lux and LEDs magazine, the event takes place at the Cavendish Conference Centre in London. For more information and to reserve you place, click HERE.