How to Light, IoT/Smart Lighting

How to Light: What do I need to build a Bluetooth mesh network?

This question was answered by the technical team at Silvair.

The Bluetooth mesh standard allows you to build vast wireless lighting control networks comprising thousands of interconnected devices called nodes. These nodes are typically lighting fixtures, sensors and switches.


Facilities managers and contractors

A facilities manager or contractor planning to deploy a Bluetooth mesh lighting network will require Bluetooth mesh-enabled devices. Make sure your suppliers use qualified Bluetooth mesh solutions that are fully compliant with the specification to ensure cross-vendor interoperability.

You will also need a software tool to enable your nodes to join the network, and to configure the network itself (provide the nodes with application keys, establish relevant relationships between devices and so on). Since Bluetooth is natively supported by virtually every smartphone on the market, this can all be done using a dedicated smartphone app.

The supplier of your Bluetooth mesh-enabled devices should provide you with all necessary software tools. In addition, certain suppliers can offer extended software capabilities, such as network maintenance or value-added services enabled by the Bluetooth radio (such as occupancy heat maps or asset tracking). Watch out for these developments as they are highly anticipated features of Bluetooth-based connected lighting networks.

So all you basically need to get started are mesh devices and a commissioning/configuration app. You don’t need any central gateway device or internet connection, although you might need them if you want to store the data generated by your smart devices in the cloud. You also don’t need any central control boxes. This is because in Bluetooth mesh networking, a controller is integrated into each luminaire. There are no central hubs, no single points of failure and, ultimately, no data bottlenecks.


Lighting manufacturers

If you’re a lighting manufacturer planning to turn wireless, you’ll need to incorporate Bluetooth mesh networking into your products. You will, however, need to make some choices.

Luminaire manufacturers only need to obtain relevant Bluetooth mesh-enabled components. Not all of the components within your luminaire need to be smart. A wireless chip might sit inside an LED driver or a fixture-integrated sensor, but it could also be hidden inside a bridge device that converts Bluetooth mesh commands to a standard 0-10V or DALI output. You need to decide what works best for you.

If you’re a component manufacturer, you’ll need to integrate your product with a wireless chip that contains lighting firmware based on Bluetooth mesh. There are several possibilities. Some firmware suppliers offer chipsets with firmware already installed, while others provide firmware alone (although they might recommend specific system-on-chip solutions for technical reasons).

The first option is more convenient, although the second is more flexible and potentially more cost effective. Remember you might come across very different types of Bluetooth mesh firmware. Some companies (chip vendors in particular) offer core Bluetooth mesh stacks. They come with basic networking principles developed and implemented, but they lack the multiple developments necessary for lighting applications (such as lighting models implemented in accordance with the specification). If you buy such a stack, you will have to develop these missing parts on your own to make the firmware capable of handling lighting applications. You’ll need coders, IT experts, Bluetooth experts and a considerable amount of time and money to make it all work.

If, however, you buy a fully developed stack designed for lighting, much less effort is required. As long as you don’t have any special requirements regarding the integration process, no additional coding will be needed.

Last but not least, the supplier of your Bluetooth mesh firmware should provide you with software for commissioning and managing your products in a Bluetooth mesh lighting network. Again, if these apps are not designed with lighting applications in mind, you might want to develop relevant solutions on your own. That’s quite a challenge considering that in Bluetooth mesh networking, a smartphone app deals with such sensitive issues as network provisioning or security key exchange.

Fortunately, apps from other suppliers can be used to perform basic configuration processes. This is one of many advantages of cross-vendor interoperability – a flagship feature of Bluetooth mesh.

If you don’t want to set up an entire IT department dedicated to Bluetooth at your organisation, it might be a good idea to use a supplier that provides end-to-end wireless lighting control technology, not just the core Bluetooth mesh stack alone.

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