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Cree Sees Wider Opportunity in Ethernet-Powered Lighting with Cisco Partnership

March 25, 2016
The expansion of lighting system networks to function as data networks for connected devices is driving people throughout the lighting market to consider new possibilities, a movement early inquiries suggest will be everywhere at next month’s Lightfair International trade show in San Diego. Among the shifts are new partnerships between lighting companies and technology companies aimed at building out networks that can both integrate lighting as part of the intelligent network and power the lighting from the network itself via power over Ethernet (PoE) capabilities. One interesting such announcement came from Cree Inc. and Cisco Systems, in which Cree’s SmartCast intelligent lighting system is tuned to work with Cisco’s Digital Ceiling. To get more insight, we engaged Gary Trott, Cree’s vice president of product strategy, in an e-mail discussion about what networked lighting is bringing to the industry.

Will Cree expand SmartCast PoE to other network providers, or is this Cisco-exclusive? Cree’s SmartCast PoE works out of the box, with enabled LED lights, light switches and dimmers that operate with Cisco’s standards-based PoE-powered network architecture. This platform provides power and communication for the lights with a standard Ethernet cable, eliminating the need for separate data and high-voltage power connections.

We are still in the early stages of this technology, and right now are focused on compatibility and functionality to ensure intelligent light solutions are simple, cost-effective and optimize the operator and end user experience. Currently, SmartCast PoE is compatible with Cisco’s Digital Ceiling, and we are focused on this partnership because we know it works.

Power over Ethernet (PoE) is a standards-based technology and other manufacturers that follow this standard will likely be compatible with Cree’s lighting technology.

Does PoE require different fixture designs? Are there advantages to it beyond the data network? SmartCast PoE works off of Cree’s SmartCast Technology platform with many of our existing high-performance LED luminaires. It does require sophisticated software and firmware design and creation for seamless integration.

There are several advantages to PoE beyond data transmission, and we are just beginning to explore the possibilities. Cree SmartCast PoE transforms user experiences in environments ranging from office spaces to hospitals and universities. That’s because at the heart of all these innovations is an ethos we call Better Light. Better Light is Cree’s vision for an informed and informative LED lighting platform that enables higher productivity, a heightened sense of well-being, greater safety, security and comfort. Cases could include optimized color temperatures to support circadian protocols and alertness as well as integration with building management to manage space conditioning, location services and many others. 

The scalability of SmartCast PoE extends further when networked and connected to other devices. It will be able to monitor and adjust for occupancy patterns, resource utilization and much more. Ultimately, customers will be able to apply the same kind of enterprise-wide asset management as with any IT device, to remotely monitor, update, track and configure every fixture, sensor and control on the lighting network.  In addition, the platform is open for integration with third-party applications enabling a future set of applications that’s only limited by the imagination.  It enables the app store for buildings.

How do price points for a PoE system compare to dumb lighting networks? The total installed cost of Cree’s SmartCast PoE is equal to or less than ordinary LED lighting with controls. Its cost is equivalent to dimmable fluorescent systems with controls. This is due to fewer materials needed, low voltage cabling, and the power and cable all in one. SmartCast PoE is also intuitively simple, flexible, and easy to use.

How does the system address the security concerns introduced by IoT? By going with an open standard that has proven protocols, such as we have seen with Cisco, you can leverage the security across the lighting network. We are using the enterprise security that Cisco and others perfected over the years.

Within Cree’s SmartCast PoE is SmartCast Link, which connects to the lights and to the network. Within this link is a firewall to help protect the system from security issues.

Related to security in a different way, is utilizing data for a security analytics application. This can set rules, and monitor occupancy data so if occupancy is detected when no should be present, the building security can be notified.

What misconceptions do customers have about these systems? With any new technology you will find misconceptions. Customers may feel the technology will be difficult to work with or too expensive to implement and use. This is not the case with SmartCast PoE, which is equal to or less than ordinary LED lighting with controls. It is easy to install, simple to configure, and is intuitively simple.