Last week General Electric (GE) announced collaborations with Qualcomm and Apple, pursuing a path of digital technology and recognising the growing appetite for multifunction LEDs to reinvigorate its 130 year old lighting business.
In the deal with chipmaker Qualcomm, GE is offering retailers a way to connect directly with shoppers' smartphones through technology integrated into LED light bulbs. This would include sending shoppers coupons depending on their position within the store, and similar location based indoor services.
"Today's consumers want a customised experience from the news they read, to the games they play, to the products they buy, they expect technology-driven personalisation. Working with Qualcomm Atheros, GE is harnessing the power of our commercial LED lighting to give retailers the opportunity to create an enhanced experience for shoppers securely, while respecting their privacy", said Jeff Bisberg, Global General Manager, Indoor Location, GE Lighting, in a company statement.
While in the other collaboration with Apple, GE will produce LED bulbs for the Apple HomeKit. Apple’s soon to be launched home connectivity product will include GE bulbs that mimic daily natural sunlight progression, providing bluer light in the morning and deeper yellows in the afternoon.
"GE's plans to engineer intelligent, colour-changing LED lighting compatible with Apple's HomeKit during GE's Connected Future event, unveiling LED-enabled intelligent environments capabilities for cities, buildings and homes”, GE said in its official statement.
Many of GE’s competitors offer similar sun-mimicking patterns on their connected bulbs, so GE may have some catching up to do. Some of those competitors such as Philips, with its Hue lights for the consumer market, are also Apple HomeKit partners. HomeKit is expected to launch this month or next, and will include partners such as August door locks, Chamberlain, the maker of a connected garage door, and many others.
The announcements mark a strong statement from the lighting giant within the increasingly competitive multifunction and connected LED industry. “While GE sees an opportunity in selling energy-efficient LED bulbs, it will seek to use sensors and other technology embedded in LEDs to the advantage of consumers, businesses and cities”, said Beth Comstock, who leads GE Business Innovations.
Many had predicted that the US company would divest its lighting business after selling its appliances segment in 2014 and after Siemens sold its lighting unit. GE Lighting made around $2.5 billion in revenue last year, 2.3% of the company’s industrial sales.
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The move supports the strong forecasts made by Memoori, among others in the industry. In our report Smart Buildings: The Lighting Controls Business, we predicted that the global market for Lighting Controls alone, would grow at a CAGR of 12% through to 2020.
Comstock said lighting is a good fit for company CEO Jeff Immelt’s desire to marry software and analytics with GE’s industrial equipment, which the firm calls the Industrial Internet.
“LEDs plus software, it helps GE continue its Industrial Internet expansion and I think the lighting business has a big role in GE’s future because of that”, Comstock said.
Lighting is moving beyond simple illumination, recent sensor rich LED product releases have gained strong traction and it is anticipated that light based data transfer (aka visible light communications (VLC) or LiFi (light fidelity), will be the next big thing for the LED industry.
"There's now a data stream from light that is going to create opportunity to be more productive", said Comstock, in reference to the services the company would be able to offer beyond simply selling lighting hardware.
Both collaborations move GE into new Internet of Things (IoT) based markets dominated by venture capital start-ups. We have already seen major companies make big moves into the sector such as Google, which purchased the connected thermostat maker Nest for $3.2 billion in January 2014 and Samsung, which spent a rumoured $200 million buying SmartThings last summer.
Memoori’s Internet of Things in Smart Buildings report indicated that the overall market for IoT systems in buildings would grow from $110.9 billion in 2014 to $181.1 billion in 2020, with Physical Security, Lighting Control and Fire Detection & Safety representing the 3 largest segments. Continued acquisitions and collaborations seen this years and last, support such figures and the continued development of the IoT revolution sweeping our homes, businesses and cities.