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Some buildings are born smart, others have smartness thrust upon them. However, to retrofit dumb buildings with intelligent connectivity infrastructure, and without significant disruption or cost, is no easy feat. It requires innovative, scalable technology and, ideally, a ubiquitous existing infrastructure upon which to piggy-back. Bluetooth Mesh could provide that infrastructure by utilizing lighting to bring a whole range of smart applications to older buildings.

“In new construction you can plan to use standalone smart building control sensors, but only 8% of commercial space is new construction. However, LED lighting retrofits are growing in demand as building owners look to save energy. Connecting these LED luminaires makes the ideal infrastructure for IoT,” says Russ Sharer, vice president of global marketing and business development at Fulham.

“By using Bluetooth mesh in new or retrofitted LED lights, you can create a building-wide IoT network capable of controlling lighting and other building systems. For example, LED sensors can monitor a room’s environment to change the lighting, adjust the blinds or control the HVAC. The same sensors can be used to monitor room occupancy or foot traffic for later analysis, or they can be included as part of a security system. And the infrastructure can be changed or expanded with a simple smart luminaire retrofit,” Sharer continued.

In contrast to wireless lighting systems built on WiFi networks, Bluetooth Mesh provides the ability to connect thousands of separate devices, each communicating with one another. Messages are forwarded from device to device across the mesh until reaching the target device, offering scalability. Bluetooth mesh can relay messages to switches, sensors, HVAC units, light fixtures, and all kinds of connected devices, in every corner of the facility.

“An evolution of the point-to-point Bluetooth device connection standard created by Ericsson in 1998, Bluetooth Mesh is a wireless radio networking schema created to scale to connect thousands of devices using a “flood network”. This means that every incoming data packet across every outgoing connection to share the data across a lattice of Bluetooth devices,” we explained in an article last year. “Scalable and fast, Bluetooth Mesh has no single point of failure making it robust and reliable. This open standard not only brings about energy efficiency but also opens the door to the IoT in all kinds of buildings.”

Lighting systems built on WiFi channel all communications through centralized hubs meaning each light fixture must be able to communicate with the router independently. This brings up range issues and when the router fails, there is no longer communication with the network. Bluetooth mesh enables two-way communication between nodes, meaning each device is able to receive a message and pass it on to the next device until the command is executed. These mesh infrastructures can, therefore, span huge areas as long as each node is in range of another and so on until the original command.

This two-way communication also allows a variety of other messages to be sent, beyond just lighting control commands. Sensors embedded in light fixtures could, for example, collect occupancy or environmental data then share the information, via the mesh, with the central system which can then trigger a response. If sensors in light fixtures identify the room as empty the system can turn those lights off, if they sense the room as too hot they can lower window shades or increase the air conditioning.

“The addition of mesh to the Bluetooth standard will open up significant opportunities for richer experiences in smart homes and building automation, enabling fresh waves of innovation across a range of IoT applications,” says Bob Morris, vice president of marketing, Wireless Business Unit, ARM. “Low-power connectivity is essential to bringing the next generation of secure IoT devices to life.”

Lighting provides the platform for a Bluetooth mesh infrastructure. Light fixtures are already positioned in a mesh structure to provide illumination for human spaces, so by adding Bluetooth connectivity, dumb buildings can quickly enable a ubiquitous smart network across the facility. Manufacturers have begun to offer SIG qualified Bluetooth Mesh-ready luminaires with sensors installed. These out-of-the-box solutions will be easy to install and offer a quick return on investment. “Once this Bluetooth Mesh framework is in place delivering two-way, machine-to-machine communications, the possibilities offered by smart building controls are endless,” says Sharer.