Interview- The progressive race towards connected lighting

Reggie Nxumalo, Philips, Lighting, Interview, Connected Lighting, Digitisation,
Reggie Nxumalo, General Manager at Philips Lighting.
Reggie Nxumalo, Philips, Lighting, Interview, Connected Lighting, Digitisation,
Reggie Nxumalo, General Manager at Philips Lighting.

IT News Africa recently sat down with the managing director at Philips Lighting, Reggie Nxumalo, to unpack the latest developments in the digitsation of the lighting industry.

Lighting? Really? How can a lightbulb be digitised? These are the views of many people who grew up with conventional lighting which was used for one thing, creating light. Seems obvious, I know, but these old school conventional lighting technologies are now very quickly becoming outdated and replaced with new technologies which provide greater efficiency, save money and allow for a level of customisation which goes far beyond your stock standard dimmer.

Reggie, who has been at Philips since May 2015, spoke to IT News Africa about how much the lighting industry has changed, how lighting will fit into the IoT ecosystem and the threats that come with it. He also touched on African governments’ openness to adopting new technologies and the issue of light poverty across the African continent.

1. It has been one year since Philips Lighting became a stand alone company, how much has the lighting landscape changed in this time?

It has indeed been a year and the only thing that has really changed from a Phillips perspective is a change in ownership in terms of the public listing. From an industry perspective, in terms of technology, the barriers are being challenged everyday in the move from conventional lighting technology to LED. There is a progressive race and movement across the industry to connected lighting, which would form a part of the IoT ecosystem. Businesses and consumers are starting to demand a whole host of things while continuing to stay as green as possible.

2. How will lighting fit into the IoT ecosystem?

There are various applications for lighting in the IoT ecosystem, from the home to city to businesses. In the home environment we have technology such as the HEU, where you can basically interlink and connect your lighting source with the rest of your home network. Allowing you to turn on and off your lights, change the colour temperature, or specialised settings all done remotely. This is extremely fruitful in our American and European markets but from a South African perspective we have decided to hold back in the short term while we build the necessary business infrastructures.

From the B2B (Business to Business) segment, when you take the view of a office space, there is a couple of things that people are looking for. Number 1 is obviously efficiency and the cost saving that come with it. Because you have LED technology connected through IoT to a control systems you are able to regulate the lighting through sensors reducing power consumption. It also allows you to practice day light harvesting, where you work in tandem with natural lights providing a nice mix between natural and artificial lighting, again saving power. There is a customised responsive approach to lighting.

Another aspect in terms of contentedness a business use case is power over Ethernet. The actual light fittings become a device on their own with their own IP address. This allows you to manage your building both as a whole and each individual light fitting, allowing the customisation of lighting.

From a Government perspective, they are focused on the lighting in cities. The cities have a big infrastructure for lighting, almost every street has a light which is provided by local municipality. There is opportunities here to enter the foray of IoT to manage lighting in a similar way to that of a building, you can manage a city, for example diming light when there is no movement for example. What that opens up is a huge opportunity for cities to better manage their lighting and thus save money.

The conversation is very broad and there will be many applications for lighting within the IoT ecosystem in the future.

3. Do you think Governments in Africa are open to using this lighting technology?

To give them credit, some of the African countries, including South Africa, have signed the COP 21 agreement, which means we are committed as African countries to cut down our carbon emissions. Energy efficiency is one of the key aspects in achieving this, thus we have already seen a shift to LED technology. It will take a while but its happening. This will also lay the foundation for connected lighting in the future. The good news is that it is happening already.

4. As lighting starts becoming devices in the IoT ecosystem, what security risks are there and how can these be combated?

There are two models from an IT perspective, you have your LAN (Local Area Network) and WAN (Wide Area Network). From a LAN perspective, it’s a closed system, it is your building so it is easy to manage and secure that. In terms of a city, it also runs off a LAN model, because the server, the data, all of it is in the country there is no cloud connectivity. So pretty much whatever protocols you have in place to close out and secure your LAN network would work.

We also stress test our products. The security arena, however, is an extremely sensitive one, you need to make sure as a company that you have done enough. Hackers are always going to try and test your networks but from a Phillips perspective, we believe we have done enough and there is sufficient due diligence to ensure our products are secure.

There is a second telemanagement solution which we use, which is the cloud. Even with the cloud, there are certain IT protocols which have to be followed to secure their safety. For various reasons cities could be worried about cyber threats, for example, someone could hijack a cities lighting and demand a ransom in order to turn it back on. So all of those security protocols have to be followed to ensure safety.

5. How do these new developments in lighting help tackle the African light poverty issue?

From an African point of view, we have two solutions for dealing with light poverty. You have an off the grid solution, which is a solar power system. These systems can be tailor made to suit the needs of the clients, whether that be powering essentials in an RDP house or fully powering a house in the suburbs. The second system is a residential program, which replaces all the older GLS technology and moving the market to more energy efficient. The savings in doing this is up to 80-90%. There are also programs in countries like South Africa which incentives corporates to reduce their emissions.

6. How would you describe the current lighting landscape?

I would say that the industry is currently in a state of flux. There is a lot of change as lighting organisations are being tested and stretched in respected to digitisation of technology. Then it also steps into business models as well, there is a shift to selling lighting as-a-service, this calls from completely different paradigms. There is just a lot of shifts in different places.


By Dean Workman