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LightFair 2016 – Welcome to The Internet of LEDs

This week over thirty of our field engineers from around the country traveled to the West Coast for our annual LightFair team meeting.screen-shot-2016-04-27-at-8-55-56-am-144x300

San Diego is a great destination, the show promised to be huuuuge and the team looked forward to our annual scavenger hunt, scouring Lightfair’s exhibit hall for what’s new, what’s not and what’s wacky.  Winners were promised bragging rights for their best discoveries, either useful or just entertaining.

Within the show’s first few hours it was clear the LED wave has flattened every other traditional illumination technology.  As we noted a few weeks ago, even LED product recalls and failures can’t slow the market adoption now.

The team came up with a few high level themes:

The Internet of LEDs has arrived.  IoT is so hyped that every LED vendor now needs their own IoLED story.  Any serious player must show off some form of network connectivity for their LED lamps, fixtures and systems, either their own or a partner’s.  With so many Internet-ready, wireless and wired control interfaces now on display, it’s easy to see why there is growing customers confusion.

GE’s purchase of Daintree last week is part of the looming shift where any big player will need their own network lighting system that can be easily building connected.  But we’ll expect more industry efforts like the EnOcean Alliance to push open wireless standards on behalf customers concerned about interoperability.

Our team particularly liked several vendors showing simpler wireless commissioning tools.  These enable LED fixtures, rooms and zones to be easily set-up using iPhone apps, bluetooth connectivity and even pulsed light output from your iPhone’s camera flash.  Once commissioned they can self-connect to zigbee based mesh networks using less wiring and fewer gateways.

LED tube costs plummet.  The debate over simple twist-in LED tube replacements vs. direct drive LED tubes that require rewiring continues. We’ve been working with customers to help them conduct their own tradeoff analysis, considering the remaining lifespan on their existing ballasts and utility incentives in their region.  One interesting technical advancement has been the quick shift by many vendors from plastic to glass LED tubes, where performance and lifespan increase with conductive glass providing better heat dissipation.

But the latest market prices were the shocking part.  Prices for comparable LED tubes have dropped over 50% since last year. Of course, this has been helped by another 30-50% boost in LED performance, with LPW ranges now between 130 and 160. Overall, it’s a stunning reflection of how fast volume and competition play out in semiconductor based products.

Brand players struggle to differentiate themselves.  Acuity, Current/GE, CREEEaton, Hubbell, Osram Sylvania and Philips all showed off large, fully staffed booths with full LED line cards and new age controls.  But their pace of new product intros has slowed and the visual differences between brand products has been marginalized.   And many of them are playing in shifting sands, trying to determine their next level positioning.  GE is building and branding Current on top of older businesses, Eaton is rebranding Cooper, Philips is either selling or having an IPO and CREE’s recent financial performance has been a bit bumpy.

So at LightFair they’re all trying to market their broader vision for networked LED lighting.  GE showed a Smart City lighting demonstration integrating gun shot detection, motion sensing traffic flows and parking space identification.  Acuity showed broader building connectively with their LEDs networked with HVAC based on last year’s purchase of Distech Controls.

In our what’s wacky contest, the team brought back a range of impressive promotional giveaways including beach balls, whisky flasks and LED ice cubes, bracelets and business cards.   And the photos they took of low-end, less well designed Chinese products reminded us that the market hasn’t yet totally matured.