You are now visiting the Philips lighting website. A localized version is available for you.

A brand of


    Technology enablers for the Internet of Things

    What makes the connected world tick?

    What makes the Internet of Things (IoT) work? Billions of devices and what seems like as many standards and protocols — each of them with an acronym attached to it. Even the most dedicated expert can find it hard to keep up with the many overlapping layers that make up an IoT ecosystem.


    And yet an understanding of the IoT's enabling technologies, from emerging innovations to by-now refined versions of solutions that work, will help you grasp what this transformative technology is all about.

    5G and the IoT: Growing up together

    Let's start with 5G, the next-generation standard in cellular connectivity. Among its other potentially revolutionary effects, 5G is going to deliver the “I" to the IoT. It will also change our assumptions about connectivity.


    Wi-Fi was designed for computers, and 4G LTE wireless targeted smartphones and portable devices. Both have been tremendously successful — and both were shaped by the devices they were intended for. The same goes for 5G, the first generation of wireless technology designed with extremely small, low-power, and near-ubiquitous IoT devices in mind.


    Unlike Wi-Fi and LTE devices, which we handle and plug into power sources on a daily basis, IoT sensors will operate autonomously for years at a time, often in inaccessible places, without recharging or replacement. That means 5G puts emphasis on areas that might surprise you.


    Low power: 5G technologies are designed to help keep power consumption low, during transmission as well as when devices are idle. Devices will remain in low-power sleep mode until it's time for them to go to work, receiving authorized network traffic or sending out data from deep within locomotive engines or high atop city light poles.


    Smaller designs: There's an emphasis in the 5G ecosystem on keeping radio hardware small, for obvious reasons. In a world of billions of connected sensors, minuteness is crucial.


    An explosion of new protocols: The IoT is prompting the development of a number of different 5G communication standards, not just one or two network types. That means there's a real diversity in the world of 5G. Some 5G technologies, such as the ones that will enable autonomous vehicles, are true speed demons. Others are not.

    The emerging LoRa wireless networking system, for example, prioritizes long distance, low power, and reliability over speed. LoRa offers speeds comparable to those that old-school modems provided. But that makes it ideal for long-range, high-value, and occasional data transmissions. LoRa is perfect for reading utility meters from a central location, for instance.


    The next-generation leap that 5G involves, then, comes not from higher radio speeds but from the ability to exchange data wirelessly and with little energy expenditure across several kilometers. Utilities get a significant productivity boost from being able to read wireless meters from headquarters on demand, instead of having to roll radio trucks through neighborhoods.


    We're conditioned to associate "quality connectivity" with "power" and "speed," and to look forward to the 5G era's faster download speeds, among other things. But in the context of 5G's relationship with the IoT, things are little more complicated than that.

    Machines talking to each other

    Machine-type communication (MTC), also known as machine-to-machine communication (M2M), describes any network where two or more devices exchange data directly and without user intervention. Although high-speed and wide-area 5G protocols are practical for many MTC applications, a growing selection of low-power, wide-area (LPWA) networks are also important for the IoT's growth and diversification.


    Bluetooth was the first MTC protocol to penetrate the consumer consciousness, and along with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) it remains a solid choice for many next-generation IoT devices. But newer protocols are cropping up with specific IoT applications in mind. ZigBee, for example, is well-suited to smart home and building automation environments where hundreds or even thousands of connected appliances and building assets require monitoring and automatic control.

    The rise of MTC is really the rise of heterogeneous devices collected together to deliver new services. An autonomous vehicle is a collection of dozens of cameras, positioning sensors, databases, and processors working together to keep passengers and cargo safe. A sophisticated manufacturing robot is, similarly, a collection of sophisticated parts working in concert.


    The rise of MTC is really the rise of heterogeneous devices collected together to deliver new services. An autonomous vehicle is a collection of dozens of cameras, positioning sensors, databases, and processors working together to keep passengers and cargo safe. A sophisticated manufacturing robot is, similarly, a collection of sophisticated parts working in concert.


    Because IoT devices often run unattended, MTC networks also bake in a number of access and authentication protection schemes. These do more than keep unauthorized users away from data. They help mute attempts to sabotage devices or the network with denial-of-service attacks.

    Connected lighting: New visible light solutions

    Smart, connected overhead luminaires enabled by light fidelity (LiFi) offer an alternative to wireless networks in places where radio signal interference or security are a concern. (Think of an airplane cabin or hospital in the case of the former, and of a government office in the case of the latter.) LiFi imperceptibly modulates energy-efficient LED light to transmit data at high speeds — and, crucially, in a tightly controlled footprint.


    To make a LiFi network even more secure, each user can receive a personalized USB access key. The key, inserted into the device, authorizes the user to receive data and participate on the network. The USB key also bears an infrared transmitter that facilitates upstream transmission to the LiFi access point. LiFi is a strong option for use in industrial and commercial settings in which IoT devices are positioned in the direct illumination path of a luminaire.


    Visible light communications (VLC) can also be used to deliver incredibly precise indoor navigation. Overhead luminaires transmit positioning data to specialized sensors and conventional smartphones. Much like the global positioning satellite signals which blanket the planet with data, indoor navigation uses invisible light modulation to send positioning data to smartphones and IoT cameras.


    For retail customers, light-based indoor positioning offers unmatched precision, and it works with the smartphones that digital native shoppers are already using to guide their in-store decisions. In a commercial setting, indoor navigation can improve the precision and accuracy of automated warehouse operations, particularly the operations of autonomous warehouse vehicles and drones.

    Software platforms tie it all together

    Devising and maintaining IoT applications requires a comprehensive IoT platform to coordinate cutting-edge hardware. New-breed platforms smooth the process of sharing data across different system architectures and third-party environments. Such a platform bridges the gaps between connected lighting systems, general-purpose IoT devices, and the broader enterprise putting it all to use.


    IoT platforms that offer open application programming interfaces (APIs) make it easier for developers to familiarize themselves with the potential of each device as well as with how each device can work with others. That in turn reduces time-to-market and facilitates answering questions about how the platform's security, authentication, governance, and data model capabilities match up with application requirements.


    Open documentation also helps customers make the most of every IoT investment. Because IoT capabilities are growing so rapidly, buyers at the time of purchase may not even understand all the capabilities of, for example, a connected lighting solution.


    An open IoT platform lets internal developers explore the full potential of a significant investment. And IoT platforms designed for speed and convenience make it easy to push new software and updates to headless, embedded, or otherwise invisible devices without physically accessing them.


    The strongest innovations are yet to come — and will come when customers fully grasp the enabling technologies that make the Internet of Things tick and start to demand startling applications from internal developers and vendors. Once those customers understand what secure data exchange, unconventional networking, and extremely small but powerful computing devices make possible, they'll find ways to put them to uses that manufacturers won't have anticipated.

    Share this article

    Share this page
    • Customer stories

      Customer stories

      Find out more about how our customers create value with Interact, across a wide range of professional lighting applications and around the world.

    What can Interact do for you?

    Follow us on: