Comparing Wired and Wireless Lighting Control

By Andrew Jimenez
Vice President of Technology, Anixter

The commercial building lighting controls market is experiencing a period of rapid transformation. With commercial lighting technology making the shift from traditional fluorescent to LED lighting fixtures, legacy analog lighting controls are being replaced by more scalable and reliable digital controls that can operate over a wired or wireless infrastructure, including high-voltage, low-voltage, wireless and Power-over-Ethernet (PoE).

These modern lighting controls go beyond just turning on and off lights at specified times of the day. With advanced sensors, building operators can obtain information about the building environment, such as temperature, occupancy and sunlight levels, allowing it to adapt to a specified preference. This information can be utilized by software analytics platforms to optimize a building’s operational efficiency and physical security.

While these lighting controls aim to simplify building operations and minimize maintenance, with so many options on the market, the selection process can be complicated. Some determining factors to consider when choosing a lighting control system are your budget, the installation environment and whether it is a retrofit or new construction. In this TECHbrief, we analyze the benefits and drawbacks to both wired and wireless lighting controls and compare the different technologies used by each.

The Pros and Cons of Wired Lighting Controls

Wired lighting controls include the 0-10V analog controls, as well as digital controls — such as DALI and DSI, which are widely used in modern lighting controls — and IP-based controls, such as Power-over-Ethernet (PoE), which is gaining momentum in the market due to its ability to provide both power and data communication via a standards based structured cabling system.

Using low-voltage cabling to establish a network to connect all components in a lighting control system may provide more security and reduce the potential for the signal to drop out due to RF coverage issues associated with wireless control systems. However, low-voltage cabling systems are susceptible to voltage drop over long distances due to their smaller conductor size when compared with line voltage wiring.

Wired installations are more practical in new installations versus retrofitting existing lighting installations, where providing an overlay control system utilizing a wired infrastructure can prove to not only be cumbersome, but expensive.

The Pros and Cons of Wireless Lighting Controls

Wireless lighting control technology includes Zigbee, Z-Wave and Bluetooth Mesh. Z-Wave and Bluetooth Mesh are primarily used for home automation, while Zigbee is gaining popularity in the commercial building market due to its resiliency and scalability as the number of control nodes that can be distributed across a lighting installation is virtually limitless.

The biggest benefit to using wireless systems is the ease of installation and, therefore, potentially reduced labor costs. This is especially true when retrofitting an existing lighting application, where replacing the installed wired system would be time-consuming and cost-prohibitive.

On the other hand, potential downsides to wireless lighting controls include its susceptibility to hackers, which could compromise the security of the system as well as potential interface issues with other wireless systems.

The table below compares both wired and wireless lighting control systems and the specifications of the technologies.

A comparison between wired and wireless lighting control systems
Lighting control technology continues to evolve as innovations in wireless and wired infrastructure solutions are developed. To stay up to date on the latest trends, visit anixter.com/lighting.

Andrew Jimenez is the vice president of technology at Anixter. He has worked in the telecommunications industry for more than 25 years and is an active voting member of the TIA TR-42 Telecommunications Cabling and IEEE 802.3 LAN/MAN standards committees.