On the heels of the news this week that GE will wind down manufacturing CFL bulbs for the American market and focus on LEDs, I had a thought.
LED bulbs replace a typical incandescent lamp (drawing 60W) with a low-power (around 10–12W, from the few I looked at) light source that often contains a microprocessor controller and wireless hardware. The more advanced models connect to an existing WiFi network to allow controlling their brightness and color from smartphone apps. Why don’t we take this as an opportunity to build mesh networking into homes bit by bit as old incandescent and CFL bulbs fail and get replaced by LED units?
Of course, not all LED bulbs need to have the capability. Some people just won’t have a use for it, at least in the short term. But there’s something to be said for expanding the range of your home wireless network just by screwing in a new light bulb or two—which needed replacing anyway. Forget buying range extenders and figuring out where to put them. Every room needs at least one light bulb, and wireless range should be good enough, on average, for a pretty good mesh.
There are some short-term issues, I know. Light switches are the big one—since if you turn off the lights with a wall switch designed for “dumb” incandescent lamps, there will be no power going to the socket. That part of the mesh will die until the lights are turned back on. It’s debatable whether that’s actually bad, because if the lights are off there’s a lower chance of someone being in the room using the network. (And maybe it would work as motivation to get the hell off the Internet when you turn out the lights to sleep.)
But smart LED bulbs with color/temperature and brightness controls will probably warrant new wall switches eventually, new switches that don’t turn off the power to the socket. Instead, the smart bulb is told to turn off its LEDs, but the radio remains on. Because the radio needs to reach only as far as necessary to connect with the mesh, the power requirements would be much lower than a typical range extender. The controller could also put the radio in a low-power mode if no device is connected, and there are other power-saving tricks available or to-be-developed that would also help even when devices are connected.
I also envision the bulbs possibly using a form of Ethernet over Power-line to connect with each other and/or a compatible router so the wireless network can be made available even in parts of the home where the wireless signal from the base station cannot reach.
Basically, I see potential.