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edition 7 (232)
July 2018
New technology

Light reinvented

What does Philips Lighting’s change of name actually signify?

Interviewer Tomasz Cudowski

Light reinvented
Bogdan Rogala has worked in the lighting industry for several decades. Since 2011 he has been the general manager for Central and Eastern Europe of Signify (formerly Philips Lighting)

We discussed the company’s new name, its new mission and the evolution of its market with Bogdan Rogala, the general manager of Signify Eastern Europe (formerly Philips Lighting Eastern Europe)

Tomasz Cudowski, ‘Eurobuild CEE’: Where did the decision to discard from the name Philips Lighting come from? It’s a bit like if Mercedes had decided that when it came to female names, ‘Christine’ actually suited their car better...

Bogdan Rogala, general manager, Signify Eastern Europe: Let’s start with an official reason. The name change was part of a process that began a few years ago when the decision was made to spin off Philips Lighting from Philips Royal as an independent company. We had been preparing for the name change for a few years. Before that, we listed on the stock exchange as an independent company under the name of Philips Lighting. We committed ourselves to changing our name within 18 months of Philips relinquishing its controlling stake in Philips Lighting. It was this commitment that gave birth to Signify. It’s worth pointing out that Philips Royal still has the largest stake in the structure – about 18 pct – but it is not a controlling block any more. The second reason is that our company and the entire industry have recently been changing. Lighting is no longer just about fittings, light sources or lighting systems. The digital age has expanded this environment to include such cutting edge fields as control systems and the Internet of Things [IoT]. Lighting is no longer just about banishing the darkness.

Then why not, for instance, Philips Hi-Tech? Where did the name Signify come from?

Because it has connotations with many concepts that we want to be associated with. ‘Sign’ suggests the importance of light in the context of safety, well-being and innovation. ‘Signal’ refers to the possibilities offered by light when it comes to data transmission and processing – light has become a new intelligent mode of communication. One example of this could be the pioneering LiFi standard we have developed. Meanwhile, ‘significant’ indicates that light has a huge impact on the world today and on the future, while ‘signature’ is... our signature as a global leader in the lighting market as well as in the field of ​​IoT. Signify also emphasises our ambitions and aspirations in the fields of ​​innovation and sustainable development. Furthermore, the name should represent those areas we intend to explore in the future, and our plans go far beyond ‘just lighting’. We have surveyed the reactions to the name change and they have mostly been positive.

And what about consumer habits? Your customers have probably become accustomed to the Philips brand in the last half-century.

We understand this and respect it, which is why Philips remains our global brand and we will continue to sell our products under the Philips brand.

Let’s say a bit more about the LiFi standard you recently introduced. I will ask you this directly: is this another novelty or in fact a revolution? Although I think I can guess the answer...

(Laughter) You should judge this for yourself. For example: in the room we are sitting in there are ten light fittings that evenly illuminate the room. The same fittings can transmit a strong and regular internet signal. This signal can be transmitted by any fitting installed in the office, the home or on the street. Fast internet can be available using light waves wherever a radio signal can interfere with the operation of other devices, such as in hospitals; or where there is no coverage, for instance, deep underground; or in places that require high levels of security – banks, mints, government back offices, etc. Light is secure because it does not penetrate the walls, and only a beam of light is needed in order to gain access to the network. Radio frequencies are increasingly coming under strain, whereas the visible spectrum is a high-bandwidth resource that can simultaneously provide a stable connection to many devices connected as part of the IoT.

Is it already working anywhere?

Yes. Icade, a French real estate investor, has installed this system in its smart office in the La Défense district of Paris.

So are you digging the grave of Wi-Fi?

No, we are convinced that both will complement each other.

I admit, it bears some of the hallmarks of a revolution... such as the light you use to transmit a GPS signal.

Indeed, we are a pioneer in this field as well. For now light allows you to navigate large properties, such as office buildings, retail or industrial buildings – but in the future the system will go further than this. The Internet of Things is opening up unlimited possibilities that can be used on many platforms, including Interact City – which, with the right sensors and software, you can use to set up a single system to control the street lighting or the signalling at crossroads as well as monitor the level of air pollution or car park occupancy. Data can be downloaded over wide areas – since light fittings are the most common and dense infrastructure in buildings and public spaces. The changes promised by the Internet of Things can only be compared to the revolution that led to the emergence of LED lighting.

These are ambitious plans, but I have to remind you: we are in the CEE region. IoT concepts have been around for some time, but a large part of the lighting business is still about simple one-off analogue projects.

In my experience Central and Eastern Europe – especially Poland – is very open to innovation. You only need to look at how internet banking, the fintech industry and even the start-up sector have developed in Poland over for the last few years. At Signify we are putting into practice every innovation developed across the world in Poland. Furthermore, the market has been changing. Each technological change means that new companies are appearing on the market and that existing ones are expanding the scope of their activities. For example, IT firms, telecoms and the sellers and integrators of lighting systems are now entering the lighting business.

So your competition has been growing.

It certainly has but – it’s worth mentioning that the concept of competition has become more and more fluid these days. In some cases the types of companies I’ve mentioned have become our partners and we are implementing various projects together. Although we are the largest lighting company in the world – and this is not just a megalomaniacal boast, the numbers confirm this – we do not act in a vacuum or in isolation. With the rapid changes we have been seeing in technology and the market, the key to success is partnership, identifying synergies and sharing resources. Many companies know this already.

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