LED signs are fast becoming one of the most important communication tools for businesses today. And as the owner of a digital messageboard, it’s important that you know how to communicate with your sign in order to deliver the right content to your customers.
Communicating with your sign can be done in several ways, and choosing the right setup depends largely on your individual sign. Different LED manufacturers may offer all of the following communication methods or only a few of them, but the two main categories are hardwired communication and wireless communication.
LED Sign Hardwired Communication
In the past, an LED sign was usually hardwired with either serial cables or phone modems. Before, this methods were sufficient since sign sophistication was much lower, and you just weren’t sending as much information to your sign.
With advances in technology, signs started needing much bigger files sizes. Serial and phone cables were succeeded by Ethernet and Fiber Optics cables, which are currently the go-to cables for wired sign communication. In general, older wiring options are used in very special situations like production floors inside factories.
The most common communication method for LED signs is TCP or IP over an Ethernet network.
Using an Ethernet communication card inside your computer, you can communicate instantly with the LED sign. Most signs using this technology can do so without the use of special adapters. Ethernet cables are often used in wall-mounted signs or those placed on the street that are closer to the building.
Ethernet tends to be more durable than fiber optics. Although a single Ethernet cable shouldn’t run longer than 300 feet, you can extend its length by adding an Ethernet switch or HUB.
Fiber optics uses light to send info between your computer and your LED sign. Fiber optics can transmit further than Ethernet (between 10 and 40 miles).
It’s recommended that you use fiber optics for long distances, sending large files, accessing signs from a company-wide network, or when you’re willing to sacrifice a little extra money for a very high-speed communication method.
Just like the name implies, this method uses phone lines to communicate with the LED sign.
Communication speed is affected by the modem and the integrity of your phone lines, and the phone company typically charges you for this access.
Serial cables (RS232) are a simple system using two wires to communicate with your sign. Serial cables are very easy to install and use, and are best when the distance between the sign and computer is less than 50 feet, when you’re using a laptop, or when you will mostly be sending messages rather than large files.
For greater distances (up to 5000 feet) or when you want to connect multiple signs to a single computer, consider using RS485, another type of serial cable system.
Wireless Communication for LED Signs
Wireless communication works best when the sign is within 200 yards of your transmission point, bearing in mind that a clear line of sight (free of walls and buildings) is important.
Besides your standard WiFi frequency at 2.4 Ghz, you’ll also see 900 Mhz (for long distances but slower rates) and 5 Ghz (faster data rates and more secure).
Modems in the 900 Mhz range use a radio frequency, which utilizes a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter is attached to your computer while the receiver can be found within your LED sign.
Radio transmission works best for outdoor signs, and lends itself well to a wide range of installations without needing a separate conduit installed beneath the ground.
Radio can transmit data for about 2 miles, but a clear line of sight is important.
Here we have your standard WiFi, which often comes with an encryption key to deny access to unauthorized users.
For WiFi to work properly, it’s necessary that interference between the sign and the transmitter is kept to a minimum.
WiFi is good for sending large picture or movie files to the sign, or when you need to access the signs from multiple computers.
Cell modems run from the same network as your smart phone’s data, such as 4G or LTE. These systems can be set up anywhere with a strong, stable signal.
If you choose a cellular modem, you’ll need to purchase a data plan through a wireless carrier, who will give you an external IP address used by the modem. You’ll connect the modem to your sign using a secure router, and messages sent to your LED sign use the same IP address.
Cell modem systems are great for signs in off-site or remote locations, or for cloud-based content systems.
Communication is Key
Before making a decision, consult with your sign manufacturer to decide the best communication method for your new LED sign. In order to effectively communicate with your customers, you have to communicate effectively with your sign. Now you know about six of the best ways to do exactly that.