The method used to communicate with an LED sign is important. We have often heard our clients say that they will first buy the product that they want and then worry about the software. To us, that’s like saying that you plan to buy a car and then take it for a test drive. We believe it’s essential to research the software, run through a demo of it, before you purchase your sign. If the software is difficult to use, you won’t want to use it and, therefore, your sign won’t be used to its full capability. There are many off-the-shelf products which have been designed in non-English speaking countries, which can be hard to use. Other systems are designs to do a vast range of things which makes doing simple tasks, like loading a message to the sign, more complicated than it needs to be. One of our criteria when designing our software was to make it simple enough to use so that our clients wouldn’t have to call IT support to make small updates and changes.
There are a number of different methods used for communicating with LED sign software. 5 or 6 years ago, we used to pull data cables or use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi but, we found that there were issues with these methods. The Education Department banned copper data cables to be run as they are a lightening hazard. We did try to use fibre optic cables instead but, these are significantly more costly and can only be used with the one device they’re plugged into.
To use Wi-Fi was also difficult as the Education Department has regulations around downloading software on their network. To get around this, we would supply a standalone laptop with a separate means of Wi-Fi. This would work well, but it was limited to only the one laptop and, if anything were to happen to that laptop, it was a major effort to replace it.
With all these different issues, we set out to do our own research into the various software options. We decided to design and construct our own web-based system which has proven very effective and has numerous benefits over the older methods.
A web-based system means there’s no need to download anything. It’s a website where you are given your own username and password to log into a portal of your sign. This means you can log in from any device with internet, and the username and password can be used by more than one person if required. Being web-based also means that we can collect data from the signs. We can track fan rotation speeds, air flow, internal temperature and data usage and, due to this close monitoring capability, we are able to offer a better warranty. With the older methods, there might have been numerous indicators leading up to the failure of the sign that could have been fixed but, without the data feed, the first indication we had that there was an issue would be when a client would call and say that their sign wasn’t working.
At this stage, our software has no on-going charges. We are working on upgrading the software to allow our users to have more options and this will be subscription based but our base model is a one-off fee.