The are various ways:

POSIX standard

tr

$ echo "$a" | tr '[:upper:]' '[:lower:]'
hi all

AWK

$ echo "$a" | awk '{print tolower($0)}'
hi all

Non-POSIX

You may run into portability issues with the following examples:

Bash 4.0

$ echo "${a,,}"
hi all

sed

$ echo "$a" | sed -e 's/\(.*\)/\L\1/'
hi all
# this also works:
$ sed -e 's/\(.*\)/\L\1/' <<< "$a"
hi all

Perl

$ echo "$a" | perl -ne 'print lc'
hi all

Bash

lc(){
    case "$1" in
        [A-Z])
        n=$(printf "%d" "'$1")
        n=$((n+32))
        printf \\$(printf "%o" "$n")
        ;;
        *)
        printf "%s" "$1"
        ;;
    esac
}
word="I Love Bash"
for((i=0;i<${#word};i++))
do
    ch="${word:$i:1}"
    lc "$ch"
done

Note: YMMV on this one. Doesn't work for me (GNU bash version 4.2.46 and 4.0.33 (and same behaviour 2.05b.0 but nocasematch is not implemented)) even with using shopt -u nocasematch;. Unsetting that nocasematch causes [[ "fooBaR" == "FOObar" ]] to match OK BUT inside case weirdly [b-z] are incorrectly matched by [A-Z]. Bash is confused by the double-negative ("unsetting nocasematch")! :-)