Mobility and efficiency shape intelligent building trends
Buildings are important to us; we spend a large portion of our lives inside them. According to The Royal Institute of British Architects, we spend an average of 20 hours each day inside commercial or residential buildings.
As the planet’s population expands beyond the current 7.5 billion people, so will the buildings in which we live and work. They will naturally become more numerous, but also denser as land value increases.
It is estimated there are roughly one billion buildings across the world. Whichever way data on them is dissected, it is clear that buildings, particularly the structures in which we work, are a vital part of our lives.
CommScope last year highlighted trends pertaining to the Internet of Things (IoT), sensors networks, Category 6A and fibre technologies, all of which became more topical during 2015, especially in buildings.
Now that 2016 has arrived, here is a summary of what I believe will be the key trends influencing intelligent buildings:
Seamless wired and wireless connectivity is a ‘must have’
With the global number of active mobile connections now exceeding the amount of people in the world, and the vast majority of mobile connections originating or terminating within a building, it is indisputable that people expect to be able to perform much of their normal business via cellular or Wi-Fi-based wireless connections.
This need is driving network design to cover:
- using Wi-Fi technology and supporting network infrastructure based on the latest standards (IEEE standard 802.11ac [wave 2]), and
- deploying dedicated in-building wireless technology through distributed antenna systems or small cell solutions to optimise cellular coverage across the workplace.
Connectivity in buildings should be thought of in the same way as any basic utility, like water and gas. This means designing the connectivity network at the same time as the building itself is being designed.
The need for energy efficient low voltage power in buildings
Power loads in commercial buildings are increasing. Much of this is due to the proliferation of active field devices, including wireless access points and in-building wireless antennas, IP (internet protocol) network cameras and VoIP (voice over internet protocol) phones, and LED light and environmental controllers.
Understanding how to efficiently and effectively power devices in buildings is a growing challenge. Traditionally, the power supplied to buildings has been alternating current (AC) power, which is then stepped down or converted to direct current (DC) using inefficient transformers/rectifiers in order to power devices inside buildings.
With governments now demanding that carbon dioxide emissions associated with buildings be minimised, however, attention has turned to improving the efficiency of the low-voltage power distribution network inside buildings.
In most instances, active devices in buildings are internet protocol (IP)-enabled devices driven by the need for convergence. For these devices, power can be provided via low (or extra low) voltage direct current (DC).
For decades, Ethernet cabling deployed for data network connectivity in buildings also provided DC power, an approach that has the benefit of being standards-based. IEEE Power over Ethernet (PoE) 802.3af and IEEE Power over Ethernet Plus (PoEP) 802.3at are the current standards.
An IEEE taskforce is now discussing the next evolution of the PoE standard (IEEE 802.3bt) with a stated aim of 49W minimum power levels and a likely maximum of 100W. Power over HDBase-T (POH) is another approach developed by an alliance of consumer electronics manufacturers that offers a maximum power level of 100W.
As DC power levels continue to increase, different IP devices will emerge, driving the need for even more efficient low-voltage DC power in buildings.
Environments that improve the employee or tenant experience
The office is no longer only a place to go to work between the hours of nine and five, but it is also a venue where employees collaborate, create and connect at anytime.
Businesses understand that in a globally competitive world they will attract employees and tenants by offering a ‘best in class’ workspace that positively influences health/wellness and productivity.
To improve an environment, we need to understand its current state, which means being able to measure environmental, space and energy metrics.
Embedding increasingly sophisticated sensor technology into the fabric of a building enables this data to be instantly collected, processed and acted upon. This approach offers:
- capability to automatically manage space relating to desk sharing (hot desks) or conference rooms in a user friendly and optimised way
- management of ambient room/building conditions, including light levels, temperature and humidity, for more comfortable and productive working environments, and
- the ability to help minimise a building’s carbon footprint by optimising energy consumption in real-time – thereby improving not only operating costs, but also corporate social responsibility indices or ‘Green’ credentials.
Integrated Workplace Management Systems (IWMS) and other software platforms will feed off this type of data to help create a superior workplace.
Integrating devices on a common network infrastructure
The IoT is a tangible phenomenon. Looking around any commercial building, you will notice hundreds, if not thousands, of connected devices.
The reduction in costs, sensor miniaturisation plus advances in device connectivity capability have enabled a massive network of interconnected devices. As the IoT concept mushrooms, however, so do its challenges.
Going back just a few years, a commercial building had multiple, proprietary sub systems for its various management systems. The dominance of IP networking and associated global standards (like IEEE 802.3) across almost all aspects of technology has allowed building management systems and associated devices to be interconnected through common wired or wireless infrastructure.
There are myriad connected devices, but are they communicating? The lack of a generally accepted protocol for device-to-device communication leads to inefficiencies.
This communication ‘failure’ means that buildings are ‘dumber’ than they should be. Interoperability standards are progressing with the AllSeen Alliance and the Industrial Internet Consortium being two of the larger groups working on this.
Devices that speak the same language and utilise the same network infrastructure can aggregate and process real-time data about their immediate environment in a highly efficient way.
In 2016, I am convinced that buildings are more important than ever before, affecting not only our professional lives, but also much of what we do personally.
Organisations will start tackling the challenge of not just gathering the data, but making better use of the data to make better decisions to improve the efficiencies of the building and the people living or working in it.
The author, Dr Ispran (Ish) Kandasamy, is the global leader for CommScope’s Enterprise Building Solutions group. This article also appears in the April/May edition of Facility Management.