2016 Trends for Intelligent Buildings

This year will be an important one for intelligent buildings. Technology and connectivity will convince us that they are more important to us than ever before. In this blog Ispran Kandasamy explains how organizations must start making better use of data this year to make better decisions to improve building efficiencies.

Light_at_the_end_of_the_Tunnel_imageBuildings are important to us; we spend a large portion of our lives inside buildings. The Royal Institute of British Architects has stated that we spend an average of 20 hours each day inside commercial or residential buildings. As the planet’s population continues to expand beyond the current seven-and-a-half billion people, so will the buildings in which we live and work. They will naturally become more numerous but also denser (people per area) as land value increases. Estimates for the total number of buildings in the world vary, but a rough estimate is that there is at least one billion buildings across the world. Whichever way we slice and dice the data, it is clear that buildings, particularly the buildings in which we work, are a vital part of our lives.

Last year we highlighted trends pertaining to the Internet of Things (IoT), sensors networks, Category 6A and fiber technologies. We have seen these all become more topical this past year, especially in buildings. Here is a summary of what I believe are some of the key trends influencing intelligent buildings as we move forward into 2016.

With the global number of active mobile connections (GSMA Intelligence) now exceeding the number of people in the world, and with 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])
  • Deploying dedicated in-building wireless technology through distributed antenna systems or small cell solutions to optimize 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 such as: wireless access points and in-building wireless antennas; Internet protocol (IP) network cameras and VoIP phones; LED light and environmental controllers. Understanding how we power these devices efficiently and effectively in a building 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. However, with governments now demanding that carbon dioxide emissions associated with buildings be minimized, attention has turned to improving the efficiency of low voltage power distribution network inside buildings.

In most instances, active devices in buildings are IP-enabled devices driven by the need for convergence. For these devices, power can be provided via low (or extra low) voltage DC. For decades, Ethernet cabling deployed for data network connectivity in buildings also provides DC power. This approach 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 increase more and more, 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 to five, but 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’ work space that positively influences health/wellness and productivity. To improve an environment we need to understand its current state; this 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 desking) or conference rooms in a user friendly and optimized way
  • Management of ambient room/building conditions, including light level, temperature and humidity, for more comfortable and productive working environments
  • Ability to help minimize a building’s carbon footprint by optimizing energy consumption in real; thereby improving not only operating costs but also corporate social responsibility indices or “green” credentials.

Integrated Workplace Management Systems 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. If you look around any commercial building, you will notice hundreds, if not thousands, of connected devices. The reduction in costs, sensor miniaturization plus advances in device connectivity capability has enabled a massive network of interconnected devices. However, as the IoT concept mushrooms, 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 all building management systems and associated devices to be interconnected through common wired or wireless infrastructure.

There is a myriad of 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 utilize the same network infrastructure can aggregate and process real time data about their immediate environment in a highly efficient way.

As we move into 2016, I am convinced that buildings are more important to us than ever before, affecting not only our professional lives but also much of what we do personally. Organizations will start tackling the challenge of not just gathering the data, but making better use of the data to make the better decisions to improve the efficiencies of the building and the people living or working in it.