The emergence of a different wireless technology can have a major impact on the reach and cost-effectiveness of implementing Building Management Systems’ (BMS) into smart buildings. Companies have primarily had to rely on disparate building management systems which involve a significant amount of local, manual interaction, low automation, and dedicated infrastructure per application. However new LoRa low power, long range technology introduces a long range and low power consumption which enables a more integrated solution to address commercial building management systems at a reduced cost for both installation and operation.

The use of LoRa Technology differs considerably from using conventional wireless technologies. LoRa enables fast responses based on hard data gathered from hundreds of battery-operated sensors and analysed in real-time by a Cloud-based server. A smart BMS can also generate an automated response as soon as an issue is identified. This can replace the slower and more costly manual processes used to respond to issues identified by a conventional BMS.

The key differentiator for LoRa is that the data from hundreds of sensors are communicated over a secure and reliable connection with strong network coverage even in dense urban areas. The distance between the sensors and the communication gateway to the analysis server can be up to 30 miles. As the wireless sensors are powered by batteries which can achieve a lifetime of up to 20 years, the cost of replacing batteries or sensors also contributes to providing a lower operational cost. Another benefit is that there is no need for sensor power-source wiring as used in GSM, LTE or WiFi networks, so the sensors can easily be retrofitted to existing buildings.

Implemented globally, there are already over 200,000 LoRa-based gateways, connecting over 80 million end nodes in over 100 countries. The networks are being used to create smart buildings which monitor and manage factors ranging from indoor air quality, fire detection and workspace usage, in addition to movement patterns and security. The networks are also being used to track environmental conditions which include noise, brightness and temperature to enable heating and ventilation to be individually and remotely managed in individual rooms throughout a building. The scope for the potential to introduce a smarter BMS is defined by a reduced cost of installation and operation as well as by a visionary strategy to optimise each building to drive greater profitability and sustainability.

Automating real-time action with hard metrics

The applications in which LoRa Technology is used to create a smart BMS include precision metering to monitor building-wide energy consumption and intelligent control of HVAC to heat or cool rooms only when they are occupied. This can also include identifying and actioning a response to water leaks in real-time, as well as driving predictive maintenance by monitoring lifts to detect the risk of potential failure. Used as part of a waste-collection programme, the network can be used to identify which bins need to be emptied and streamlines the service by eliminating the need for operators to visit every bin.

Office Space is the second highest operating expense for employers, next to salaries. The annual cost per workstation continues to rise across the globe. On-site employees require access to adequate workspaces, whether they work in an office every day or only come in for a few days a week to attend meetings and collaborate with colleagues. Companies struggle with the goal of condensing and contracting space efficiently, while at the same time creating enjoyable and productive work environments.

The task of ensuring available space by monitoring desk and meeting room utilization has been a logistical challenge for many building managers. IoT software platforms and utilization sensors are replacing cumbersome manual tactics to solve this problem. Data analytics from unobtrusive occupancy sensors provide an accurate and deeper understanding of how teams are working.

The data gained can help define best practices to deploy smart building technology and enable managers to monitor key metrics so they can make data-driven decisions to efficiently optimize workspace and help forecast for the future.

To improve safety, a network can monitor indoor air quality by measuring air flow and testing for levels of different pollutants. A real-time automated response can then guarantee oxygen recycling inside a commercial building in response to the carbon dioxide threshold. To support fire safety, the network can be used to monitor across the signs of fire to detect heat, smoke, gas or flames.

Securing access to a building can be tightened by providing employees with badges employees, motion detectors can be used to monitor and detect intruders. The network can also identify windows and doors which should be closed and use remote control to shut the entry points without the need for an operator to close them.

To support a tighter control over cost, LoRa operates in the unlicensed ISM band. This delivers minimal or no spectrum costs whilst operating via an external service delivers added flexibility for a low connection fee. The open LoRaWAN standard also provides the flexibility to source from hundreds of interoperable sensors and gateways from manufacturers which are part of the non-profit LoRa Alliance. The network can be operated on private or public networks, can benefit from Geolocation Cloud services and can be integrated into the company’s management system.

In the UK, LoRa Technology is showcased at the Digital Catapult’s Future Networks Innovation Lab. As a vendor-neutral space, the Lab is a centre of excellence for driving potential value from Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWANs). The demonstration at Future Networks Innovation Lab provides an example of how LoRa Technology can be used to collect data from sensors up to 30 miles from a gateway. With a multi-year battery life, sensors can monitor desk occupancy, light levels, noise, air quality, and energy usage. Real-time analysis of the data is presented on a graphical dashboard to show the facility manager conditions throughout one or more buildings and provide the return on investment (ROI) for each.

Smarter buildings are being enabled through the adoption of long-range, low-power LoRa networks which deliver a fast response and greater cost-efficiency than conventional networks. The result is that hard metrics collated from hundreds of wireless sensors are being used to support real-time response and more informed decision making in a competitive world.