Matthias Gerber, market manager office cabling Reichle & De-Massari, looks at smart building connectivity trends

Several trends are driving change in Smart Buildings and networks. Key trends include the need for Software-as-a-Service and cloud applications, the huge uptake of devices due to the IoT, huge increases in network density demands and also an increase in bandwidth requirements which will be driven further by 5G and Wi-Fi6. What’s more, increasingly sophisticated building management systems, converged technology and IoT are increasingly bringing building automation online. This means massive data growth as more devices are integrated with other devices and systems via networks to optimize functionality, efficiency and services. and producing vast amounts of data in the process.

Smart Buildings are, by definition, full of electronics, sensors and all kinds of controllers that enable systems for presence detection, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, security and so on to work. In the past, these functionalities were set up as disparate ‘silos’ devoted to a particular function or technology. For a Smart Building or Smart City, however, this approach is too limiting and inefficient.

In order to manage building systems in a way that is optimised for a ‘Smart’ environment, such systems should be networked and linked in to a digitized building master control system. Today, there is a growing demand for Smart Building infrastructure that allows a wide range of functionalities to be managed and monitored over exactly this type of converged network. Such a network also needs to be capable of powering large numbers of remote devices.

In response to this demand, infrastructure for smart buildings and smart cities is increasingly converging onto IP networks. IP is becoming a common medium for previously separate systems, with structured cabling increasingly transporting data along with power, lighting, security - and more. All devices related to building management and technology communicate over Ethernet/Internet Protocol (Ethernet/IP) with the LAN (Local Area Network) providing the physical communication layer as well as Power over Ethernet (PoE). Because IP devices and networks speak the same language ‘end to end’ there’s no need for ‘translation’ between sensors, end devices, servers, cabling and operating systems. Buildings can be connected and controlled digitally throughout.

This IP-based convergence provides high levels of standardization, availability and reliability and will increasingly support new deployments. This, in turn, enables the sharing of integrated pools of (virtualized) resources across applications. An additional bonus is the fact that devices and systems that work with Ethernet/IP technology are comparatively inexpensive. Often, ‘off the shelf’ devices can be used for professional applications. Because there is - in theory - no limit to the number of devices that can be addressed, networks can be scaled up (or down) whenever required with relative ease, and devices can be added without affecting network performance or reliability. The current Internet Protocol version (IPv6) can theoretically allocate some 1,500 IP addresses per square meter. Access controls and authentication measures incorporated in IP improve building automation security, which is essential with such a large volume of (additional) connected devices.

Going ‘All over IP’ also helps improve reliability. This is partly because the star-shaped topology reduces the number of connection points, but also as a result of the high level of standardization and safety features built into IP. Troubleshooting and fixing problems also becomes faster and easier. What’s more, new applications can be developed quickly and easily thanks to the total availability of data from different components. An administrator can integrate these with the click of a mouse.

An ‘All over IP’ approach is also future-ready. Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) based on xBASE-T1 uses a single twisted pair for data transmission and features miniaturized connectors. SPE can replace the traditional field bus, helping realize high density, connection speed and ease of installation. Instead of introducing connectivity for each application, uniform manufacturer-independent connectivity can be used. This is an ideal solution for connecting large numbers of small sensors and actuators within a Digital Ceiling ‘zone’. This kind of ‘Digital Ceiling’ approach is built around extending the traditional RJ45 based data network through an entire building’s ceiling in a ‘honeycomb’ configuration. In this way, it becomes possible to connect devices to building automation via zones with pre-installed overhead connecting points (service outlets). Real estate managers and tenants can simply plug in zone network switches, sensors, controls, WLAN access points and other distributed building services, which are immediately powered and connected to the network. 25G/40G connectivity will also be required to support next-generation wireless devices delivering advanced wireless connectivity technologies such as Wi-Fi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax).

As LANs merge with Building Automation, a new kind of connectivity emerges, requiring high levels of standardization, availability and reliability. An ‘All over IP’ approach facilitates this, with building technology and building management devices communicating over Ethernet and IP. LAN provides a physical layer, with Internet and Cloud integrated in the background. Ethernet will be increasingly used to network ever-increasing numbers of devices, and Power over Ethernet (PoE) will efficiently and inexpensively power end devices over data cables, enabling advanced lighting and sensor applications. Introducing smart, converged networks also means new energy-conserving technologies and applications can be introduced, such as intelligent management of building space, resources and PoE-powered LED lighting. Each LED can be controlled via its own IP address. In the longer term, digitized building automation with Internet and cloud integrated into the background will become an integral part of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Smart Buildings can only be smart if all digital components can communicate unhindered. Appropriate networking, consisting of a uniform cabling system based on structured cabling for local data networks (LAN) and a common language based on the Internet Protocol (Ethernet/IP), can help realize this. Uniform, application-neutral and manufacturer-independent connectivity can replace what has to date been the standard separation of IT and field bus components. The resulting All over IP networks allow flexible, universal, simple installations and brings us closer to ecological, economical, convenient and secure Smart Building installations.