Smart Buildings Magazine vox pop is back, asking one topical question to the industry.

The latest question is: What are the latest connectivity trends in smart buildings?

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Karl Walker, market development manager, Beckhoff Automation

The proliferation of sensing, control and peripheral devices using the “Internet of Things” as a communications platform has somewhat blurred the lines of traditional fieldbus and networking standards.

Protocols such as MQTT, OPC-UA, LoRaWAN and IQRF remove the need for all devices to be physically connected to the same network, allowing theoretically limitless connectivity and expansion opportunities.

If devices and equipment can talk to the same cloud platform, then they can talk to each other.

Chuck Sabin, senior director, market development at Bluetooth SIG

The most impactful trend within the smart building industry are smart lighting solutions. Today, the existing systems enable us to gather data, manage and control distribution of light across indoor spaces. However, these capabilities will increasingly expand beyond just lighting. With the latest developments to wireless solutions, the technology will undoubtedly gain more traction and widespread adoption.

We believe, mesh-based grids will become essential when designing new and improving existing spaces, and this will lead to sustainable growth within the smart lighting industry. In fact, it’s expected that by 2021, 40% of all connected endpoints will be enabled by the intelligent networks.

Connected lighting allows buildings to host more complex large-scale networks. As the technology offers much more flexibility in terms of customisation, the grid can be aligned to specific design and purpose of the building. Lighting systems can now be used as a wider platform to support a range of additional devices and systems vital to the building’s structure. Mesh networks seamlessly connect different devices, which means that manufacturers and building users will be able to not only control lights, but also track assets more efficiently and better plan and utilise the space.

In the long term, a centralised controlling system could bring financial benefits and make the infrastructure more environmentally friendly by decreasing both operating costs and the use of resources. Connected lighting with added-on services could also become a great advantage in enhancing visitors’ experience by managing HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) which could automatically regulate temperature or adjust the levels of air-conditioning.

Melissa Topp, ICONICS’ senior director of global marketing

One evident trend in smart buildings is the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT). Cloud-connected software solutions, such as ICONICS’ IoTWorX, allow building operators to connect to virtually any equipment through multiple support industry protocols, such as BACnet, OPC UA, SNMP, Modbus, web services, and classic OPC tunneling.

Secure, efficient connection to the cloud is made via a publish/subscribe (pub/sub) architecture with bidirectional AMQP transport protocol for Microsoft Azure, as well as MQTT, REST, and WebSockets support for third-party cloud providers. TLS encryption with x.509 certificates is also strongly recommended to ensure secure transport of data.

Such connectivity and security help provide global data visibility, scalability, and reliability for building operators.

Giles Korner, head of smart buildings at HDR|Hurley Palmer Flatt

Communication and interoperability between building systems has been hindered previously by the lack of open standards and vendors developing proprietary systems. However, the digitisation of building systems and the advent of the IoT world has overcome these barriers by enabling IP (Internet Protocol) to be utilised as a common communication method.

By using IP as the communication method, we take advantage of multiple connectivity channels for all Smart Building Technologies. Where we have only been able to either use a physical cabled environment, we now have multiple channels for communication - Wi-Fi / Li-Fi, RFID, Zigbee, 4/5G, Bluetooth, Biometric...

Whilst considering all the available connectivity options becoming available for Smart Buildings, there are two that are likely to have the greatest impact. Wi-Fi, whilst it has been around for a long time the standards are continually being updated in terms of capacity, speed and bandwidth. With new standards and additional channels being made available, there will be an increased capability e.g. Wi-Fi 6. The second area is the introduction of 5G and how it will be able to provide greater accessibility when managing buildings more remotely.

The introduction of 5G will also have a growing impact for connectivity of building technologies

As we are moving to more pervasive wireless connectivity, bandwidth capabilities have increased enabling greater connectivity for systems & devices. Bandwidth capacity is important when considering the potential number of IoT devices that could be connected with a Smart Building and most important will be the potential demand for real-time communication. The wireless standards have been substantially bolstered in more recent times to ensure that bandwidth, speed and distance capability is increasing pushing to meet levels available within a physical wired network. Wi-Fi 6 (previously referred to as 802.11ax) is a new standard for wireless connectivity, which provides faster transfer speeds to & from devices, greater capacity for connected devices, better performance with many connected devices and less device battery drain when connected. As we develop Smart Buildings, the amount of data being transferred across our networks will only increase significantly, along with more bandwidth hungry applications. This new Wi-Fi 6 standard will enable greater connectivity across this Smart Building technology. Beyond Wi-Fi 6, there will be a new standard for Wi-Fi 7.

Over and above growth in utilisation of Wi-Fi for connectivity within Smart Buildings, we can see growth in the adoption of Li-Fi within environments are more sensitive of Security. Li-Fi is generally accepted to be more secure than Wi-Fi, however it is more specific to location and could provide more constraints for number of devices connected.

The introduction of 5G will also have a growing impact for connectivity of building technologies, especially as forecasts predict the almost exponential growth of connected IoT devices. Similarly to the introduction of Wi-Fi 6, 5G provides significantly higher bandwidth and speed to enable more devices to access the network. It will provide greater opportunity for building owners to monitor building systems or equipment virtually and in real-time, enabling the drive towards more efficient building management, which will enhance tenant and occupant experience.

Dr. Ryosuke Shibasaki, a professor at the Centre for Spatial Information Science at the University of Tokyo

Smarter connectivity is something becoming more and more essential not only for next-generation buildings, but more broadly as we set our sights on Society 5.0. Society 5.0 is a vision for a human-centric society for our future generations where digitalization enables sustainable economic development and provides solutions for complex social issues, such as aging populations, lack of mobility, and more that challenge many countries worldwide.

Society 5.0, and the smart buildings that form its backbone, will clearly be data-driven and the biggest trend will be overcoming barriers between cyber space and the physical world. The problem has not been data collection generally – we have more data than we know what to do with – the biggest trend this decade and beyond will be cleaning that data and removing it from siloes so it can provide value across departments, platforms, complexes and more. Data does us no good when it’s limited to one function or device – its value is in being open-ended for the benefit of an entire building, city, or community.

Akshay Thakur, EMEA head of smart buildings, JLL

Connectivity is transforming the interfaces between the users of smart buildings and systems: the rise of 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) will be the key trends to look out for. Li-Fi, the wireless communications technology that uses light to transmit data, is also a growing area. Could we see office lamps becoming the next beacon of tailored information?

5G will enhance human-to-human connectivity, and is aspiring to replace WiFi services. The higher bandwidth will see the emergence of new services such as augmented reality for wayfinding and maintenance apps. The key risks will be about cybersecurity as we put our trust in the mobile service providers.

Mobile apps and integrated systems will give building users enhanced data analytics and services in real time. This will cover not only use cases like booking meeting rooms, but also environmental conditions and tailored maintenance notifications. For now, WiFi will continue to play a major role, especially with the new WiFi-6 (802.11ax) standard created for IoT devices. This enables network resilience, improved range, speed, security, efficiency and greater capacity, allowing full control of the network to the landlord or tenant.

Machine-to-machine connectivity will be the core of IoT smart building technology. The connectivity between these devices is moving towards Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies such as LoRa, Sigfox, Weightless and NB-IoT as they support low power, low bandwidth communications, transmitting data in a star topology. LPWAN will also enable the transmission and communications infrastructure for sensors that can be integrated into the building for real time monitoring and management services.

These emerging LPWAN technologies will coexist with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Near Field Communications (NFC) as the functionality and performance they provide support different building applications. BLE will continue to be a relevant communication medium due to the low cost, low energy, high bandwidth mesh network which can be used by many smart building devices. NFC supports secure transmissions at very low distances between power active and static devices, such as Access Control Card Readers or Payments; the close proximity that NFC requires reduces key cybersecurity vulnerabilities such as eavesdropping or man in the middle attacks.

Mark Patrick, Mouser Electronics, technical marketing manager EMEA

With the words ‘Climate Change’ never far from the news, the need to reduce CO2 emissions seems more urgent than ever.

The shift to renewable energy brings reductions, but energy efficiency has a role to play, too. Simple actions like switching off lights, controlling temperature, not heating unoccupied rooms, all help. In a small building it’s relatively easy to control these factors manually, but in a larger, more complex structure, using technology to monitor and control energy usage, occupancy and security is the only realistic solution.

In the wireless world, the solution depends on use case, trading off data rate vs distance vs power consumption. Potential solutions include:

LoRa - For longer distances or applications with low data rates like sensing, LoRa is gaining traction. Its sub-1GHz frequency band reduces propagation issues within a building


802.15.4 - 6LowPAN -Offering ease of integration into existing IP networks, 6LowPAN based protocols are finding a home connecting the wireless sensor networks needed to monitor the building environment.

Ethernet and Power over Ethernet - Using existing Ethernet to power, monitor and control building systems offers a quick and simple way to add smart features to a building. With the latest PoE standard offering up to 100 Watts of DC power, the need for AC/DC conversion is minimized, potentially reducing energy consumption by 25%.

LiFi – the idea using of light to carry data – is gaining momentum. As LEDs become the primary light source, using them to transmit high-speed data offers many advantages. Is this the technology to watch for the future of connectivity in Smart Buildings?

Simon Ward, director of sales - UK & Ireland at Distech Controls

Communication standards continue to develop in our industry, as we strive to deliver truly connected ‘Smart’ Buildings. Building Management System Controllers are now equipped with myriad connection ports allowing connection of disparate networks, often communicating via differing protocols. Whilst this is good, its basically moved the functionality of a separate gateway device into the controller thus negating the need for this separate component.

The real gamechanger currently, is the development of API’s or Application Programming Interfaces that support Web services. This creates a level platform where Vendor A’s system can send or receive instruction to and from Vendor B’s system using a Vendor’s published communication format, not only that but API’s also provide the connectivity piece for Mobile devices to interact with the system. There are many API’s available but the Building Services Industry appears to have settled on the RESTful API.

Representational state transfer (REST) is a software architectural style that defines a set of constraints to be used for creating web services. Web services that conform to the REST architectural style, called RESTful Web services, provide interoperability between computer systems on the Internet. RESTful Web services allow the requesting systems to access and manipulate textual representations of Web resources by using a uniform and predefined set of stateless operations. Other kinds of Web services, such as SOAP Web services, expose their own arbitrary sets of operations.

So, putting this into context for our industry, it allows a BMS to interact with other services, such as meeting room booking systems, lighting control systems, transportation web feeds, weather data etc, in fact the list is quite exhaustive but it provides a more holistic view for a modern ‘Smart’ Building via a single interface, be that a mobile device or Personal Computer.

Colin Abrey, VP channel sales EMEA, Nextivity

Deployment of license exempt mobile repeater technology for in-building mobile networks coverage is a significant trend.

After legal changes by the UK and Irish regulators to provide a license exemption for mobile network repeaters that meet a certain minimum specification in 2018, the roll-out of these devices into the UK market gathered momentum in 2019 and is poised to become widespread in 2020.

John Corbett, sales director Northern EU and Middle East, EnOcean

Smart buildings are on their way to becoming fully digitised, not only catering for classical automation areas such as HVAC and lighting but also developing into demand-based agile living and working environments.

With the aid of sensor data, IoT systems can map detailed usage patterns of the building, staff and inventory. This information can be used for space utilisation optimisation, facilities services as well as enabling highly flexible co-working offices, to name a few.

Agile buildings have to provide a number of key features: An architectural and technical area (building, lighting, HVAC, controls) suited for user convenience with the option for constant reconfiguration. An IT and data infrastructure enabling data analytics to monitor and optimize key performance figures, and finally a service offering (administration, access control, supplies, cleaning etc.) that meets the needs of all involved in a financially efficient way.

Agile buildings significantly change connectivity requirements. Comprehensive data analytics need a flexible sensor infrastructure capable of monitoring key parameters for activities such as desk/space utilisation, supply level tracking and demand-based cleaning. The results generated by these data analytics have to be easily usable within service models, both for the building operator and external service companies.

One single connectivity technology cannot meet all of these requirements. Hybrid infrastructures are the latest connectivity trend where smart buildings are developing into digitised environments. These combine media such as fibre or wired Ethernet to transport large amounts of data throughout a whole building or externally. WiFi for exchanging large amounts of data over local areas giving greater flexibility. At the sensor level, with dedicated low power wireless protocols such as EnOcean or Bluetooth to combine very low power consumption with the flexibility of wireless.

Stacey Lucas, commercial & marketing director at Sontay

We are seeing a massive trend in installations using smart communicating sensors and IO devices on projects that operate using modern communication protocols such as BACnet and Modbus.

These methods not only aide installation but offer greater control and visibility to a building’s performance and management. Controllers are also evolving to become far more powerful and technical than we could ever have dreamed of just a short time ago.

The word convergence is frequently being used and the link between BMS and IT is becoming ever more present. By implementing a truly connected BMS we can offer end-users so much more in terms of monitoring and analysis to improve energy management, facilitate better maintenance and repair regimes, and help clients use their buildings in a more efficient and effective way. It is easy to see why it is far simpler to build, extend and increase the range and capabilities of a unified, integrated system.

Stefan Berggren, senior product marketing manager, product centre, Short Range Radio, u-blox

There are many technologies targeting smart building IoT applications, but a one-size-fits-all solution has yet to emerge.

Short range wireless technologies are already commonplace in most buildings, providing internet access and enabling wireless sensor networks. Bluetooth, universally present in smartphones and tablets, is a natural choice for controlling smart home devices. Wi-Fi is commonly used for wirelessly connecting equipment to the building/smart home infrastructure

Thanks to improved data throughput and network efficiency and capacity, as well as power efficiency, Wi-Fi 6 (IEEE 802.11ax) will offer more stability and overall system performance for smart buildings applications with dense networks and multiple connected devices. Recently announced is the terminology for Wi-Fi 6 in the 6 GHz band, Wi-Fi 6E, with more network capacity.

Cellular technologies have become popular in alarm panels – with LTE Cat 1 offering sufficient bandwidth to stream voice and video. The introduction of 4G low power wide area (LPWA) technologies – LTE-M and NB-IoT – makes cellular technologies even more attractive for smart metering applications and their extremely low bandwidth requirements. These connectivity solutions will continue to evolve in the 5G era under the mMTC (massive machine type communications) umbrella.

If bandwidth remains an issue, as the density of deployed devices and the amount of building data they communicate increases, one way to free up the airwaves is to push some of the data analysis from the cloud to the device itself, located at the edge of the network, with edge intelligence. New network architectures based on mesh and capillary networks are already further optimizing bandwidth use and the cost of ownership and maintenance. Artificial intelligence is cutting the need for bandwidth by moving more and more analytics out of the cloud and into the devices themselves.

Emerging indoor positioning technologies and innovative sensing technologies are also enabling new use cases in smart buildings, from asset tracking to accurate occupancy counting. In early 2019, Bluetooth SIG announced an enhancement to its suite of location service solutions. By equipping a building with Bluetooth receivers at fixed location, building owners could offer real time location services to help track people, assets, and other goods.

Enrico Mirandola, Resource Data Management, chief group sales & marketing officer

A key connectivity trend that I anticipate will cause significant disruption in smart buildings is Bluetooth mesh low energy technology.

Version 5.1 is a robust, reliable wireless system with resilience and redundancy built-in. BMS devices featuring the technology can hop data from one device to the next, routing it via reliable and flexible paths to its destination without disruption. Ideal for retrofitting buildings by implementing a smart building technology into an existing IoT platform.

Furthermore, it removes the need to install wires, which in turn reduces project cost and lead times, disruption to business operations and can facilitate the implementation of smart devices and systems in restricted areas.

Chris Irwin at VP Sales EMEA and VP global marketing & communications at J2 Innovations

As the building automation systems (BAS) market has developed the software requirements have become hugely more complex and sophisticated. Users expect systems to integrate quickly, simply and fully to achieve maximum functionality; they expect fast, easy access to systems from anywhere via their smart mobile devices; at the same time, cyber-security concerns demand that data communications are secure and robust.

Historically, each system manufacturer has developed their own software, but this approach is very inefficient as the industry keeps “re-inventing the wheel”. Increasingly, manufacturers are recognising that they cannot afford the heavy R&D costs associated with developing and maintaining these software applications. Instead, they are choosing to license a software framework which can be customised to their requirements. This situation is becoming an acute issue for some manufacturers as their existing software has failed to keep up with the rapidly evolving market requirements.

Historically, building data has been very “siloed” with each sub-system (HVAC, lighting, access, security, fire etc) holding data separately in largely proprietary formats. There is now a strong trend towards adoption of IT web standards for communications within the building automation industry, as the IT and BAS technologies converge. End users demand easy access to data in non-proprietary, open standard ways. Whilst integration platforms have helped handle data from multiple systems, they still require skilled engineers to configure them unless the data is fully tagged. Such metadata and data-modelling standards are coming into the BAS world with the adoption of the Project Haystack standard. This enables automatic integration of different systems and easy abstraction of the data for use by analytics applications.

Matthias Gerber, market manager office cabling, Reichle & De Massari

We’re seeing a clear demand for intelligent building infrastructure in which a wide range of functionalities can be managed and monitored over a converged network. This needs to be capable of powering large numbers of remote devices, such as sensors. By extending LAN cabling with technologies such as Wireless LAN, Power over Ethernet (PoE) and Single-Pair Ethernet (SPE), digital building automation can be realized exclusively with Internet Protocol.

SPE based on xBASE-T1 uses a single twisted pair for data transmission and features miniaturized connectors. It is ideal for connecting large numbers of small sensors and actuators within a ‘zone’ of the Digital Ceiling concept.

An ‘Everything over IP’ approach provides high levels of standardization, availability and reliability, with LAN providing the physical communication layer and Power over Ethernet. IP devices and networks speak the same language ‘end to end’ and don’t need ‘translation’ between servers, operating systems, cabling and end devices. Buildings can be connected and controlled digitally throughout.

What’s more, devices and systems that work with Ethernet/IP technology are comparatively inexpensive. The current Internet Protocol version (IPv6) can theoretically allocate some 1,500 IP addresses per square meter. In practice, there is no limit to the number of devices that can be addressed. The star-shaped topology reduces the number of connection points and improves IP networks’ operational reliability. Access controls and authentication measures incorporated in IP improve building automation security.

This approach is based on extending the data network through an entire building’s ceiling in a ‘honeycomb’ configuration, making it 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.

Introducing smart, converged networks 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.

Steve Jarvis, commercial director, Cordless Consultants

In today’s world, the bottom layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has been portrayed by some as “Wi-Fi” More fundamental than “food, water and warmth”

The requirement for connectivity, to be always on, to access your mail, social media, and other apps has become paramount.

As buildings become smarter, this requirement is emerging as a key consideration for developers, landlords and occupiers alike.

Developers and Landlords need to ensure their buildings are well connected, meeting the minimum standards set out by the “Wired Score” standard. Services must be presented by a variety of ISPs/Carriers, entering the building via diverse routes into resilient Comms Rooms. But that’s not all. Distribution around the building should be via diverse risers, with the ability to blow fibres to any floor quickly, enabling occupiers rapid connection and network access.

In addition, developers should be considering deploying Wi-Fi services in all communal spaces, and, especially taller buildings, 4G/5G access to all major mobile operators.

Occupiers now expect the levels of connectivity outlined above as a minimum from the buildings they are considering, then to deliver a highly collaborative, agile workplaces, are installing high speed Wi-Fi networks, zigbee networks for low latency IoT connectivity, and resilient wired connections for specialised users.

Valerie Maguire, director of standards & technology at Siemon

One of the newest devices to enter the smart building device ecosystem is the networked people counter. People or ‘footfall' counting systems go beyond simply identifying that a room is occupied, but also determine how many people are in a given space at a given time.

Networked people counting systems typically use infrared sensors, which connect with the underlying smart building network. They are used in commercial, retail, hospitality, and other applications. In shops, for example, output analytics can assist with measuring traffic, drawing conclusions about customer trends, and optimising staff numbers.

In smart buildings, people counters can play a key role in optimizing HVAC and lighting efficiency by responding to actual occupancy in meeting rooms, conference areas, and other flexible-use spaces.

Miguel Aguado, marketing & technology manager, Lutron

One important trend in smart buildings is increased connectivity. In residential settings, this means integration with Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant or Sonos. Meanwhile, commercial spaces are looking to integrate lighting, HVAC, building management and security systems to improve overall efficiency.

One technology that supports this revolution is wireless control. Not only are wireless systems a cost-effective and fast way of adding connectivity to buildings, but their simplicity of use makes them an ideal solution for both new and existing buildings.

Using time-proofed, robust wireless protocols, the latest wireless lighting control systems can collect data that are viewable by building managers on their mobile devices, allowing them to monitor, adjust and control their buildings remotely.

As the global LED retrofit market grows and the Internet of Things becomes more commonplace, wireless lighting control will play an important role in making smart buildings’ spaces more efficient – and more comfortable.

Phil Sorsky, VP of international service providers at CommScope

5G has been touted as the best thing since sliced bread – or at least that’s what some would imagine given all the expectations.

Marketing of 5G in 2019 was mostly to consumers but we see the first true use cases that will drive adoption coming from in-building deployments. To enable the uses cases, 2020 will see wireless operators looking at the bands they’ve acquired through auctions or allocations and making technology decisions to maximise their investments.

Those technology decisions will impact the ability to bring 5G benefits into the building environment to deliver on some of the use cases including IoT, where machine-to-machine communications can enable billions of devices to send short bursts of information to other systems – bringing intelligent buildings and smart cities to life with more efficient operations and new capabilities.