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Building Backbones Are Changing Rapidly

By Ken Sinclair

Backbones, our internet communication connections with everything, are under metamorphic change. They are morphing before our eyes to glass and thin air, fiber and wireless, from the traditional miles of copper wire.

Education Emergency and Attraction and Retention of Millennials and Zillennials focused on growing younger, but we all need to re-educate ourselves at whatever age we are to understand how quickly our communication medium is radically changing.

In addition to the medium changing, the messages sent, the protocols that are used to orchestrate the actual communications, are also rapidly evolving.

I do not pretend to understand all these changes but I do wish to start you and me on a re-education path that will redefine your present understanding of what new building backbones might be.

I have clipped information from several articles to give you a quick summary of some of the industry discussions and thoughts now occurring about our changing backbones to form my notes on the topic.

The BAS backbone is quickly changing to IP, and as it does, the industry needs to add IT-managed services to their capabilities to handle it. “Now, more than ever, my contracting customers are hiring or partnering with managed IT service people and companies. The contractor’s IT staff has become a crucial part of every project and is helping them cut down on huge expenses. Utilizing professional IT personnel to collaborate with the owner’s IT departments in a new way is cutting down on the time and costs associated with connecting systems and services to the internet and owner’s networks. This allows these contractors to be much more competitive with a higher value proposition for their customers who need them to understand IT technology now more than ever.”

Bringing IP Connectivity to Intelligent Devices at the IoT's Edge: “Investment in a secure, high-speed Internet of Things (IoT) backbone for your building is the right choice today, given new compelling applications, a wider selection of Ethernet/IP-ready control devices, and greater price competitiveness overall. Innovative manufacturers like Optigo Networks are bringing proven fiber networking technologies to the BAS/IP industry, allowing fiber to essentially be ‘daisy-chained’ from panel to panel. The increase in data throughput using this type of technology is substantial and extremely valuable in smart buildings. Successful network design using the Ethernet/IP fiber-optic cable requires some rethinking in comparison to traditional 2-wire strategies. Whilst the cost of the cable and terminations is higher than traditional 2-wire copper, the conduit and control panels are identical, bringing the overall value impact to a favorable level.”

IT vs. OT: “The problem with merging these two cultures... The devices and systems involved in the operational technologies of the building have never followed the rigor of information technology. This is not to say operational technology hardware and software is not tested well, nor is it to say information technology products are all perfect when they are released. The fact is that OT systems are relatively new to the IT world and IT leaders are taking note of these new devices being introduced to the network. It is becoming clear that IT must deal holistically with OT and the fact that these devices can and will open holes in the security layers of the network if left unchecked. There have been many examples of devices behaving badly, or being used as a conduit for others to behave badly, of which only a few were well publicized.

“What this means is that IT standards and methods are starting to be required in OT devices. This means OT device manufacturers are being asked to deliver products that are network ready and network worthy. Often, this requires manufacturers to go back to the hardware design aspect of the devices. The method of bypassing IT to get OT devices on a remote network connection or on a private cellular connection are coming to an end. IT will be involved in these decisions and will be the ultimate arbiter in these decisions as the risk is simply too high not to be. The good news is that people and companies like Google are forging ahead with standards to impact this new reality, inspiring frameworks like the newly released Device Automated Qualification framework (DAQ), specifically designed to assist with qualifying OT devices to live in a converge IOT world. (Capitalization of the O is very intentional and meant to start the conversation about the meaning behind the O. This hits at the fundamental core of IOT. It does not merely represent the Internet of Things (IoT), but takes on a more significant definition as the intersection of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT); hence IOT.)”

Benefits of IP-Based BAS Network: “Increased system resiliency and security. A well-implemented IP-based BAS solution provides unparalleled system resiliency, ensuring peak building operations are maintained. Because IP-based solutions are highly encrypted, they help protect operations and data while safeguarding against malicious activity.

“Reduced capital and operational costs. MRP-enabled ring topology delivers a streamlined, yet robust system to alleviate stakeholder cost concerns. Since there is less overhead for physical equipment, it allows companies to allocate resources over a longer period of time and scale for growth. This configuration also needs less IT overhead and management — further reducing costs.

“Enhanced Productivity. Using IP technologies allows building owners to quickly and easily solve problems through real-time information about building performance. Combined with visualization, this information can help proactively prevent issues and quickly solve problems.”

Has your chosen BMS/BAS/lighting convergent smart IoT controls supplier used a solution based upon Tridium’s Niagara Framework? “EnOcean IEC global standard wireless harvesting technology, PIRs, air quality, temperature, humidity, light level sensors and switches — such products, when designed to conform strictly to EnOcean Equipment Profiles, guarantee interoperability across hundreds of multivendor sources, low-cost installation, virtually maintenance-free devices, and address sustainability targets before point of delivery, through to end of life. More than 20,000,000, EnOcean devices are currently deployed in more than 1,000,000 buildings, supported by almost 400 global product and solutions providers. When used directly with Niagara Framework, BMS/BAS EnOcean products and solutions provide seamless access to real-time device value data, thus enabling the end client and user to benefit from space usage information and experience to benefit from the potential savings of ‘3000’ at potentially lower than expected implementation costs.”

In-Building Wireless Enabling 5G, CBRS & Smart Buildings: “5G promises wireless broadband with fiber speeds, low latency, and other benefits when a 5G device is connected to a 5G network. It's a super-fast and nimble network standard built upon the current LTE framework. It’s still very early in the evolution, though incremental changes made by the wireless carriers and others will begin to provide 5G features and benefits to end users.”

A session I attended recently suggested that the cell phone providers will no longer provide DAS to ensure their service is everywhere in the building for less than approximately 500,000-square-foot buildings unless it is a public gathering place like an arena or theater. Once they do not supply this service it must be done by the owner of the building.

The cell service provider's motives are how many phones will they reach, the building owner's motives are how can I provide a never-before-seen user experience.

Once owners provided in-building wireless services connected to their own in-building fiber they found they could provide better services than the cell service provider, the start of 5G-like services without having 5G.

This made their buildings more marketable than others; in fact, folk came to their buildings for the improved wireless services and to be free of the cell service providers restricted services.

The problem is the cell service providers have to roll out 5G on their complete network and since 5G has not been clearly defined yet that is going to take several years.

Building owners can now roll out near-5G services using in-building wireless and since their investment is in their own DAS they can provide software updates when new 5G services are available, providing a future-proofing not possible with wire.

The extended range of CBRS- (citizen broadband radio service, a 150 MHz wide broadcast band in 3.5 GHz band starting from 3550 MHz to 3700 MHz) and LoRa-like services within the building allows a reduction in the amount of DAS equipment deployment within the building and allows more flexibility in services than what can be provided now by the existing cell service providers

An interesting new paradigm for sure.

This is a great comment: “Slower connections bogged everything down so we really weren't able to take advantage of the faster fiber. That's often the challenge, your network is only as good as its weakest link. But this becomes the reason to not allow old networks in a new building and eliminating wire is a big part of that. The next upgrade is just software.”

What is LoRa? “LoRa (short for long range) is a spread spectrum modulation technique derived from chirp spread spectrum (CSS) technology. Semtech’s LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency technology (LoRa Technology) is a long range, low power wireless platform…. LoRa Technology and the open LoRaWAN protocol enable smart IoT applications…. Semtech’s LoRa Technology has amassed over 600 known uses cases…” including smart cities and buildings.”

If like me you did not quite get what CSS technology is this helps: In digital communications, chirp spread spectrum is a spread spectrum technique that uses wideband linear frequency modulated chirp pulses to encode information. A chirp is a sinusoidal signal of frequency increase or decrease over time. 

The Backbone to Smart Building Solutions: “… IoT-based building solutions require reliable technology that will enable full use of its connective capabilities in a complex environment. For real-time analytics, data transmission will require secure networks with a wide reach and low power consumption. LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency technology (LoRa technology) confronts this challenge through a long-range, low-power wireless radio frequency platform. The versatility of LoRa technology enables it to function in dense urban environments, providing connectivity to even below-ground concrete facilities.”

From our "told you so" file: While researching this article, I found this gem of history from the year 2000 in our online magazine: “At the start of the 21st Century, developers, owners, architects and engineers increasingly are choosing fiber optics over more traditional technology to ensure the reliability and safety of these ‘smart building’ systems. Fiber transmits data digitally in the form of light, not electricity. This is the source of fiber's great strengths — speed, data integrity, high bandwidth, security, and reliability — that make it the medium of the millennium for building automation, fire alarm, access control and security systems.”

Since you are reading this on line, chances are you already know the benefits of high bandwidth fiber optic networks. Fiber has revolutionized the telecommunications industry through its ability to carry virtually unlimited amounts of data at high speeds — up to 200 times as fast as copper wire. This same capacity makes fiber the ideal medium for high-rise buildings and campuses that need high-throughput backbones to communicate sensor data and control signals reliably between multiple floors and buildings.

Are you now as confused as me? If so, we have all learned that our backbone, our foundation of where all devices connect, is under rapid change and we need to start the discussion by asking questions like:

• Will copper be used anywhere? At what point and for which networks? Why?

• Who will supply and install the fiber backbone in the building?

• What wireless in-building services and protocols will be provided, and how are they propagated within the building and near field?

• Do we supply wireless edge devices only?

• Are we allowed to create our own networks within the building?

• Who is the master system integrator or professional integrator?

• How are outside services providers handled within the building?

• Are wayfinding and people heat mapping part of design? Using whose platform?

• Are these platforms open and available for edge device propagation?

Questions like these will rapidly lead us to our next level of learning on our journey to help solve the education emergency.

Ken Sinclair is the founder, owner, and publisher of an online resource called AutomatedBuildings.com. He writes a monthly column for FacilitiesNet.com about what is new in the Internet of Things (IOT) for building automation.

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posted on 10/2/2019