How converged networks support IoT and building management

How converged networks support IoT and building management

Matthias Gerber, Market Manager Office Cabling Reichle & De Massari

Not all that long ago, systems used for different network-based services in buildings would employ a wide variety of protocols and cabling types, often from different manufacturers. Today, however, organisations are increasingly relying on converged infrastructure to consolidate systems, centralise IT resources and boost resource utilisation, and reduce costs. 

Increasingly, integrated pools of computers, storage and networking resources are shared across multiple applications using policy-driven processes. By pre-integrating technology components, merging IT resources and automating IT processes, huge efficiency advantages and lower costs can be realised. IoT (Internet of Things) with built-in intelligence and increasing AI integration is rapidly changing Building Automation Systems, helping save energy, increase sustainability, reduce the chance of human error, and enable faster response times and easy customisation. Sensors ensure optimal use of heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation systems. With IoT, highly granular building data from previously separate systems can easily be collected and compared. Advanced analytics and reporting are making buildings more manageable, flexible and future-ready, whilst ensuring ongoing improvement. 

‘All over IP’: ready for the future

As a result, we are currently seeing growing demand for Smart Building infrastructure that allows a wide range of functionalities to be managed and monitored over converged networks. These also need to be capable of powering large numbers of remote devices. To accommodate these demands, Smart Building and Smart City infrastructure is increasingly converging onto IP networks. IP provides a convenient solution to one of the key challenges in designing an IoT system: finding a way of efficiently connecting large numbers of sensors and devices. Today, IP is increasingly replacing previously separate systems, transporting data along with power, lighting, security and more. 

IP-based convergence enables the sharing of (virtualised) resources across applications and provides high levels of standardisation, availability, reliability and support for new deployments. Another key benefit of ‘All IP’ networks is the improved safety. Unlike conventional field bus systems, IP has built in safety features for authentication and access control.

In an ‘All over IP’ network, building management and technology-related devices communicate over Ethernet/Internet Protocol (Ethernet/IP) with the building LAN (Local Area Network) providing the physical communication layer as well as Power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE is an essential driver for the uptake of IP convergence as it reduces the need for separate power cabling. Individual PoE-powered LED lighting fixtures can be controlled via their own IP address, for example. 

IP devices and networks speak the same language ‘end to end’. That means no ‘translation’ is required between sensors, end devices, servers, cabling and operating systems. Conveniently, devices and systems that work with Ethernet/IP technology are comparatively inexpensive. Often, ‘off the shelf’ devices can be used to digitally connect and control buildings.  

Introducing smart, converged networks also means new energy-conserving technologies and applications can be introduced, such as intelligent management of building space and resources. Because there is no theoretical 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 – essential when dealing with such a large volume of (additional) connected devices.

Going ‘All over IP’ also helps improve reliability, partly because the star topology reduces the number of connection points, but also as a result of the high level of standardisation. Troubleshooting and resolving problems also becomes faster and easier. What’s more, new applications can be developed quickly and easily thanks to the availability of data from different components. Administrators can integrate these with just a mouse click. 

Higher density and easy installation with SPE

Single Pair Ethernet (SPE) based on xBASE-T1 uses a single twisted pair for data transmission and features miniaturised connectors. 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 based on extending the 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). The digital ceiling concept is one of the prerequisites for convergence. You simply plug in zone network switches, sensors, controls, WLAN access points and other distributed building services, and these are immediately powered and connected to the network. SPE can replace the traditional field bus, helping realise high density, connection speed and ease of installation. Instead of introducing connectivity for each application, uniform manufacturer-independent connectivity can be used. SPE is also an addition to existing RJ45 technology, not a replacement, and it can be applied in Digital Building environments right away.

Changing architecture

Converged infrastructure has a number of consequences for building layout. Ceiling ports required to provide network connectivity and power need to be installed in the most logical places, along with the required cabling. The mapping of these consolidation points should follow the functional zones into which the building is divided. There are guidelines for this type of approach, such as the EN50173-6 Distributed Building Services standard.

In the longer term, digitised building automation with Internet and cloud integrated will become inextricably linked to the Internet of Things (IoT). Standardised IP networks and Power over Ethernet can be used to integrate virtually every building function as part of the Internet of Things (IoT). Convergence makes it easier to automate tasks such as saving energy and to control them via the Internet, while Intelligent building management also helps increase safety and brings added comfort for building users. 

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