alphaspirit / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Contractormag 13300 Buildingnetworks

Building Backbones

Aug. 22, 2019
I wish to start us on a re-education path that will redefine our present understanding of what the new Building Backbones might be.

Our internet communication connections—the backbones of building automation systems—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.

Our last few chapters about the Education Emergency and Attraction and Retention of Millennials and Zillennial have focused on gowning younger, but we all need to re-educate ourselves at whatever age we are to understand how quickly the communication medium is radically changing.

And not only the medium. 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 us on a re-education path that will redefine our present understanding of what the new Building Backbones might be.

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

From  the article, BAS is About to Get Bumpy!!!, by Scott Cochrane, President and CEO, Cochrane Supply & Engineering:

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.

From Bringing IP Connectivity to Intelligent Devices at the IoT's Edge by Brian Turner, President, Controlco:

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.

From What's in a name? by Brian Turner, CEO, Buildings IOT :

IT verses 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 private cellular connections 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.

From Leveraging IP-Based Networks for Building Automation, by Mel Menke, Senior Product Manager, Johnson Controls:

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.

From Can your "Smart IoT" building achieve JLL's latest 3:30:300:3000 rule? By Mike Welch, Founder, ELITE-iot:

Has your chosen BMS/BAS/Lighting convergent smart 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 (EEP), guarantee interoperability across hundreds of multi-vendor 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 excess of 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 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.

From In-Building Wireless Enabling 5G, CBRS & Smart Buildings, by Mark Horinko, President, Airwavz Solutions and published on the Realcomm site:

EnOcean could be connected as an In-Building wireless service.

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.

As I briefly outlined back in June in our chapter Recalibrate for 2020 Vision , one thing I took away from the recent Realcomm Conference was the big changes happening in Network Architecture.

The session I attended in Nashville suggested that the cell phone providers will no longer provide DAS to insure their service everywhere in a building for less than approximately 500,000 sq. feet areas (unless it is a building designed for public gathering such as an arena, theater, etc.)

Once they do not supply this service it must be done by the owner of the building.

The cell service provider's motive is how many phones they will reach. The building owner's motive is 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, people 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 that is going to take several years.

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

The extended range of CBRS and LoRa like services within the building allows a reduction in the amount of DAS equipment deployment and allows more flexibility in services than what can be delivered by the existing cell service providers.

An interesting new paradigm for sure!

Again, from

The 5G & In-Building Wireless Pavilion featured the top 25 vendors focused on bringing in-building wireless solutions to the Commercial and Corporate Real Estate market. This includes manufacturers, integrators, service providers, consultants and others. With 5G, CBRS and other in-building wireless technologies in a position to radically change building communication strategies, this Pavilion was the best place to start your in-building wireless journey.

CBRS is known as Citizen broadband radio service, It is a 150 MHz wide broadcast band in 3.5 GHz band starting from 3550 MHz to 3700 MHz. In 2017, the FCC completed a process to establish rules for commercial use of this band. Commercializing this band enables Service Providers/Wireless Operators to use it without acquiring frequency licenses. CBRS frequency spectrum shall help 4G/5G mobile networks deployment quicker and easier. CBRS band is also referred to as 3.5 GHz band.


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 that has become the de facto technology for Internet of Things (IoT) networks worldwide. LoRa Technology and the open LoRaWAN® protocol enable smart IoT applications that solve some of the biggest challenges facing our planet: energy management, natural resource reduction, pollution control, infrastructure efficiency, disaster prevention, and more. Semtech’s LoRa Technology has amassed over 600 known uses cases for smart cities, smart homes and buildings, smart agriculture, smart metering, smart supply chain and logistics, and more. With 97 million devices connected to networks in 100 countries and growing, LoRa Technology is the DNA of IoT, creating a Smarter Planet.

If like me you did not quite get what CCS 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.  

More about LoRa technology in this article, The Backbone to Smart Building Solutions by Byron BeMiller, Vertical Lead for Smart Buildings, Semtech:

LoRa devices and wireless radio frequency technology (LoRa® Technology) confronts this challenge through a long-range, low-power wireless radio frequency platform.

From fire detection to temperature control and energy management, these applications are a part of a growing market. In fact, Allied Market Research forecasts that by 2024, the global intelligent building market will be valued at over $42 billion. Additionally, a recent Research and Markets report estimates that over 483 million IoT-based building solutions will be installed by 2022. To support this growth, 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, making it an ideal IoT solution for the automated building industry. 

From our "told you so!" file, while researching this article I found this gem of history from the year 2000 in our online magazine  by Brian D. Morrison, director of Raytheon Control-By-Light:

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, the foundation where all devices connect, is under rapid change and we need to start the discussion by asking questions like:

  • Who will supply and install the fiber backbone in the building? 
  • Will copper be used anywhere? At what point and for which networks? Why?
  • What wireless in-building services and protocols will be provided and how will they be 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 the design? Using who's 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.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Contractor, create an account today!