The opportunities of the need for more communication

The brave new world of communications in buildings — Stuart Aynsley.
Stuart Aynsley explores how the cost of converged communications in buildings provides the basis for a whole range of new opportunities — without incurring significant cost.It is hard to avoid the rapid evolution of technology in what is often called the Internet age. Communication in all its forms is now a key part of every kind of building, from the largest commercial developments to each of our homes. We often hear communications described as the fourth utility, although this has probably been the case since the invention of the telephone. What we now need to accommodate is the evolution of disparate systems as they converge in a common wired and wireless communication infrastructure. The catalyst for convergence is the growth of IP (Internet Protocol) networks from office LANs into a common transport mechanism for all kinds of communication. We are familiar with IP (or TCP/IP) as Ethernet for IT applications, with IP telephony now often sharing the same network. Building-services electronic systems have been adopting IP for building or site-wide communications over the last few years, with building-management systems, access control, intruder detection, uninterruptible power supplies and even fire-detection systems recently becoming compatible. As IP networks can now provide increasing bandwidth or data-throughput capacity, even streaming media applications are moving onto the same network, including IP intercoms, Internet radio, IP CCTV, IP TV, video on demand, digital signage and, no doubt, many others in the not too distant future. Most of us today carry at least a mobile telephone and, more often, a variety of other devices for portable e-mail, photography, or a laptop as a mobile office. This demand for mobile communications further adds to the load, with WiFi access points and even mobile networks sharing a common communications infrastructure. The impact of this applies to communications within buildings and site-wide provision for large developments. Moore’s Law originally applied to the number of transistors on a piece of silicon but is now commonly quoted for communication networks to explain the required bandwidth doubling every 18 months. This demand for ever-higher communication capacity brings a need for scalable communication solutions to lever the maximum benefit from the capital investment. So what’s the solution? As often happens when trying to accurately forecast technology developments, we need to take a best-guess approach to future proof all elements at the design stage. Starting from the bottom, appropriate structured cabling designs support future expansion by appropriately considering Cat 5e, Cat 6 or Cat 7 against fibre to the desktop. Passive and active network topologies should provide the required bandwidth from devices at the edge and increasing through the distribution and core layers as services converge for each wired and wireless service they support based on the forecast demand. Offsite connections should provide capacity for all systems, including voice circuits, internet connections and virtual private networks (VPN) for remote access and system support. A resilient self-healing common network typically provides higher reliability without incurring costs across all systems. Security, management and maintenance considerations for the wired and wireless connected environment should be inherent in the design to protect and benefit all connected systems and services. Considering the benefits The most certain benefit is that once reliable, secure communications are provided, almost any system or service can make use of it. We are used to allowing all kinds of devices to plug into the electrical distribution as a utility; now it becomes possible to look at communications in a similar way. Using power over Ethernet (PoE), the network even replaces power requirements for some of the end devices such as fixed IP CCTV cameras. This necessary investment in communications can be offset in part by reduced costs across the connected systems for dedicated networks. This is particularly apparent if these systems use Ethernet independently. A single communication network to manage and maintain in house keeps costs down. Network designs based on open standards also allow the option to outsource network management and support to fix costs. New services across converged networks in tenanted buildings can also bring new revenue streams to landlords. Providing voice, data and streaming media communications as a managed utility might be a relatively new concept for landlords, but cost and reliability benefits can be seen for all from being a part of the bigger picture rather than all operating independently. The range of ‘soft’ services for information and advertising through intranet portals, information points and digital signage also continues to increase. The challenges Increasing communications devices mean architects, construction and building services providers need to provide enough suitable communication equipment locations with the necessary power and a suitable environment. In a converged world, these could also house some of the systems they support as local ‘hubs’ for the ever-increasing quantity of electronics. Power over Ethernet moves electrical demand, increasing cooling requirements in communication rooms as a challenge to sustainable environments with natural ventilation. Of course it is also necessary to find the right partners to both design and deliver the communication network during construction, as all the connected systems now rely on it. This need presents a challenge to some IT network integrators which are used to fitting out buildings after completion with no co-ordination required with the construction team. A brave new world All buildings have an increasing need for communications. Once we accept this, we can look at how the increasing capital cost of new networks can benefit the growing number of systems and services within each building. A single network is certainly easier to support than a range of separate ones, and when scalable in design can bring options for additional revenues through new services as the need arises without incurring significant cost. Communications in intelligent buildings may cost more initially, but they open up a whole new world in the long run. Stuart Aynsley leads the intelligent building group in WSP Buildings, part of WSP Group, a global business providing management and consultancy services to the built and natural environment.
Related links:

modbs tv logo

R&D spending in construction sector rose 7.9% last year, despite the pandemic

Construction sector R&D spending hit £368m last year, according to latest ONS data

Heat pump market represents a colossal opportunity, says BESA

BESA’s head of technical Graeme Fox said the heat pump market represented “an absolutely colossal opportunity” for suitably qualified engineers but warned that the industry would have “to rapidly scale up capacity and needed considerable investment in additional skills to deliver all these hugely ambitious targets”.