Smart buildings are set to be a top priority for almost all network deployers in the coming years. A drive to make locations more productive, more environmentally-friendly and more connected means networks will have to expand to incorporate a wide variety of new solutions.
This will likely include advanced audio-visual solutions for conference rooms or public spaces, wireless connectivity that ensures every square foot of a premises is covered, and environmental Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to manage everything from HVAC equipment to security controls. But whatever the specifics, constant connectivity will be essential if building operators are to attract tenants and businesses are able to operate effectively.
However, there will be a range of challenges that must be addressed if smart buildings are to work as advertised.
One of the biggest issues is the interoperability of the solutions. Smart buildings will rely on a wide range of devices, all of which need to effectively communicate with each other across a network. In order for this to happen, new standards will have to be adopted to ensure current disparate protocols are able to work together seamlessly.
It was noted by Installation International earlier this year that deployers are increasingly asking for protocols such as BACnet and KNX to ensure interoperability between various systems.
Christian Bjerrum-Niese, head of business developmet at a Danish provider of sensors, told the publication: "We're also seeing new demand for interoperability with the wireless bearer protocols being used in IoT - Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LoRaWAN, Sigfox and NB-IOT," he continued, while there is strong interest in the use of open standards that move away from the proprietary protocols used by many manufacturers today, which will provide employers with much greater flexibility if they are not locked into certain solutions.
Security and privacy
Managing the security and privacy of networks must also be a top priority, especially as devices such as IoT sensors increasingly collect potentially sensitive information about a building and its occupants.
This will require both software and hardware solutions to be put in place to prevent data breaches, especially where smart buildings are dealing with personally identifiable information such as video footage that will be covered by tough regulations including GDPR.
Sarb Sembhi, CTO and CISO at Virtually Informed, recently told Computer Weekly that security issues "cannot be avoided in the context of a smart building or city, yet in many cases stakeholders have not even thought about it".
Combining physical and cyber security solutions to protect networks will therefore need to be a key strategy for deployers, as they will need to cover everything from protecting access to physical ports to shutting down software vulnerabilities that can give hackers remote access.
Finally, it will be vital for smart building networking plans to take into account the divergent needs of what will usually be a large number of stakeholders.
Computer Weekly noted such projects will need to have input from groups including building owners, property developers, landlords, building occupants, architects, technology suppliers, building services engineers, town planners and chief security officers, to name but a few.
Therefore, promoting collaboration between all the groups will be essential if smart technology systems are to be deployed effectively. Looking at the individual needs of these stakeholders as early as possible can help ensure deployments are focused in the right areas.
This should determine the goals of various groups, such as reducing energy usage or delivering data faster, and identifying where plans align. It should ensure everyone is on board with the plans and in turn speed up the pace of investment.