Smart Buildings

Communications Infrastructure: Making Smart Buildings a Reality

Jorge de la Fuente
The challenge in smart building design comes when disparate building systems must come together. The first step: create converged communications infrastructure.


Lots goes on inside a smart building. Technology, digital systems and data are always working behind the scenes to automate, manage and control the built environment. The result is a more efficient, safe, sustainable and comfortable space.


To support capabilities like data collection and sharing, centralized control, predictive maintenance and energy efficiency, these technologies, systems and data must be supported by reliable communications infrastructure.


Beyond the obvious—local area networks (LANs) and wireless LANs—the systems in a smart building that manage and protect the facility and the people inside require communications infrastructure for functionality, data sharing and insights.


Let’s take a look at some of the building systems that need communications infrastructure.


Audio, Video and Communication Systems

Systems like videoconferencing, digital signage, CATV and background music/paging equipment ensure a more comfortable and secure space when they’re connected to communications infrastructure.


For example, these connected systems can make general announcements (video or audio) or send messages during an emergency. They can also enable communication and collaboration among onsite and remote workers.


Energy Management Systems

HVAC, power management, lighting and even photovoltaic equipment play a critical role in smart buildings. These systems must be connected to the network and to each other for heating and cooling regulation, efficient power supply, responsive lighting levels and integration of solar power.


Security, Safety and Surveillance Systems

Fire and alarm systems (detection and suppression), as well as access control and surveillance systems, must be able to work together to track who’s in the building, determine whether they should be there, control which areas they have access to and keep them safe.


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These systems typically use different protocols to govern communication: DALI for lighting, KNX for access control and HVAC, and the list goes on—especially when you enter a smart building’s mechanical room, where you’ll discover communication protocols like ControlNet, DeviceNet, Modbus, CANbus, RS-232, RS-422, RS-423 and RS-485. Each of these protocols has specific transmission media requirements.


In a traditional building, all these systems work independently. In a smart building, these operational siloes must be eliminated, despite differences in protocols and requirements.


Without a converged network, human intervention is needed when facilities managers or owners want to know more about their building or its systems. Employees often have to dig through information-logged data lakes to find patterns, and then manually calculate and predict what the building will need in the near and long term. Sometimes, when systems are analog, data can’t be gathered or shared at all.


Inside the Brain of a Smart Building

The magic of a smart building is in its ability to listen, adapt and respond. A smart building uses communications infrastructure to bring distinct systems together so they can interact.


Real-Time Notifications for Safety

Imagine a building that interrupts whatever you’re doing—a phone call in the stairwell, PowerPoint presentation in the conference room or video meeting behind closed doors in an office—to warn you of an impending natural disaster (earthquake, tsunami, tornado, flood, etc.).


Popup alerts displayed across smart and mobile devices provide you with personalized instructions on what to do and where to go based on your location, event severity, time of day, etc.


During this disaster, the smart building also opens all wireless access points to create an emergency free-access network, allowing people to make Wi-Fi calls. The building also automatically shares a current occupancy list with authorities. Through RFID and facial recognition, the list is updated in real time so everyone knows not only whether there are people left in the building, but also who they are and where they’re located.


Unlocked Productivity and Time Savings

Picture a building that directs you to a specific parking space based on when you arrive for a scheduled meeting.

  • Are you late, or are you early?

  • Do you need to make a quick stop somewhere else in the building along the way?

  • Have the other meeting attendees already arrived, or are you the first one there?

  • Which entrance should you use, based on where the meeting is located?


It factors all these things into consideration to guide you to an available spot.


If you’re a regular tenant or occupant, then the building automatically grants you access, registers that you’ve arrived and lets other meeting attendees know you’re onsite through facial recognition and automated license plate scanning.


Adaptive and Customized Environments

Think about an office that controls the heating, cooling and lighting based on outdoor conditions.

  • Is it light or dark out?

  • Is it cold or warm?

  • Is it raining or snowing?

  • What time of day is it?

It also automatically adjusts levels based on current and predicted future density (how many people are in the space now, and how many will be in the space later). In addition, it can report on the environmental friendliness of your building in real time, sharing information about energy consumption, renewable energy integration, indoor quality, water usage and much more.


It recognizes you and your preferences for things like temperature and airflow, desk height and room bookings. This capability is beneficial in hospitality settings, too, where the guestroom can not only set temperature and lighting based on your preferences, but also pre-select different “scenes” based on room orientation to minimize HVAC usage and help you reduce your carbon footprint.


Unleashing Building Intelligence

The examples we shared above are just the beginning. Consider a building that can display emergency information outside to inform and alert people on the streets—or buildings that can share their data with neighboring facilities or buildings under the same ownership for portfolio-wide analysis and resource optimization. Buildings will also be able to make recommendations to improve their own environmental impact and reduce operating costs without compromising occupant comfort.


With the explosion of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), these scenarios are now possible. Buildings will be able to easily find patterns themselves and report those findings back to the right people.


The real challenge comes when it’s time to make disparate building systems work as one—and the first step is to create a converged network.


Smart Structures Start with a Converged Network

Do you know that there are more than 15 building systems that require communications infrastructure inside a smart building?


To create a reliable and robust foundation for integrating systems and devices, there are many choices to consider about elements that range from network design and topology to media and termination methods.


Making the right decisions requires a trusted advisor like Belden who understands smart buildings and is at the heart of this technology transformation. We recognize the impact of these decisions on building efficiency, resource use, security and operating costs, and we’re here to help you make your smart building safer, more comfortable, more resilient and more cost effective.




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