(First published in Inside Networks, September 2016)

As buildings become more ‘intelligent’ and a growing array of building services operate over a single unified network infrastructure, what are the most important considerations when it comes to selecting a structured cabling system, and why? What type of system should be specified to minimize downtime, ensure reliability and offer the best possible future proofing?

Erwin Deeben, Product Manager at Brand-Rex:

There are two vital components to a successful Smart Building. Firstly, identifying the appropriate level of middleware to ensure all of the building’s systems can share data and give a complete view of overall operations. Secondly, and more importantly, you need a fast, future-proofed network with enough outlets to support today’s requirements and sufficient capacity for any subsequent equipment you might want to integrate.

These particular challenges point towards a single converged IP-based network as the optimum solution. These networks can also use power over Ethernet to power lights, IP security cameras, and endpoint devices, simplifying building operations.

The voluntary collaboration over the past two decades between many parties has led to the adoption of open standards such as BACnet, Modbus, IP and LonWorks1. This has allowed for a wider range of interoperable solutions.

Once all of the devices around a Smart Building begin sharing an Ethernet LAN, these previously disparate systems now start conversing - that’s where the magic really happens!

How fast does the network cabling actually need to be?

All of the systems mentioned so far will work quite happily over a Category 6 infrastructure, as 1Gb/s is generally sufficient. But the real game-changer here is the new Wi-Fi standard IEEE802.3ac, which will allow for up to 10Gb/s when using Cat 6A. This will certainly sustain the transition to future networks and technology, Today at Brand-Rex, approximately 50 per cent of the converged network installs we support use shielded Cat 6A cabling.

The majority of sensors and systems for Smart Buildings should be provided in ceiling voids and plant rooms of various types. We recommend a zone approach to cabling with multi-outlet consolidation points. These should be provided on a 13 meter grid basis with 24 ports per consolidation point, initially 50 per cent used and 50 per cent spare, as suggested in TIA-4966.

With more building services converging over IP — and the right network infrastructure supporting them — organizations can transform their business, control costs, and adapt for the future.