Following five protocols to achieve reliable and successful smart buildings - by Walt Herring and Nora Swanson

April 02, 2019 - Owners Developers & Managers
Walt Herring, AKF


Nora Swanson, AKF


The ultimate Internet of Things (IoT) Smart Building dream is having an abundance of devices and sensors deployed across a building, interacting with one another to proactively and analytically respond to various events, needs, and desires. The device and sensor markets are ripe with products to fulfill our every IoT dream: Want to use your phone to dim the conference room lights? – check! Want your office temperature activated to a certain degree when you drive into the building garage? – check! Want your order at the lobby coffee shop ready 30 minutes after leaving the house? – check! We have entered an age of technology in which nearly everything we want is – literally – at our fingertips. However, for all devices and sensors to work together in harmony to bring our dreams to reality, required protocols and protocol integration must be fully understood. 

Protocols are sets of rules that govern data transfer. They must be established at the beginning of a project to make sure all devices and sensors that have been invested in will talk to and interact with one another. In general, there are five levels of protocol required for a successful Smart Building installation: 

• Physical Protocols: Your company or manufacturer standards for wires, cables, devices, sensors, etc.  

Network Protocols: Set of rules or instructions governing how data is formatted, transmitted, and received on a company’s network

Internet Protocols: Rules and instructions for relaying the network data across and beyond network boundaries. Internet Protocol (IP) is the most prevalent of the data transmission protocols. This protocol allows data to travel from one IP address across the Internet to another IP address.

Transmission Protocols: standards that define how to establish and maintain a conversation between multiple networks. They provide the capability to separate datasets sent via IP and deliver unique information to network devices that need to know about it. Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is the most prevalent physical cable medium transmission protocol.

Application Protocols: Apps are the means by which the data is consumed. This is the front end of the Smart Building protocol chain—the user interface, the web browser, the automatic email generation. 

The most important protocol layers for Smart Building connectivity are the IP and TCP layers because they bring the IoT into data transmission. A truly Smart Building represents the integration and aggregation of data from several types of IoT protocols. There are more available than can be listed here, but a few of the more well-known protocols are Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and LTE. Each protocol has differences in transmission range, latency, and energy consumption. Some are wired, some are wireless; some require in-building antennas, some work off of existing cell towers. The requirements of each protocol inform how physical protocols and infrastructure are designed to support the tasks at hand. 

Despite Smart Buildings being the gold standard of today’s commercial environment, many existing buildings do not have the physical infrastructure to support TCP/IP connectivity and much of new construction considers this type of framework first-cost prohibitive. In addition, the majority of building systems (HVAC, lighting, AV, security, etc.) still use traditional, tried-and-true Network Protocols such as RS-232/485, BACNET, LonWorks, and Modbus that do not natively integrate IP and TCP. This is likely to change as the price of technology continues to drop and as case studies of existing Smart Buildings prove the investment worthwhile. It is incumbent upon design professionals to have a deep understanding of a project’s goals and needs so they can work with the appropriate manufacturers and accurately document the protocols, components, and equipment required to achieve the desired intelligence at the level of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI divisions 21, 22, 23, 25, 26, 27 and 28).

Smart Buildings represent the next frontier of efficiency, where system connectivity can increase occupant engagement, reduce operating costs, and save energy. Its reach goes far beyond devices, sensors, and data, but it cannot be realized without a comprehensive understanding of how vast the IoT landscape is and what is required to get us there. 

Walt Herring, RDCC, is the director of the technology design group and Nora Swanson, PE, is the director of design technology at AKF Group, New York, N.Y.



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