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Which devices in a building should have a wired backbone and which should be wireless? New regulations may impact which devices you specify.

Wired vs. Wireless Technologies: Which is Better?

July 26, 2023
Both wired and wireless controls and devices have pros and cons. When should you use one or the other?

Which devices in a building should have a wired backbone? Which should be wireless? There’s no one right answer to these questions, but new regulations may affect the way you specify switches or other controls for lighting.

How New Regulations May Impact Tech Specs

The 2023 update to NFPA 70—National Electrical Code (NEC) requires that switches or wall-mounted control devices for lighting outlets can no longer rely exclusively on batteries for power “unless a means is provided for automatically energizing the lighting outlets upon battery failure.”

Section 210.70, which governs lighting outlet requirements, applies mainly to dwelling spaces (such as habitable rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, toilets, laundry areas, basements, attics, utility areas and garages) and also applies to hospitality facilities, such as hotel guest rooms or suites, student accommodation and similar spaces, according to a whitepaper by EnOcean, a developer of wireless switches that generate their own power.

“In practice, the new NEC requirement makes most of today’s battery-powered wireless switches obsolete due to the physical lack of provision for back-up (AC) power in the current generation of devices employing wireless standards such as Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave and LoRa technology,” the whitepaper reads.

The regulations require one of three choices for lighting-related switches, said Graham Martin, chairman and CEO of the EnOcean Alliance.

 “If you have a system…that will switch on your light without you hitting the switch, that’s still compliant,” Martin said. “But basically, they’re saying pull a cable to it, use energy harvesting or have a redundant backup so that if the battery’s failed, it will still work.”

Here’s how to figure out which options are best for your facility—not just for lighting, but for any device, switch or sensor.

How to Choose

Wired and wireless technologies both have their place in commercial and institutional buildings, but there are situations where you might want to depend more on one than the other.

Frank Straka, director of business development for Panduit, a provider of scalable network infrastructure and industrial electrical wiring solutions, suggests that a wired backbone can be ideal for systems that directly support the building. Wireless deployments can be a viable solution for things like air quality sensors, especially in brownfield projects, he added.

“With wired, it’s data and power so you can run a single cable and that cable will provide everything that device needs to function. It’s reliable,” Straka said. “Wireless is quick and easy to deploy and, in some cases, especially in brownfields, it might be the right decision to make if you want to add some functionality to the building and realize that trying to put cable in would be difficult or cost prohibitive.”

Consider these factors when you’re choosing between wired and wireless products:

  • Total costs. How much will the devices themselves cost, and how much will it cost to have them installed?
  • Placement. With lighting controls, start with spaces that have more lamps per light fixture regardless of whether you’re choosing wired or wireless devices, the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) recommends.
  • Distance. How far do messages between sensors and devices have to travel? This could affect your choice of devices.
  • Density. How many devices will be in a space, and how large is the space?

Both types of sensors and devices can make your building smarter, more efficient and easier to operate. The question only your team can answer is, which fits your specific application best?

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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