Qa Panduit Photo 1

Intelligent building Q&A

March 8, 2021
Questions and answers about Ethernet, brownfield installations, and cabling infrastructure related to intelligent buildings.
In preparation for our recent online learning event Emerging Applications in Data Center and Enterprise Networks, we
caught up with Lindsey Parker, manager of business development with Panduit. Parker collaborated with Panduit’s senior principal research engineer Bob Voss to deliver a presentation on Single-Pair Ethernet during our event.

Parker answered our questions about intelligent building planning and infrastructure. Here’s the exchange we had with her.

Q: Ethernet is emerging as a viable or even preferred option as an intelligent-building communication system. What advantage does Ethernet have over other options?

A: Ethernet as a network technology provides a data highway that is reliable, secure and fast. When we look at this technology for building systems, an Ethernet foundation ensures interoperability across a number of applications and vendors. This interoperability is key to achieving the efficiencies desired when the decision is made to invest in intelligent building technology. The other major advantage of Ethernet is the capability to deliver power and data simultaneously via Power over Ethernet. With the large number of devices required in building automation, the ability to reduce the total cabling by nearly half through elimination of the electrical wiring provides instant cost savings on a building project.

Q: A greenfield, new-construction project is the ideal setting for an intelligent building implementation. Is it ever practical for an existing building to retrofit, and in doing so, adding intelligent systems or capabilities, thereby gaining some of the efficiencies that an intelligent building offers?

A: Greenfield projects are absolutely the ideal situation for adopting intelligent building technology because you are starting from scratch with a single, Ethernet-based network. In reality, we live in a world where buildings are used for decades and transformed time and time again. A recent study said that nearly two-thirds of the buildings that will exist in 2050 are already built today. That tells me that retrofit projects will be the main driver of the intelligent building market as owners and tenants modernize their facilities to gain the efficiencies and comforts of a digital building. I think what we are seeing is more of an evolution toward intelligent buildings rather than a revolution. One by one, building systems get added or upgraded, and over time, the entire building becomes “smart.” Look at hotels as an example. Just a few years ago, we had card-based room keys, and that was the extent of the technology designed into the room. Today, many hotels have transformed their rooms into a personalized experience for guests driven from a profile that details each guest’s preferences around temperature, lighting, arrival time, and more information.

Q: When a building owner or developer has the opportunity to construct an intelligent building literally from the ground up, what are the most important considerations to make concerning the physical-layer cabling and wireless systems that will facilitate the critical information transfer within the property?

A: Just as we say with data communication, owners and developers need to use their crystal ball a bit and look 20 years into the future as they plan their physical-layer cabling. The cabling infrastructure typically has a lifespan of about 15 to 20 years in a commercial building. If you plan your infrastructure to support only what you need upon opening the building, you will quickly find the network infrastructure insufficient in a short amount of time. One of the biggest challenges we hear from IT folks is that they are just plain out of space. As we start adding building systems infrastructure into already space-constrained telecommunications rooms, the problem will only be exacerbated. It’s vital to include proper square footage for TRs in the building design and this often gets overlooked, or overruled.

Q: How are cabling components or systems evolving to meet specific needs or demands of intelligent buildings?

A: Physical infrastructure continues to evolve to support the changing needs of building networks. The standardization of modular plug terminated links and Single-Pair Ethernet are great examples of this evolution, and we can also look to products like 28-AWG cabling and high-density patching solutions that enable us to cram more and more technology into a limited amount of space.

The MPTL standard is a prime case of a practice that was once taboo in the structured cabling world but now is viewed as a standard that enables the incremental addition of networked devices in a practical way. As a result, manufacturers are designing new products to better enable field termination.

 Single-Pair Ethernet is a new-to-the-world technology that is a game-changer for building systems cabling, where the bandwidth requirements aren’t as demanding as data communications but there is still a need for a single network to support many disparate systems. Essentially, Single-Pair Ethernet brings Ethernet all the way to the edge of the network, delivering adequate data and power to end devices without overdelivering on capabilities. The other key feature of SPE is the distance—up to 1 kilometer in the channel, compared to just 100 meters with 4-pair Ethernet. This is crucial in intelligent buildings where many of the cabling runs surpass that 100-meter limit.

Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.

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