Smart devices are strongly associated with wireless communication, and a wired smart building may seem like a contradictory concept. However, the truth is that wired connections have many practical advantages beyond its initial effort of installation. Like with any technology decision, each alternative has strengths and limitations, and they key is combining them in ways that maximise benefits.
There is a wide range of wireless communication protocols, and connected devices may compete for bandwidth and cause interference. On the other hand, wired connections are fast and versatile, the signal is guaranteed to reach its target without interference or lag. And most importantly, like any electrical wire network will stay in place operating free of technical support for many years to come.
Consider existing alarm systems, for example, which already have a convenient array of wired sensors separating your property into zones.
A smart building platform can rely on this wired system to make sure alarm signals are sent and received, without interference from less critical building systems.
No need to replace a battery or pair a sensor ever again.
Free of maintenance
Of course, wireless communication should also be used where it is beneficial. For example, if you are controlling your smart building platform with a mobile application, wireless communication is the obvious choice. Static devices may not benefit so much from a wireless connection and will compete with other devices and neighbours for radio spectrum.
Am I saying never use wireless, of course not. I use a mix of them. Whenever I find it possible I will always use a wire, but sometimes it may not be possible. Below is an example of some of the things I have connected to machinon. Everything that is not linked with a blue lines, is wireless.
Advantages of a Wired Smart Building Platform
Although wired connections may seem archaic in a smart platform, consider they are intended for use in buildings - long-term investments that are designed to stand for many decades and widely understood by most technical people.
Wired connections can stay in place for decades without adjustments, regardless of how many tenants use a home or a commercial space.
On the other hand, wireless networks must be re-configured according to the needs of each user.
If using networks, these will need to be part of the IT maintenance tasks, as networks keep evolving all the time and therefore require continuous up keeping.
Wireless connections are also more demanding in terms of security, since they are more vulnerable to intruders. A potential intruder does not need to be physical inside the property to be able to access its network. Not only that, but sharing the network with a security and smart building system may not be the best idea. If the network is compromised due, so will the security and property.
In short, a wireless system is convenient but has higher operating and maintenance expenses, while an electrical wired installation is fixed in place but has almost zero costs after the initial installation for many years.
Taking Advantage of Existing Wired Connections
Many components, such as space heating and air conditioning are already working over wire. Some devices are also installed in hard-to-reach places, or unsuitable for wireless adapters - boiler rooms and inside electrical panels (metal Faraday box) are some examples.
A wired smart building platform can be an excellent option when retrofitting old installations, for two important reasons:
Voltage signals in a conductor offer compatibility, simplicity and reliability. They are suitable for both old and new devices.
Many existing installations use wired devices like lighting controls, thermostats and zone alarms. If the original wiring is still in good condition, it can be integrated with a modern smart building management platform.
Another advantage of wired sensors is sustainability. Most of the wireless sensors will require new batteries every 6 months to 2 years. The concept of a smart buildings goes hand-in-hand with energy efficiency and sustainability, and wired systems contribute to both aspects.
Using a Smart Building Platform to Monitor Energy Consumption
A smart building platform can also integrate with panelboards and load centres, since they provide a common connection point for all circuits in a building. A wired smart building platform can be equipped with power meters to track the electricity consumption of each panelboard and load centre, and even monitor the consumption of individual circuits.
With this approach, building owners can get a better snapshot of their energy expenses, knowing exactly which circuits consume the most electricity. Power bills from local utility companies don’t provide a detailed breakdown of electricity consumption, since they are based on the measurement of a main power meter.
Adding a simple relay would add the benefit of being able to disconnect appliances when not in use.
Buildings with their own power generation and electricity storage systems can use a smart platform to use these assets more effectively. For example, if a building with a battery system is subject to time-of-use electricity rates, the batteries can be used to maximise consumption at low kWh prices and minimise consumption at high kWh prices. This is often referred as Demand Side Management or Demand Response.
Adding Security Features to a Wired Smart Building Platform
Wired alarm systems can also integrate seamlessly with a smart building platform. Many functions in conventional alarm systems are accomplished with wired sensors:
UPS battery monitoring
Conventional alarm systems indicate the status of each zone with LED and open/close contacts. When zone data is made available for a smart building management platform, it can be used in many ways to enhance security while adding convenient functions. The following are some examples:
The status of each zone can be aggregated to a CCTV system and have the the system send you a picture or short video clip to your phone.
The concept can be combined with geo-fencing to detect when occupants have left the home, arming the alarm system automatically or when no occupancy is detected between a time frame. The system can also disarm the alarms when it detects that occupants have returned.
Geo-fencing can also recognise mobile devices to identify exactly who has left or arrived. This can be done using Apps or using network tools for the smartphones
Mobile applications can enhance the interface of alarm systems, even if the original sensors stay in place. A screen provides much more visualisation options than a simple keyboard with LED indicators.
Wired alarm systems connected to smart home platforms combine the best features from wired and wireless technology.
Wireless connectivity is used for mobile applications, and homeowners can check the alarm system from anywhere.
Wired sensors can operate without batteries or external power sources, and they are invulnerable to wireless hacking or jamming.
The installation is transferable to new technologies to come without replacing the whole system, making it a lot more portable and cost effective over the long term.
Far more reliable and faster than wireless options.
Fire protection systems can integrate with smart building platforms, just like wired alarms. Although the exact rules change by country and by city, wired connections are normally required by law for fire protection systems (something to learn here?). These existing connections can be used to enhance smart building functions, just like the connections in alarm zones. Consider the following examples:
Heat and smoke detectors can send an immediate notification to the property owner and to the local fire department.
If the building is equipped with automatic sprinklers, system pressure can be monitored, and a sudden drop in pressure means a sprinkler head has activated.
Is it Wired vs Wireless?
Absolutely not! It is best to identify when is a better option to use one or the other. For example when designing a smart building for the long term, it is best to look at it from an overall perspective, scalability and durability, and not just technology.
Often the best results are obtained when combining wireless and wired system. The more critical and safety systems should always be wired when possible to warranty its longevity for decades. Less critical devices or ad-hoc systems can have added benefit of being wireless.
When looking for Wireless, keep in mind how the radio spectrum is going to be used, in order to select the right type of technology. Have a look at this article https://www.machinon.com/post/adding-value-to-a-smart-home
Finding a balance between the mobility of wireless technology and the long-term reliability of wired connections is probably the best course of action when investing in a Smart Home & Building system. Think also who is going to use the technology? Not everyone is tech savvy.