Its time to integrate telecom and building automation systems

There has been much discussion about integrating telecommunications cabling and building automation systems (BASs) to create "smart" or "intelligent" buildings. The idea is to establish a common network and cabling infrastructure that accommodates voice and data as well as fire alarm; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; security and access control; and energy management systems. Systems integration also makes it possible to consolidate pathways and equipment spaces, allowing a single gro

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Bill Fortin

Chas MacKenzie

Lucent Technologies

There has been much discussion about integrating telecommunications cabling and building automation systems (BASs) to create "smart" or "intelligent" buildings. The idea is to establish a common network and cabling infrastructure that accommodates voice and data as well as fire alarm; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; security and access control; and energy management systems. Systems integration also makes it possible to consolidate pathways and equipment spaces, allowing a single group to maintain all of these low-voltage systems.

The evolving integration of BASs is similar to the merging of voice and data systems during the 1980s. Before then, voice and data systems were cabled separately. Data systems required many different cable types such as twinaxial, coaxial, and twisted-pair cable and did not use a structured approach with common cabling elements. During the past 10 years, using a common telecommunications cabl-ing infrastructure has been globally accepted as standard practice.

According to traditional construction practices, each BAS is designed and installed separately under various electrical and mechanical divisions of a specification. Each system typically uses many different cable types and, until recently, most of these systems have not used mainstream data protocols such as Ethernet to transmit and receive data.

Demand for open protocols

Although building automation systems and devices still use proprietary transmission schemes that require protocol conversion between systems and vendors, strong customer demand has driven the industry to open protocols such as the Building Automation and Control Network (BACNet) and Echelon Corp.`s (Palo Alto, CA) LonTalk. These protocols, which are being developed to work with other standardized protocols, enable BASs to communicate over a variety of networks.

Today`s state-of-the-art BASs operate over a local-area-network architecture that uses intelligent controllers and addressable devices. Where separate terminals were once required to access BAS information, sharing the primary data network allows this information to be accessed from virtually any terminal, including remote sites, with the proper passwords and network infrastructure.

Preplanned integration

Proposed changes to construction specifications may also enable integration. The infrastructure for voice and data systems has typically been an afterthought and is usually not included in the construction specification. Architects, consultants, and organizations such as BICSI (Tampa, FL) are influencing a movement to include cabling for telecommunications and other low-voltage systems within their own separate division in the MasterFormat document developed by the Construction Specifications Institute (Arlington, VA). This movement is a key to the integration of telecommunications cabling and BASs because it is unlikely that such systems will be integrated in the completed building if they are not part of the initial specification.

The industry is definitely moving toward integration of telecommunications cabling and BASs. Recently, the Telecommunications Industry Association and the Electronic Industries Alliance (TIA/EIA--Arlington, VA) established a working group to analyze and develop standards for integration of BASs with telecommunications cabling. In addition, coordinated efforts between BAS vendors, telecommunications cabling manufacturers, and furniture manufacturers will modernize the workspace and further drive such integration.

What needs to be improved? Devices such as fire-alarm strobes, variable air volume boxes, and power supplies need to be improved for efficient power consumption and distribution. Connections within the devices and controllers also need to be modernized. The BAS industry still uses screw posts, sleeve terminals, and splices to terminate cables. In the future, it will be more efficient to have an option for a modular or connectorized interface and eventually a standardized modular interface to the BAS equipment.

Why is it time to integrate? Advances in BAS technology can now make systems integration a reality. It`s all data! Planning, designing, and installing all the low-voltage systems together with modular electrical power for receptacles and lighting can reduce costs and provide greater flexibility for commercial buildings.

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Bill Fortin (left) and Chas MacKenzie are members of technical staff in the systems engineering group for systimax structured connectivity solutions at Lucent Technologies (Hunt Valley, MD).

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