TIA’s and UL’s SPIRE assessment gets to the core of smart buildings with connectivity criteria

Sept. 20, 2022

A growing number of real estate developers, owners, and operators are embracing the concept of smart buildings to meet energy reduction goals, optimize operations, and enhanced occupant productivity, safety, security and wellbeing. Smart buildings are also being designed and deployed to meet nationally or globally recognized building rating systems like LEED, Fitwel, WELL, the Living Building Challenge, and others. While these certifications focus primarily on sustainability and wellness—addressing everything from renewable energy, waste reduction, and green construction materials to indoor environmental quality, safety, health, and greenspace—they don’t directly address cabling infrastructure and connectivity. However, today’s ICT professionals are increasingly faced with designing and deploying fully integrated building systems to connect and power the technologies that support the initiatives.

Given the role that wired and wireless connectivity play in enabling smart building technologies, there is a need for assessment that takes a deeper dive into ensuring the ability to transmit data and power across a range of spaces, systems, and devices, while providing the resiliency to maintain operations and the bandwidth and capacity to support future technologies. One program that takes a closer look at connectivity is the SPIRE™ assessment and verification program developed by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and UL Solutions in coordination with numerous ICT technology stakeholders.

How SPIRE looks at connectivity

The SPIRE program aims to holistically measure building technology and performance by assessing the ability of systems, processes, and infrastructure to support, control, and optimize six key aspects: connectivity, cybersecurity, sustainability, power and energy, health and wellbeing, and life and property safety. The program includes an online self-assessment that is currently free for building owners and operators to gain insight on their building performance as it relates to the six key criteria. It also has a verified assessment component that results in a rating and detailed recommendations through a performance improvement roadmap.

TIA Smart Buildings Program director Marta Soncodi makes it clear that by no means does SPIRE serve as a replacement for sustainability and green certifications like LEED and Fitwel. In fact, buildings that have those certifications gains points towards SPIRE’s sustainability criteria. But when it comes to connectivity, Soncodi says, “Of the six areas of a facility’s function that SPIRE assesses, connectivity is paramount to allowing devices, sensors, systems, and occupants to connect and communicate. Without highly resilient, available, secure, and futureproof wired and wireless connectivity, it wouldn’t be possible to have the data flow between crucial functions required to make a building smart.”

SPIRE assesses connectivity based on these five sub-criteria: physical media, wireless coverage, expansion and future readiness, infrastructure security, and resilience. Within each sub-criterion, several specific factors are used to assess connectivity. For example, media is partly assessed based on its ability to support higher transmission speeds, low latency, power deliver, and wireless communications throughout a building. Wireless coverage considers the percentage of workspace and public areas like parking garages, stairwells, and elevators that are covered by WiFi, cellular, and other wireless technologies. Assessing expansion and future readiness considers factors like capacity for growth within pathways and the potential for expanding bandwidth capacity and wireless coverage. Security looks at connectivity from the standpoint of protecting pathways, spaces, equipment, and other key connection points, considering the use of solutions like pathway monitoring, asset tracking, rogue device detection, and network segmentation. Resiliency is more focused on factors such as redundancy, monitoring, maintenance, troubleshooting, and disaster-recovery procedures.

According to Soncodi, the key to assessing connectivity is not in looking at what is in place, but tying that to building outcomes. “A building can have plenty of the highest-performing copper and fiber cabling throughout its walls, but that doesn’t make a building smart if it isn’t actually being leveraged to achieve smart building initiatives,” she says. To that end, SPIRE’s connectivity criteria correlate to its other criteria of cybersecurity, sustainability, power and energy, health and wellbeing, and life and property safety.

Gayla Arrindell, market development director for Corning, a founding member of TIA's Smart Building Program, sheds light on the relationship of connectivity to the other criteria. “Yes, connectivity is the building block to collect and transmit data back to where it can be used, but it also has an impact on all other criteria. Take the life and property safety criteria for example; nearly all 9-1-1 calls are made from cell phones, and if you don’t have the in-building wireless coverage that allows those calls to be made, you’re putting lives and property at risk,” say says. “Or if we look at the sustainability and power-and-energy criteria, the deployment of fiber to the edge in a smart building relates to less material, less space, and fewer telecom rooms that need power for cooling and equipment. The criteria are all interrelated.”

Not a standard, but standards still in play

SPIRE assessments can be used by building designers, owners, and operators to determine what type of connectivity, applications, technologies, and procedures should be in place to support smart building initiatives. While SPIRE connectivity assessment includes verification and certification of cabling infrastructure in accordance with manufacturer guidelines, best practices, and industry standards, SPIRE is not a standard. Nor does it specify which standards should be followed.

“SPIRE is meant to be higher level, rather than delving into aspects of detailed industry standards that specify requirements for cabling topologies and distances, pathways and spaces, connections, and other design and installation requirements needed to support applications,” says Soncodi. “It does however step away from traditional assumptions about the location and number of connections in recognition that additional systems and devices need to be connected in a smart building. And for any technologies and applications that are implemented, SPIRE connectivity assessment criteria rewards the use of industry standards. How do we do that? We look at test results, RF surveys, and other documentation.”

To implement the connectivity that ensures coverage, expansion and future readiness, infrastructure security, and resilience for SPIRE assessment, installers still need to follow industry standards and best practices. For example, cabling infrastructure should be deployed in accordance with ANSI/TIA-568 commercial building cabling standards, ANSI/TIA-862 structured cabling standards for intelligent building systems, ANSI/TIA-5017 telecommunications physical network security standards, and BICSI-007 ICT design and implementation practices for intelligent buildings and premises. Infrastructure should also be tested and verified in compliance with the application standards they support, such as 802.11 WiFi and 802.3 Ethernet and PoE standards.

TIA will soon be releasing a free, downloadable white paper that delves more into the connectivity criteria.

Solid backing built on transparency

While the industry has several options for assessing and rating smart buildings, UL and TIA pride themselves on SPIRE’s holistic approach that includes connectivity and is technology agnostic, transparent, and open to anyone that wants to participate. “While SPIRE is not a standard, it is built off of TIA’s and UL’s long history of developing standards under a model that doesn’t favor or call out any specific vendor’s technology or solution,” says Soncodi. “We have a wide range of participants that are considered drivers of technology who have contributed to the development of our assessment criteria, and who continue to ensure that criteria is updated to keep pace with ongoing advancements.” Companies currently contributing include designers, installers, consultants, end users, developers, service providers, and a variety of recognizable vendors in the ICT industry including AEM, Corning, Ericsson, Johnson Controls, Legrand, Leviton, Microsoft, Nokia, Panduit, and Superior Essex.

 “We got involved with SPIRE because we see the need for building owners and operators to really think about what type of infrastructure is needed to connect to all devices, whether it’s wired or wireless,” says Corning’s Arrindell. “We also see TIA as the de facto standards body for network cabling infrastructure, and who better to address the fact that connectivity needs to be done differently for a building to be future ready for whatever is coming next in respect to bandwidth, applications, and devices?”

With verified assessments now available for any commercial building, SPIRE completed its first verified assessment for TIA’s headquarters building in Arlington, Virginia owned by MRP Realty. MRP Realty began the process by completing the online SPIRE self-assessment, which provided them with a baseline for their building and prepared them for the verified assessment.

“We definitely learned a lot by completing the self-assessment. The criteria were laid out in a way that made sense, and it worked very smoothly,” said Mia Raths, property manager at MRP Realty. Following the self-assessment, UL assessors worked with MRP Realty property managers to prepare them for the verified assessment, which resulted in a two-star rating.

In July of this year, Microsoft was the first to earn the verified SPIRE rating in multiple countries, which included buildings across their corporate campuses in Redmond, Washington; San Jose, Costa Rica; Dublin, Ireland; and Hyderabad, India. Microsoft’s three-star rating for all buildings was based on multiple factors, including a continuous cycle of planned technology upgrades, physical security of critical networks and building assets, flexible and robust reporting from connected building systems, cybersecurity practices and policies, and ongoing maintenance, support, and awareness of IT networks.

“We’re very excited about Microsoft’s recent verified SPIRE assessment and confident that this will help other commercial building owners and operators see the value of SPIRE and embark on their own journey to benchmark and develop a roadmap to achieve smart building performance that meets their specific priorities,” says Soncodi.

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