Benefits of the utility LAN: Why this new network is needed for smart buildings

November 22, 2019 by GlenNiece Kutsch, product manager of Transition Networks
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Benefits of the utility LAN: Why this new network is needed for smart buildings

The proliferation of devices connecting to a network is frequently cited as the culprit causing slower downloads of data, videos and web pages. As buildings become smarter with more and more IP enabled devices, they may suffer from the same problem. So how do smart buildings accommodate all the different smart devices needed to make their existence possible, when networks are already reaching their bandwidth limits?

It’s a challenge that needs a solution quickly: The smart building market is expected to see significant growth in the next few years and a recent Deloitte Insights survey suggests smart buildings will become “the norm” over the next five years.

The advancements in smart building technology are exciting. Sensors and systems enable processes that deliver more efficient and pleasant working environments, reduce energy consumption and overall waste, and monitor systems for predictive maintenance. But to make this all possible, intelligent building systems need connectivity. Traditional enterprise local area networks (LANs) support connecting computers, phones and wireless access points to computing resources and the internet. But should smart building and IoT systems be added to the corporate LAN? Perhaps smart building devices need their own network? A solution emerges in the utility LAN (uLAN).

Utility LAN

For those that want an alternative, the utility LAN (uLAN), a term originally coined by Berk-Tek, is conceived as a second network for interconnecting smart building systems.

With a uLAN, corporations don’t need to expand the bandwidth of their corporate LANs, nor do they increase the security risk to the network and attached systems. The uLAN provides additional bandwidth, specialized management and its own network security.
 
A uLAN enables smart buildings to deliver useful services that make occupants more productive by converging building automation systems (BAS) and HVAC systems with smart LED lighting, surveillance camera networks, audio video and other systems. The uLAN can provide a variety of benefits to an enterprise when implementing smart building systems, from reduced installation and maintenance costs to improved productivity to actionable analytics. The uLAN will play an important role over the next few years as implementation of smart building infrastructure continues to grow.

Power over Ethernet

A key network infrastructure enabler for the uLAN is Power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE technology is not new but it continues to evolve, making its biggest advancement last year with ratification of a new PoE standard. The new IEEE 802.3bt standard triples the power level that can be provided from the previous 802.3at standard of 30 Watts now up to 90 Watts of power.

PoE++ switches play a critical role in the uLAN by delivering the connectivity, bandwidth and power required by intelligent lighting and other connected devices in smart building infrastructure. Getting power where it is needed within the uLAN – such as to security cameras or wireless access points in remote areas of the building – can be a challenge. PoE switches allow power and data to be delivered through one cable, eliminating the need for conventional power wiring. As buildings become smarter, here are some of the ways that PoE++ switches are beneficial in delivering power and connectivity for the new devices connected to the network by the uLAN:

  • Wi-Fi - Many enterprise environments are still using Wi-Fi 4 (IEEE 802.11b/g/n) wireless access points, which operate at 2.4 GHz, have a maximum bandwidth of 240 Mbps and tend to get overcrowded due to channel limitations. Those enterprises already implementing Wi-Fi 5 (IEEE 802.11ac) can take advantage of the faster 5 GHz speed and maximum bandwidth of 600 Mbps but will then have to deal with shorter range as the higher frequency signals can’t penetrate solid objects like floors or walls as well. When additional access points are needed to accommodate more traffic, Gigabit PoE switches can provide power to them quickly and easily, without requiring an electrician to add or relocate AC power outlets. PoE switches can also support power scheduling, allowing power to the access points to be turned off during non-business hours.  
  • Access Control – Access control systems have evolved from simple key-based locks to access cards and badges and now to fingerprints and other biometrics. PoE technology can contribute to the streamlining of access control systems by increasing the effectiveness and reducing cost.  PoE switches make it much easier to provide both data and power to the access devices wherever they are needed, rather than forcing them where traditional power sources and data network outlets are available. The switches can also provide network connectivity for management of the access control devices.
  • Security Cameras – PoE switches have been providing flexibility for placement of security cameras in remote locations for quite some time. As cameras are becoming more sophisticated, with multiple lenses and new features such as facial recognition and object counting, they require more power than ever before. PoE++ switches make it easy to locate, provide connectivity and sufficient power for these high-tech cameras. Additionally, smart PoE switches such as Transition Networks feature integrated Device Management System (DMS) software, which simplifies remote management and offers operational analytics that allow enterprises to monitor the cameras or other connected devices for any power or connectivity issues, as well as to remotely resolve those issues with auto power reset functionality.
  • Intelligent Lighting – Smart building systems can include intelligent LED lighting with built-in sensors that automate lighting and provide wayfinding ability while continuously collecting data on occupancy and ambient light conditions. Intelligent systems such as Cree’s SmartCast Manager™ use this data to make recommendations on space utilization and energy savings. PoE switches can be used to connect, power, manage and even schedule intelligent lights. An intelligent lighting system, when powered by PoE switches and the right cabling infrastructure, can reduce total cost and become an important element of smart buildings.
  • HVAC Control – HVAC systems are critical to the operation of smart buildings and need to be on a safe and secure network.  Most HVAC systems contain multiple meters and sensors responsible for monitoring things like electric, steam, and water. PoE is cheaper, easier and often a safer alternative to providing AC power in these environments. PoE switches also provide the connectivity to get the sensor data back to databases for storage, aggregation and actionable analysis.

As additional systems are added to the enterprise network for lighting, thermal comfort, air quality, physical security, access control and more, enterprises will be faced with deciding whether to add this bandwidth to their corporate LAN, possibly impacting security and performance of systems designed to run the business. The uLAN offers an alternative for interconnecting these systems, and PoE switching provides the power, connectivity, flexibility and scalability necessary for enabling the uLAN to deliver these new smart building features.

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