Convergence of the different functions of a network resource into a single structured cabling network throughout a building is not a new concept.
If we go back 20 years or so, in fact, the only networks in the building were usually the telephone wiring and some data cabling.
The first step of convergence came when companies decided to use a single data-capable network (Cat 3) for both data connections and phones.
A little later came the idea of IP phones for VoIP (Internet telephony) and then both the cabling and the switched network started to converge.
Around 1994 along came QoS (quality of service) managed switches and VLANs (virtual LANs) and the scene was set for devices like IP-CCTV to start sharing the same cabling and switched Ethernet network.
Withing the same time frame, other systems in the far away worlds of Facilities Management and Security were starting to grow up completely independent of the IT world.
Whilst these systems used intelligence and needed lots of cabling, it was all proprietary and in no way ‘convergable’ with the Ethernet network.
If we bring ourselves bang up to date, however, we can see that two or three major factors have caused building owners and systems manufacturers to realise there are some very serious benefits to converging all these various systems onto one cabling network and either two (or one) switched Ethernet networks.
If every system, such as data, building management system (BMS), lighting control, CCTV, access control, and so on, has its own cabling network – that means four or five lots of cable and containment to purchase and install all with installers trying to work in an already overcrowded building site with all the scheduling plus health and safety implications.
And it also means that you would need to be pretty sure where every single CCTV camera or thermostat sensor needs to be now – and for the next 20 years. And of course the carbon impact figures would be dreadful.
Alternatively you can install a single Category 5e, Category 6 or Category 6A network. A massive overall saving on several fronts.
On top of this, if you flood-wire the ceiling void, then whatever your next 20 years’ requirements for sensors, lighting controllers, window blind or shutter controllers, IP-CCTV cameras, door locks, ID-readers and RFID devices, all you have to do is plug-in to a nearby RJ-45 outlet and you’re in business.
Plus, of course, as long as you provide power over Ethernet (PoE or PoE+) you’ll rarely need a skilled electrician to install or move these items. Nor will you need any mains sockets.
Welcome to the application layer
Once all these devices begin sharing an Ethernet LAN – that’s where the magic really really begins to starts, because now, these previously disparate systems can start to talk to each other.
Whether it’s a school, hospital, office block or university, connecting together the access control system’s card reader, biometrics or iris scanner with the lighting control and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air con) system means that individual rooms can have their services and temperatures pre-defined.
Take a classroom – say it would be supplied with heat/cooling and light automatically from 8am to 4pm, after which time heating and cooling is turned off.
Also, if the in-room PIRs (infra-red detectors) and the access controller decide that there is no-one left in the room, the lights are switched off too.
Later, when the cleaner comes along and swipes-in – on comes the lighting but not the HVAC because s/he doesn’t need that function.
And of course the light turns off when she leaves.
But, wait, there’s more
The fact the cleaner (or anyone else for that matter) has swiped-in or been tracked on RFID means that Payroll department can use this data instead of needing a separate clocking in-out system.
It’s worth noting that universities use this technology for attendance recording too.
The implementation of RFID Asset Tracking over the wireless network keeps track of all valuable items.
Which, for example, is ideal for hospitals where expensive mobile equipment is regularly moved but difficult to track-down in an emergency.
As more and more buildings become fully converged – the interoperability capabilities increase leading to the streamlining of business processes; centralisation and simplification of reporting and many environmental benefits.
So, lets get down to practicalities. If you’re planning on installing a converged network here are some of the things you need to consider:
Lighting generally has an electronic lightning controller in the ceiling void connected locally to light switches or dimmer controls and controlling maybe 30 or 40 light fittings. This requires just one RJ-45 per controller.
If you’ve flood-wired the ceiling voids with RJ-45 outlets, it can simply jack-in to the nearest free outlet.
Person-presence PIR detectors would normally be connected to the lighting controller – but of course once it’s connected to the converged Ethernet network the lighting controller can share this ‘knowledge’ with other systems.
HVAC control Heating, ventilation and aircon controls have a number of components that need interconnecting. Temperature sensors, deployed in most rooms are PoE Ethernet devices.
Ceiling mounted air conditioning units likewise have an Ethernet requirement – so that the controller can optimise the unit’s valves to use hot or cold water and the fans to go at various speeds or stop altogether.
In some buildings there will also be sunlight detectors. Signals from these will initiate motorised blinds or external sunshades to operate in order to control the solar-gain. Each of these (or their local controller) will need a PoE Ethernet outlet so you may need to provision a higher density of outlets (or a consolidation point) near the windows.
Then there is the plant room – where all the boilers and the big beefy pumps, valves and plumbing lurk.
Typically there might be fifty or so Ethernet enabled devices in each plant room. As the plant room is potentially an electrically noisy environment, serious consideration should be given to using shielded cabling and components.
All in all, for a large building, the BMS might have 2000 Ethernet connected devices.
We mentioned before various types of access control devices – swipe cards, PIN code devices, finger-print and iris readers. Almost always these are co-located with an electronic door lock.
Only one Ethernet connection is needed for a reader/lock pair with either both connected to a local controller or the control function embedded in the reader. Because the locks are clunky electromechanical devices PoE+ is often needed for its extra power.
The fire system
Although some manufacturers are talking about using the LAN and IP-based detectors or sprinkler controllers – there is a way to go before such ‘life protection’ systems are converged onto the LAN.
For now, it’s probably only the fire-control panels that need Ethernet connections to integrate into the Access Control and BMS.
The UK is the world’s biggest user of CCTV. But in cabling and network terms, as long as you’ve provisioned plenty of ceiling-level RJ-45 outlets, there’s almost no need for pre-planning.
The CCTV camera can be deployed rapidly and plugged into the nearest outlet and redeployment is just as simple.
IP cameras need PoE and should always have their own VLAN. Pan, tilt and zoom cameras (PTZ) tend to need PoE+.
And what about VOIP? In the early days of VoIP technology, there was an argument about whether the phone and PC should have separate RJ-45 outlets or whether one should piggy-back into the other – to integrate both of them and only require one RJ-45.
Perhaps not surprisingly, ten years on, the argument still continues. However, as long as you flood-wire the building, you give users the option to do either – and to change their mind at any time during the next 20 years.
It’s also worth mentioning WiFi as a converged service because increasingly it is being used for much more than just laptop access.
The move to BYOD (bring your own device) sees it being used for voice services such as VoIP and Skype on smartphones and tablets – plus you can expect to see roving building security officers with Hi-Fi enabled ID scanners able to do security spot checks on people within the building or campus.
And where RFID is used – this uses the same WiFi access points and IEEE 802.11 protocols as laptops and smartphones.
In terms of provisioning WiFi then PoE is usually essential – so that access points (APs) need only a single RJ-45 connection. As a rule of thumb, if the usage is data only, an open-plan office or boardroom/conference room would need one Hi-Fi AP. If voice is to be supported as well then two APs are indicated.
However, if RFID is being used, then four would probably be needed. This is not because of the level of traffic but, like GPS, the RFID location is worked out by triangulating the response time from the RFID device to at least three WiFi access points.
This means that four are needed to ensure that the RFID device can always ‘see’ three.
The final question that needs answering is how fast does the network cabling need to be? 1 Gigabit/s (Cat 5e/Cat 6) or 10 Gigabit/s (Cat 6A)?ponce.
All of the facilities/non IT systems we’ve discussed in this article will work quite happily over Cat 5e or Cat 6 – so there’s no need to install Cat 6A on their account.
So the discussion comes down to the company’s scalability and future-proofing needs.