Wireless internet connectivity has become a major consideration in the development of smart buildings. Eighty per cent of mobile usage occurs indoors today, and the infrastructure must be in place to support this demand. But it isn’t only smart phone usage which buildings will have to support; buildings themselves must become connected entities and wireless internet is the lifeblood.
Automated lighting and heating management, connected security applications (including biometric authorisation and enhanced surveillance), real-time monitoring and maintenance of facilities, and pollution and earthquake warning systems are just some of the applications we can expect in smart buildings.
There are also a vast number of sector-specific IoT applications required for the businesses inhabiting buildings. Factories and manufacturing plants, for example, require wireless connectivity to support m2m (machine-to-machine) connectivity, automating production lines and driving efficiencies. Healthcare facilities will be able to track and monitor patients’ vital signs using connected wearables, instantly detect if hospital equipment is faulty, and automate staff communication and management.
Stadium owners will be able to augment the fan experience by delivering digital services and experiences to visitors’ smartphones. Airports will embrace the IoT to improve customer satisfaction levels, minimise queues and bolster security. The possibilities are many, varied, and exciting, but all rely on wireless connectivity to support these innovations.
A problem that can be solved by cellular
Many buildings have installed Wi-Fi, but LTE/cellular coverage is still a necessity, and provides a number of advantages for building owners. Wi-Fi is very limited in terms of coverage, and the moment a connected device leaves that area, coverage is lost. Cellular coverage, meanwhile, offers a much broader coverage range and it is therefore more suitable for the IoT.
In terms of bandwidth, cellular technologies based on the LTE standard are now as fast as 1 Gbps, which means there is very little difference between Wi-Fi and LTE in terms of speed. However, from a security angle, cellular has a notable list of advantages over Wi-Fi. One of the big plus points is that cellular data is encrypted as standard, whereas data over Wi-Fi is not. On top of this, cellular security updates tend to be more regularly maintained than those on Wi-Fi networks.
Many IoT applications will rely on LPWAN (low-power wide-area wireless access network) technology, which operates in licensed spectrum and supports lower-power consumption, low-cost devices, provides a wide range of coverage, and works with current mobile networks.
Smart buildings, safe cities
Smart buildings must also be equipped with effective in-building coverage solutions which prioritise emergency services traffic. Rapid response to incidents is crucial, and robust, reliable public safety communications play a key role in coordinating an effective response. Building materials and infrastructure have traditionally posed a barrier to effective public safety comms, with radio frequency signals unable to penetrate concrete, glass, stairwells, lifts, basements, etc.
There has been a recent shift in the market towards LTE for public safety, largely driven by government strategies in the US (with FirstNet) and UK (with ESN). Momentum is also gathering in markets in the Middle East, where governments have reserved parts of the cellular spectrum for public safety. Qatar has already built its own public safety LTE network with commercial LTE equipment in the 800MHz band, while maintaining its existing TETRA network for critical communication. Dubai also has dedicated LTE networks owned and operated by its government. When installing an in-building LTE network, a major consideration for operators and venue owners should be whether the solution can also support public safety requirements.
Building the case for digital DAS
To realise this connected, IoT future, buildings will need blanket cellular and public safety coverage, supporting multiple frequencies and operators. The optimum solution for providing this is digital DAS.
Digital DAS can support all frequencies and extensions easily, on single bands and low frequencies. The solution will support LPWAN NB-IoT connectivity, and provide coverage in non-public areas where many IoT devices will be located. It can also support LTE public safety communications in a robust manner.
We are rapidly moving towards a world where IoT products will fill our homes and workplaces whether we like it or not. Gartner estimates that the number of IoT devices entering households will climb steeply from nine devices per household today, to 500 by 2022. This level of growth will place previously unseen demands on networks. As our buildings become increasingly connected in the coming years, digital DAS will provide the backbone to allow for a reliable, robust connection for the IoT.