Spreading the tech

5 mins read

When discussing Smart Buildings, most people think of very modern office skyscrapers equipped with the latest state-of-the-art building automation and security technology.

Credit: NeoCortec

But thanks to solutions such as NeoCortec’s NeoMesh wireless mesh network technology, even conventional, low-tech buildings can be very quickly and effortlessly turned into smart buildings and benefit from all the associated benefits in terms of lower energy consumption and operational costs.

The implementation of smart buildings and facilities is growing rapidly, with increasingly useful hardware and software solutions to address the various functionalities desired. However, there are some challenges that must be overcome due to infrastructure requirements and the related supporting technologies when it comes to the implementation of Smart Buildings. These barriers to adoption include the cost of initial construction, uncertain objectives, and resistance to change from the use of traditional technologies. The best Smart Building solutions mitigate the identified barriers to their adoption, and this is very important when it comes to the facility’s wireless functionality.

Connectivity is at the heart of a Smart Building. If the premises is a new build, an all-wired approach may be favoured. Existing buildings may require a wireless solution, as a wired smart connectivity installation may be impossible to retrofit due to space and cost restrictions as well as the disruption that cabling up an occupied building will inevitably cause. However, even new, wired buildings may also include a wireless installation, for the final meter functionality touchless systems, sensor integration, and communication to the Cloud and any IoT devices employed. Advanced wireless solutions like NeoMesh from NeoCortec offer reliability, scalability, and low-power operation, which enables facility networks to be easily created, with sensor nodes that can run on small batteries for years, and are self-healing in the event of a single-point failure.

Smart Buildings are smart business

Making buildings and facilities smarter isn’t just a fad, it delivers real-world operational and financial benefits. Intelligent sensors provide data that gives useful information, for example to achieve reduced heating costs, optimize ventilation and HVAC, manage lighting, and improve the overall energy efficiency of the building. It is also a market that is growing very fast: According to a recent study from Fortune Business Insights, the European smart building market is projected to grow from $3.59 billion in 2021 to $11.20 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 17.6% during the forecast period. However, facility managers can be hesitant to introduce intelligent systems in older buildings because of the cost of cabling to connect to the sensors and subsystems. But wireless IoT and Cloud technology has arrived at the point where you can manage a Smart Building without cables. Data can easily be sent wirelessly to the Cloud or to the building management systems, bypassing the need to recable the building.

A good example of such a wireless Smart Building implementation can be found in the upgrades made to a Copenhagen office building. Nrlyze, a Swedish company that focuses on optimizing energy systems to reduce energy waste in the real estate sector, implemented the self-governing and flexible NeoMesh network technology from NeoCortec, which enabled the company to quickly roll out a large and capable sensor infrastructure in a cost-effective manner. The wireless network sets itself up and automatically establishes connectivity between the sensors, easing integration efforts and reducing the need for complex cable installations (Figure 1).

Above: Diagram of the Nannasgade deployment. Sensors connect in a mesh both to sensors at the same floor as well as other floors, with those at the lowest levels meshed with the gateway in the basement.

Wireless solutions ease final-meter pressure

Creating a Smart Building with wireless mesh technology is the most cost-effective way to implement an intelligent facility infrastructure, especially when it comes to pre-existing buildings. In such older structures, the effort to get from the wiring behind the wainscotting to the intelligent systems inside the rooms presents a significant ‘final meter’ problem to connect from the cables behind the walls to the intelligent sensors and devices. Often, these buildings do not even have wires (except mains power) at all. So, the challenge is both to power devices and to get data in/out of the devices.

Wireless solutions come in different types, based on how the network is managed, and this will impact the final implementation’s ability to operate and respond to challenges. A flat and distributed node-based mesh topology has significant advantages when compared to star-type hierarchical networks with a central processing hub. Many mesh technologies are still star-based in nature, but truly decentralized mesh wireless solutions, such as NeoMesh, offer a robustness, self-healing and the ability to get around obstacles in a way that a star-based network can’t. If a node in a star-based solution has a poor or even a broken link to the gateway, for example, there is no redundant link which can be leveraged. In a decentralized structure where all nodes can act as routers of data on behalf of each other, there is no single point of failure, and if an individual node goes down, the system re-routes through an alternative pathway.

Of course, there still needs to be a gateway from the mesh to the building’s systems, and an advantage of a mesh solution like the flexible NeoMesh network technology from NeoCortec is that you only need one central gateway to collect all the sensor data and transmit it to the Cloud, with no need for repeaters or additional gateways to connect different parts of the network.

The advantage of NeoMesh network technology over legacy mesh networks like Zigbee, Thread, WiFi and Bluetooth is that it is a comprehensive solution that addresses issues like power consumption, network size, network management, and high reliability in transporting data. For example, NeoMesh technology synchronizes the nodes to each other timing-wise, for ultra-low power consumption in all parts of the network.

NeoMesh leverages self-governing nodes to form networks autonomously, allowing for extreme scalability, node mobility, and optimum performance. Each node in the network is asleep most of the time and only wakes up when it needs to. This means that all nodes are equally power efficient, while maintaining full routing capabilities. The result is that the entire network can be low power and thus run on batteries for many years. Here, it is also vital to stress that other mesh networks also can claim that nodes consume very little power and so can run off batteries. However, they also require hubs or repeaters which are much more power-hungry. With NeoMesh, each node is equal, so there is no need for hubs or repeaters, and the entire system can be battery powered.

Additionally, NeoMesh is extremely easy to deploy, as the network is self-forming - the system grows as you add new nodes which automatically connect to the network. Hundreds, even thousands of devices can be included on the same network, so an entire building of any size can be covered. Installation creates no disruption – devices are stuck to a wall in minutes so employees can carry on working while the network is set up.

The highly scalable nature of a NeoMesh network also means there is no need for any additional gateways or repeaters to cover very large areas, as long as there are enough nodes to provide a sufficient density in the network. In the case of the three-floor Copenhagen office building example, it only took a few hours to install all 93 temperature and humidity sensors, which automatically connected to each other due to the self-governing NeoMesh network protocol. Using battery-powered sensors meant no additional power cables were needed, and after installation, the sensors started to transmit data to the cloud without any need for configuring the network.

Author details: Thomas Steen Halkier, CEO, NeoCortec