Byron BeMiller, Director of Smart Building Applications, Wireless and Sensing Products Group, Semtech Corporation, argues that its easier than you think for new technology to revolutionise old buildings.

The age of the smart building is upon us. The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming commercial premises across the globe, creating intelligence among the bricks and mortar, reducing operational costs and taking building management to a whole new level.

At the latest estimate, there were over 790 million LPWAN (low-power wide area network) devices operating in the world’s commercial real estate, up from 71 million just four years ago.

Adopting advanced LPWAN technology may be fine in modern buildings, where sharing data via sophisticated communications networks is commonplace, but what if you are managing an older property that was built before the internet-savvy age?

What if your structure has incredibly thick walls and setting up any kind of network would require extremely costly work to be carried out to fit all those sensors that smart buildings depend on – not to mention the many miles of cable that would need installing (and monitoring)?

It isn’t difficult to imagine the eye-watering capital expenditure involved in such a project. Even worse, what about the cost of maintenance or if any kind of subsequent expansion of the IoT network in the premises is required?

Of course, making commercial premises ‘smart’ brings a host of significant benefits, including more efficient use of resources, real-time knowledge of any issues and the ability to monitor and control a building’s entire central systems. This can include systems that provide heating, cooling, fire detection, lift management, equipment failure prediction and more.

In an office building, an IoT system based around desk sensors, presence sensors and comfort sensors can monitor air quality, levels of CO2, noise levels, temperatures and lighting.

Meeting room sensors can improve efficiency while boosting occupancy levels that can literally shave millions off annual running costs. 

How do you make it happen?

That’s all very well, but how do you make all this possible in existing commercial premises? Thankfully, there’s a highly cost-effective alternative to the hard-wired nightmare depicted above that is not only easy to deploy in existing buildings, but also would dramatically reduce capex compared to the cost of building a new facility.

Using radio frequency technology, this totally wireless method of creating an LPWAN in existing premises is capable of sending secure signals through dense environments at distances of up to 30 miles.

The beauty of such a system is that the wireless sensors, which measure just 38mm (1.5 inches), can be installed anywhere on the premises in a straightforward retrofit, even in the most difficult to reach places.

With a typical operational lifetime of up to 10 years, using low cost batteries including coin cell, there’s no need to worry about having to replace the sensors on a frequent basis. Since long range wide area networks (LoRaWANs) operate on open standards with degrees of reliability that are proven around the world, there’s also no need for concern about high running costs or expensive upgrades. 

Whether the premises are offices, retail facilities, museums or hotels, installing a private or public data communications network today doesn’t have to be complicated. Equally, LoRaWAN-based networks can easily operate separately from corporate IT networks, making them cost-effective and secure to implement.

Networking

However, even taking all of the above into account, installation of a LoRaWAN network can still appear daunting. To the relief of installers, it has now been made easy through a ‘smart building kit’ which makes it possible to bring intelligence to existing commercial premises without the need for any level of expertise in IoT technologies.

Essentially, the kit is a collection of portable tools based around LoRa that enables installers to fit sensors capable of monitoring doors and windows, desk and room presence and environmental conditions as well as detecting water intrusion.

In the kit are over 20 sensors, two gateways and a global 4G hotspot that can all be set up and managed using readily accessible PC software. Armed with this user-friendly kit, installers can start their smart building journey small and expand at their own pace when it suits them, no longer needing to be put off by the technical nature of IoT-based technology.

So starting afresh with a new building is not the only way of developing ‘smart’ commercial premises. No matter what the size of a building, with easily deployed LoRa devices, there is now a highly cost-effective and efficient way to reap the benefits of installing intelligence in an older property.

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