• IoT
  • Intelligent Building Management Systems
  • 5G

Buildings Present Challenging Maze of Communications Choices

Neil Strother
Feb 19, 2021

Office lights

Building owners and facilities managers need to traverse the tricky maze of communication technology choices they face. No longer can they simply choose wired (Ethernet) or wireless (Wi-Fi) networks for the buildings they build or retrofit—though such systems are not going away. Now as smart building and IoT technologies adoption grows, choices have become more complex.

This point was brought home by Wolfgang Thieme, who argues “The intricate landscape of smart building use cases makes it no easy task for property owners to navigate and define these fundamentals [network infrastructure]. The alphabet soup of legacy and emerging technologies further adds to this challenge.” Thieme, Chief Technical Officer and co-founder of BehrTech, goes on to point out the three foundational layers of smart building communications: wired broadband, wireless broadband, and low power Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity. The first two are fairly well established, although wireless keeps changing.

IoT Technology Can Cause Consternation

As billions of IoT sensors and devices come into play over the next decade, connecting this huge volume of hardware via low power networks in an intelligent and secure fashion is taking center stage. And the security piece remains unsettled, with observers noting how 2021 “Will be an active year as federal and state policymakers tackle cybersecurity and privacy issues related to emerging technologies, including but not limited to IoT.” No one in the buildings sector wants to see a repeat of the SolarWinds hack via an unsecured IoT-enabled camera or thermostat from their facilities.

On the wireless front, facilities managers have no doubt heard plenty about 5G and how this latest generation of technology is the next big thing for communications. It will likely be a big thing, and it makes sense to pay close attention to how 5G can be used inside buildings. In fact, a recent funding round that Airtower Networks received from a private equity firm highlights the focus on in-building communications with 5G as a key element. In a release, Airtower noted how “The timing of this investment coincides with the increasing market demand for high quality wireless connectivity within the vast number of buildings that require improved coverage and capacity.”

5G Is Not a Cure All

However, it also makes sense to pump the brakes on 5G hype and consider other in-building issues, such as solving cellular reception problems. Poor cellular reception indoors is a nagging problem. And there are ways to solve it, mainly through three flavors of distributed antenna systems (DAS), according to a sponsored piece in RealcommEDGE, a digital magazine devoted to real estate technology trends. How many building managers know these DAS choices even exist?

To be sure, communication technologies represent a challenging puzzle to solve. But if building managers and owners take a proactive approach and are inquisitive of vendors, they will make more informed decisions that have lasting value for their facilities and their tenants. It’s game on.