February 2019

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Introduction to IoT

IoT and getting more things connected, is a vital step in the journey towards smarter buildings. An IoT strategy will allow professionals to add additional ways of measuring the status of buildings, dig out data that is hard to get out today, and also create data where there is none. Improving data flow from assets will be vital in the development of smarter buildings.

Nicolas Waern
Nicolas Waern

Contributing Editor

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Is IoT special at all?  Is it possible to earn more money by doing less work? We are about to find out! In this special, I’ll try to convey our thoughts on the whole “Go-IoT” movement that is out there. I aim to paint a picture of the dynamic landscape that is in the process of forming and what we have seen is trending in the industry today, and what will stick until tomorrow. I’ll also dig a little bit deeper into the realm of building automation, and I will probably conclude with the management ethos – “It depends” when it comes to what should go where.

The basic definition from Wikipedia is that The Internet of Things” is the network of devices such as vehicles, and home appliances that contain electronics, software, actuators, and connectivity which allows these things to connect, interact and exchange data.”

To be honest, I’d like to talk about the BIoT or CoT instead of IoT, and that means Building IoT and Connectivity of Things. This doesn’t necessarily mean access to the internet, but instead allowing products of different standards, sizes and location to talk to each other. Internet usually comes in play in one or the other, but it doesn’t mean that everything should be connected to the Internet and nor will it. Connected devices outnumber IoT, even though they are heavily related.

Security is one big factor that I won’t go into depth about, most of the “IoT-technologies” are more secure and encrypted than WI-FI. But it all depends, and the strongest chain has its weakest link, always.

If you want to get to the pure building automation part, skip three headlines and scroll down to the “How to keep up”- section. But if you are interested in knowing a little bit above and beyond Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and LoRaWAN, keep reading. Because here comes the basics!

Whac-a-mole of things

The co-founder of one of our partner companies iioote, Robert Spertina, usually opens all their meetings with a game of Whac-a-mole. It is a simplified version of the constraints that you have when deciding on what IoT solution might be the best choice. Brilliant, and accurate.

Figure 1

Figure 1. How to choose IoT Technology by iioote

Basically, it all comes down to three areas, WAN (WPAN), LPWAN and LAN (WLAN);

As of today, you can have two maxed out, but never all three. If you want to have a lot of data sent back and forth, over long distances, you’ll have to sacrifice the energy consumption.

If you want to have low energy consumption and a lot of data traffic, then you sacrifice range. And as I alluded to in the beginning, it all depends. Humidity sensors and water leakage detection in buildings might be more suitable for LoRaWAN as well as any geographically dispersed meters requiring long battery times.

If these bubbles above would be weighted we would clearly see that the “bubble” to the left will be double that of the bubble at the top. And the LPWAN bubble to the right, with the classic 10 year battery life slogan, is but a fraction of the other two bubbles.

However, a major part of the growth will come from the LPWAN segment, making it very interesting in that respect and a booming market.I will go through some of the standards on a very high level, skipping a lot of the granular pros and cons.  This could of course be covered in a 1 on 1 session if interested (shameless plug)!

LPWAN technology

LowPoweredWideAreaNetwork. These below are up and coming and could be seen as the more traditional IoT networks (in my opinion). Sigfox is a French network operator, and they are the baby brother in the LPWAN segment. Great for low packet sizes, long range, not critical data, 10-year battery life (depending on traffic intervals) and great for some needs, water monitoring, agriculture. Similar to them is the baby-version of Weightless (a little bit more below).

LoRa, LoRaWAN and Symphony Link. These are the “middle” brothers and have all an abundance of products vetted by the LoRa Alliance. Great for smart city ecosystems and LoRaWAN, in particular, has a quite high adoption rate in Europe and coming on strong in Australia propagated by companies such as Meshed.

LoRaWAN has the potential to be truly open but is also seeing lock-in effects from vendors and providers managing some, if not all parts of the infrastructure. This is neither good or bad, but there’s also the rapid development of TTN (The Things Network). They are doing quite an amazing job in providing tools to create a truly open and potentially robust global Internet of Things network based on LoRaWAN and are up to 5000 gateways worldwide.

Other contenders in this area, before moving on to the “Team Telco” part of the 3GPP organization is Weightless, spearheaded by Ubiik that rely on Semtech technology. Great in some cases, worse in others.

The big brothers (or sisters) in this field come in the form of NB-IoT and LTE-M, CAT-M, which are supported by the 3GPP organization as mentioned above. Basically, these are “Telco-powered” solutions utilizing SIM-cards with high reliability, larger data packets, and offers a bit more flexibility at a somewhat higher price. There is an industry-wide consensus that NB-IoT and LTE-M will overtake both Sigfox and LoRaWAN as the most used IoT standard out there in the foreseeable future.

However, due to the recent Huawei scandal, we will see global ramifications in the uptake of NB-IoT and the jury is still out on this one. This is great for Sigfox and LoRaWAN, but a disaster for Telcos. But in any case2G will be obsolete in the coming years, LTE-M could be a good alternative even though it operates on a 4G network. GSM, LTE, 4G are there, and 5G will be disruptive, but the resiliency is not there yet infrastructure wise. Infrastructural challenges, not enough sensors in the market has stifled a bit of the expected growth regarding NB-IoT/CAT-M adoption, which is why the emergent LPWAN/IoT industry still is a very open field.

Emerging platforms, BACnet/Mesh and ROI focus

In the home automation space, there’s also the more classic IoT technologies that are still very much prevalent. We have Zigbee, Z-wave, Bluetooth/Bluetooth mesh, and of course Wi-Fi, RFID, NFC and many others, Wireless Mbus, being one somewhat applicable for building automation. There’s also the “mesh” variants that most of these have in common, but with different approaches.

The aforementioned standards and protocols provide more local control and are mostly intended for home automation or light building automation where integrating to existing BMS isn’t a priority. That said, Zigbee and Thread are joining dots in addressing IoT industry fragmentation under/over a protocol called dot dot.

Industry experts have agreed that Zigbee doesn’t scale well in comparison to other applications, but Thread is seen as an option that is very well suited for building automation purposes of scale. It is open, it is on an IP level, and it is rapidly gaining supporters worldwide with vendors such as Cascoda, going where traditional Wi-Fi won’t or can’t.

Enocean is another great protocol/product that uses battery-free, energy harvesting technology and has some of the coolest products we’ve ever seen. These can be used in a wide variety of application areas, but one is for the smart hotel room as seen here.

Other solutions are Wirepas, who’s coming on strong with their ubiquitous approach to IoT, and also LumenRadio, who’s got a phenomenal frequency jumping, lighting controlling, offering reliable mesh communication for industrial and building automation applications. LumenRadio is the brain that makes the demand controlled ventilation system from Swegon so robust.

And one of the most interesting solutions that we have seen, that are very fitting for building automation is that of Conectric. They have great solutions, focusing on simplified data collection, and thus being affordable, reliable, robust, ultra-scalable, easily connecting to 50 000 sensors and beyond. We are in the process of joining efforts and getting a BACnet Mesh solution to the market, where old Modbus-RS-485 meters, communicate through wireless instead of wires. Phillip Kopp, CEO of Conectric, has a great mind in this area and he says it all comes down to ROI. They can show ROI in 1,5 years, a clear business model, with 10 years of battery life. Some other companies might show ROI in 3 years and must replace batteries within the next 3-5 years, and complicated as a service business model.  Good solutions should emphasize positive ROI by not just maximizing battery life but being clear about how many message reporting you will actually get for that long life. Some solutions may send 10,000 messages over 10 years, while others may send 10’s millions.

How to keep up with all of this?!?

Let the technology experts focus on technology and let you be the expert of your domains. Because the fact is that keeping up with the times, these days, is a challenge on its own. I think most of us agree that technology shifts are happening fast, and it is hard to keep up with the times. Sustainability is a key factor, and with more demands for dynamic workplaces, we see that even buildings need to keep up with the times. Providing buildings that are robust, useful and attractive these days, are more about people comfort, and it is about energy savings. The classic too cold/too hot scenario which provides a great average is an obsolete way of thinking. Siemens acquiring Comfy was a great play in the direction of making buildings more suited for people, by allowing people more control of their own surroundings. And that is also where IoT comes in because it can enable easier access and control, allowing companies to do more, with less.

But even for the global giants, it is difficult to keep up with the times. And as discussed, today it is possible to create your own solutions from open products and protocols, avoiding the cloud of both global Telecommunication providers, as well as building automation giants. Open hardware and open software allow for more flexibility in the market, and that’s the great part! Freedom of choice.

The answer to how to keep up with all of this is that you shouldn’t. Well, it depends if you are a vendor agnostic company like us, yes. We need to keep track of everything that is happening because we want to enable cutting edge technology in an open, modular way. If the IoT technology you selected four years ago is now obsolete, choose another one! Don’t rip out the whole system, just the part that needs upgrading. The one thing that system integrators, real estate owners or anyone else except for the IoT companies themselves should think about is your own problems.

The most important thing right now is that companies building solutions open a dialogue with the ones using solutions on the market. What are you using today? What are the challenges with that? Are there any challenges? What do you wish you could do?

It all depends, but it needs to be standardized

Considering all of the amazing technology solutions out there today, you might think that you need to keep up with the times and know exactly what they are good for or not. No, you don’t. But you need to ask if your solutions can pass the test of time, or if you are locked into something that will be hard to replace in 5 years. I recently argued that IoT would be a subset of Facility IT and that’s the same with IoT in reference to Building IoT. Buildings provide a much more complex landscape than home automation, and that is why we believe that IoT needs to be standardized underneath a device to device communication protocol. The President of BACnet argued the same thing at this year's AHRexpo in Atlanta, stating that “Alexa has left the building – because Building IoT is so much more.”

That said, from a building automation perspective, you need to know what problems to solve. What is the existing technology you want to collect data from? At what intervals? Where do you want to send the data? Do you want to run analytics on it? Want to be able to have bi-directional control? Where in the building do you want to collect data?

Do you want to collect data from existing networks or do you want to be able to collect new data in a wireless way? A lot of questions that need answering and these need to be answered, together, through a dialogue. The really great solutions will only come into fruition when “IoT” companies create an open dialogue with the end user, creating products together that are fit for purpose. We all need to collaborate more in order to keep up with what can be done, and what needs to be done.

What is it (not) good for?

This article discusses the value of IoT for Smart buildings, and it provides great information about where we are today, and the value with Connected buildings.

“However, the value in IoT for smart buildings will likely not be in the addition of millions of new internet-connected sensors, but in new software applications that use existing data from existing equipment to make buildings operate better.”

So basically, the answer to “What is it good for?” according to this article- is absolutely nothing.

Agreeing with the argument, that existing data and connectedness might imply little to no use of IoT. Then we’ll see the blue ocean of everything between home automation and large commercial real estate automation is the true sweet spot of IoT; which in fact, is 100% true. That is an untapped opportunity that will continue to grow once the technology becomes cheaper and more powerful.

But in my mind, the article somewhat misses the point with the Internet of Things in a smart building context. Creating new software applications running on an IP level of buildings is something that the “Super” System integrators do today. Nothing new, even if it is at the cutting edge. In fact, I had the immense pleasure of viewing the Entrocim platform from Hepta Systems last week, demonstrated by Jason Houck and it was the best thing I’ve seen in this industry thus far. They have gotten the grasp of virtualization, cybersecurity, fault detections and running analytics on real-time data. They have taken everything from the buildings that was there to take, creating a phenomenal looking dashboard providing insight into everything that was going on in the building.

There are two reasons why I find this phenomenal.

  1. They have decoupled hardware, software and applications in such a way that data truly is the gold, and the applications on top are what turns the gold into jewellery.
  2. Companies like them will bridge the gap between IT/OT, IoT and facility IT and will hopefully be the glue that creates the foundation of a better world for everyone.

They have successfully leveraged the solutions that are out there today, and by doing that, freed themselves, and their customers, to the lock-in effects most companies succumb to on a daily basis. That said, they most likely utilize analytics tools and application stacks from globally recognized vendors. But they are not dependent on vendors supplying their total solutions like before.

IoT as a path creation tool for an open future

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Not relying on existing, but instead enhancing capabilities in a smart building context is where IoT comes in. Providing data that is not there yet, allowing anyone with the capabilities to not only dig out data that is hard to get, but also create data in ways we haven’t thought about yet. IoT provides a (possibly) secure channel away from lock-in effects, normalizing data in the way you want it to be. Path dependency turned into path creation and a shift away from wired to wireless.

The thing is, we are talking about buildings so really it makes little sense to do anything but very short distances inside of the building itself. Cell phones work indoors because the radio tower is extremely powerful utilizing many kilowatts. If you do that inside everyone will get cancer and die from radiation. Of course, this can be mitigated/solved by having a “miniaturized cloud” from Cloud backend, on the edge (in/around the building) that communicates with cell phones, caching data where it’s needed. Combined with high bandwidth data, you can miss a lot of information and algorithmically fill in the blanks and get a good picture, so it’s not that important to get everything, which is the opposite of low bandwidth data that might get lost on the way. With low bandwidth data you have small data sizes so if you miss something, you might as well miss everything because you will never be able to figure out the missing pieces. But again, it all depends.

The whole premise with IoT is doing more with less, and IoT will provide an enormous benefit to the OEMs (having dial home functions), destroying the very idea of focus groups, bringing R&D and insights to a real-time level. The fact is that IoT today is still emerging, and we haven’t begun to see the applications that will be built on these emerging standards. It all comes down to what is smart or not. Hailed as “The smartest building in the World”, the Edge in Holland has 28000 wired sensors. Wired. Because who would want to change 28000 sensors?

I would still argue that IoT will only be special when it is standardized underneath a building automation umbrella. Otherwise, it will be part of the whole 1000 cuts challenge. Open hardware, open software and an open cloud approach revolve around finding the correct solutions for the customer, and not about finding a correct customer for a specific solution.

If you believe for one second that Bluetooth is the coolest thing out there, you are dead wrong. But if you also believe that you shouldn’t start, you are even more wrong. Because the most important thing is that you get a grip on the problems you want to solve, what you want to do better, and get out there and start doing something!  I will cover more about the business benefits in the next article, and also explain why the 80/20 rule doesn’t apply to IoT and analytics.

As always, if you are in doubt about anything, let us know! After all, I am the Building Whisperer – Making buildings talk to people.


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