Internet Protocol: Transforming Home Automation and Building Control

Internet Protocol (IP) is now part of our everyday life, affecting all aspects of the home and fast becoming its technology backbone. The world has become a connected place and the trend moving forward is for many more smart devices, which is creating a host of opportunities for home automation systems and transforming how the technology is operated and works together.

In the UK alone there are already almost 38 million smartphones and this is expected to rise by a further five million over the next two years. The projected growth of connected consumer devices globally is even more staggering increasing from 3.9 billion in 2014 to 13 billion by 2020, as technology becomes cheaper and more accessible.

However, this expansion needs to be matched by significant improvements in the broadband infrastructure. The UK average download speeds is currently around 23 megabits per second (Mbps), representing around three and half times growth since 2010 according to Government figures, but this speed by no means universally available. According to figures released last year by the UK’s telecom regulator, Ofcom, three per cent of properties still do not have access to basic broadband of 2Mbps and 15 percent cannot receive 10Mbps, thought to be the necessary requirement for a typical household. With around three to four million households, many in rural areas, still unable to access superfast broadband of 30Mbps and above, coverage remains patchy and is key consideration when developing home automation solutions. There is a similar issue with fast 4G mobile services, which are not evenly spread throughout the country. While around three quarters of properties have some access to 4G, only 35 percent are served by the leading mobile operators.

We are seeing a growing use of fibre connections, especially into commercial residential properties, which does offer the potential for almost unlimited bandwidth. As people increasingly stream from media platforms and store in the cloud, upload and download speeds are even more important.

Commercial Residential
In the property and asset management marketplace, IP technology is providing massive performance improvements over traditional hardware, while offering an effective means of integrating complementary systems and the benefits of remote monitoring. In fact, with the Internet-enabled devices, property managers and developers must now create the necessary digital networking infrastructure moving forward to meet the needs of residents and also take advantage of improved building management and control. In recent years there have been significant advances in integrated building technologies including CCTV, door entry, access control, LED lighting, gates and barriers, and HVAC. For example, IP CCTV offers considerable improvements over analogue options, providing added performance, flexibility and efficiency. The latest devices deliver enhanced security with colour HD images which can track from one camera to another, be accessed remotely and operate in conjunction with other building systems.

Home-Automation-V1-400x285Taking an integrated approach means it is possible to manage systems on a single platform with effective monitoring and dynamic feedback.[/caption] Taking an integrated approach means it is possible to manage systems on a single platform with effective monitoring and dynamic feedback. This supports streamlined building management, while providing operational data that can help determine future strategies. Meanwhile, remote diagnostics and support enables property managers to proactively view and maintain building technology, as well as configure and update systems centrally through a Web browser. There is also an increasing pull from residents for added connectivity driven by the rapid expansion and awareness of intelligent home automation technologies. Multi-dwelling units (MDUs) can now be installed with an IP solution that covers central control systems and then pre-wired for individual specifications including multi-room audio, home cinema and wireless network solutions. Alternatively, there are now IP-based options that bring together door entry, access control and home automation into a single, integrated offering.

Wireless Retrofit
IP is also driving growth in the residential sector with the emergence of wireless home automation, which offer an effective retrofit solution without causing damage to a property’s interior. This type of system can be installed quickly and efficiently, removing the need to run new cables and keeping costly installation requirements to a minimum. The latest solutions take advantage of Z-Wave wireless technology, which operates a “mesh network” that uses repeating signals. It delivers a reliable automation solution throughout a building at a fraction of the cost of a traditional fully-wired solution, with a wide range of sensors, control modules and wall plugs to monitor and manage all aspects of the home environment. This means the home automation can be individually tailored in a simple and effective way to take into consideration personal taste and meet communications, comfort and security preferences. This not only ensures complete control at the tap of a touchscreen, smartphone or tablet, but also means complementary systems can work seamlessly together to control lighting and heating, energy management, CCTV, blinds, smoke detection and entertainment requirements.

Avoiding the Pitfalls
There are a number of challenges that need to be considered and not overlooked when designing, installing and managing an IP-based home automation and building control solution.

Most critically, it is essential that the cabling infrastructure is appropriate for initial and future requirements, something you don’t want to be made aware of after any building work has been completed. However, it does provide an opportunity to simplify and standardise cabling, removing the need to overwire a property in anticipation of future needs. With streamed TV likely to replace traditional satellite based reception in the future fibre optic cable is currently the best specification for the delivery of superfast broadband and other services to the modern building and should be considered as a minimum for backbone infrastructure although ideally should be carried through into individual homes. Cat-6 and 5e are also familiar multi-purpose cables providing for a range of functions and different outputs, so are able to handle data, power, control, video and audio requirements.

Meanwhile, an effective automation solution is dependent on robust broadband service into the building, but for MDUs it is also critical that this is distributed evenly across all units. Therefore, it is important to assess cabling and Wi-Fi range based on the floor plan and construction of the building. Also, consider implementing a Wi-Fi management system that will dynamically manage the signal. It is worth bearing in mind that the intelligence of smart devices is reliant on an effective Internet connection and they can quickly become dumb without one. Elsewhere, it is also important to factor in the added IT security risks and engage with appropriate technology specialists to ensure that the necessary firewalls and encryption is in place to protect a building or buildings from the threat of hackers. There will always be a risk from a determined hacker, but as long a sensible approach is taken then appropriate measures will be in place to protect a property.

Nick Moore has been a professional in the custom installation industry for more than 20 years and has worked on projects of every scale and composition both as a designer and technical manager. He is currently the General Manager of Ingeny, the home automation division of security systems and building technology integrator Interphone. In this role he works closely with property developers, architects, interior designers and home owners to develop integrated and smart building solutions that make everyday life easier by combining familiar technology systems that work seamlessly together.

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