By Jay Epstein, RCDD, ESS
From the June 2018 Issue
Building systems are evolving rapidly. Modern building systems including HVAC and automation controls, power distribution and power utilization controls, fire safety, preventive maintenance, and security are all on data networks. The network also includes wireless local area networks. This puts the burden on the facility manager to keep up with the technology. This translates into an avalanche of data points, which, in the world of Big Data, can be considered part of the digitized economy. But, these pieces of measurement are not as overwhelming as it sounds. They are essentially building metrics that, when understood properly, can become new tools to help building systems run more efficiently.
Efficiency is big money. Businesses are investing billions of dollars into new factories, manufacturing plants, and office buildings, many of which are zero net buildings. This translates into more data points, more reporting, and ultimately more building control. Facility managers need to know how to implement the technology to meet and anticipate the needs of the organizations they serve. For those who think that using data points to plan a building is a concept to consider sometime in the near future, think again: I recently assisted a large confidential data center with technology by outfitting their facility with data points. This allows them to literally track and charge every conceivable watt back to the customer with digital metering.
We have all learned that wireless networks are not amenities anymore, they are required. Here, we will cover two types of wireless networks—WiFi and cellular. WiFi stands for wireless local area network (WLAN) and operates on two radio frequency spectrums, 2.4Ghz and 5 Ghz. We use WLAN in our corporate networks. Cellular is from carriers such as Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T. Cellular operates on several frequencies, including 800 Mhz and 1900Mhz, depending on the carrier. The most current cellular technology deployed on a large scale is 4th generation or better known as 4G. We use 4G for our cellphones.
Cellular Wireless Networks. 5G is next and several years out. Recent reports say it could be 2022 before 5G begins to roll out. We do know that 5G has many challenges, and perhaps more that we will soon learn. We do know is 5G is new radio frequency (RF) spectrum and will require new infrastructure. The endpoints of the new infrastructure applicable to things like building data points and cell phones are referred to as small cell antenna. Small cell antenna are low powered radio antenna nodes that have a range of 10 meters to a few kilometers.
How can we translate small cell to 5G? More antennae strategically installed across a wide spectrum of spaces. These antennae may find their way onto light poles, exteriors, and inside our buildings—anywhere below the tree line. Barriers to deployment can equate to economic barriers to progress for people in areas not amenable to these installments. Since experts estimate that only 20% of 4G infrastructure can be leveraged and applied to 5G, carriers will likely take the lead and pay for 5G infrastructure, then pass the costs to businesses.
WiFi Wireless Networks. Unlike 5G, WiFi is a more manageable, and available, technology. WiFi comes in several bandwidths, 2.4 and 5 GigaHertz (abbreviated as Ghz). Higher education was an early adopter for mass deployments of WiFi antenna and an advocate for wireless networks in the associated community. After introducing WiFi in residence halls, universities tracked how students started to use the data and noticed a drop in wired data versus wireless usage, revealing the residence halls were going to require robust WiFi coverage to keep up with future demands. As those students started to trickle into the workforce, the need for wireless was everywhere and becoming more apparent to all markets.
Now, a constant on-the-go stream of emails, photos, videos, reports, and spreadsheets is the new normal for virtually any business professional. But, this new way of communicating lies at the mercy of the availability and quality of your WiFi network.
To eliminate the frustration of working in a dead zone, preventive measures can be taken during design. WiFi predictive modeling, is perhaps the most advanced technology that is also easily translatable to end users. Predictive modeling resolves how to get the best coverage while using the fewest amount of wireless access points (WAPs) possible, and therefore help facilities save money. WAP is networking hardware that allows a WiFi device to connect to a wired network. At my firm, Acentech, we have helped many clients predict WiFi coverage in new and renovated buildings by using predictive modeling software.
In planning deployment of a wireless network, a predictive modeling survey will analyze the right locations to place WAPs. This is an effective way to control costs so you have what’s needed at the right time, and contractors aren’t soon needed back on site after a building is complete.
How does it work? The first step in WiFi design is a programmatic meeting with the facility manager or networks manager. Information is collected in order to understand the needs, capabilities, and expectations of the wireless network. We then obtain building characteristics, including one and two hour walls, mechanical/plumbing chases, concrete walls/foundations, block and glass walls, metal/wood doors, etc. from floor plans. We do this because the composition of the building affects the RF signal’s ability to attenuate. Attenuation is the gradual loss of signal.
For example, a two hour rated walls and metal materials will attenuate more signal, while one hour rated walls and wooden materials tend to attenuate less signal. Glass windows and doors, depending on the type of glass, can also impact the attenuation or how far a WiFi signal can reach. For example: high energy efficient glass with a thin metallic layer can act as a barrier for WiFi.
We then assigned a decibel attenuation value to the building composition—the walls, doors and windows. The software is adjustable and allows us to visualize the strength of the WiFi signal’s strength, or numeric values, with color. We call this the heat map, since its appearance is similar to one. But, these colorful illustrations are really visual representations of the strength and attenuation of RF antennae. We can then predict where the antennae should be located, thus eliminating any possible dead zones in the building.
Epstein is principal consultant with Acentech located in Cambridge, MA. He has consulted and designed systems for telecommunications, electronic security, and power distribution for over 25 years. Epstein has designed and coordinated a full range of communications systems including campus master planning, wireless networks, fiber optic networks, data centers, structured cabling systems, cable tray systems, and building entrance facilities. He has completed NetScout’s Site Survey and Radio Frequency Predictive Modeling course requirements and is a recognized NetScout Site Survey Professional.
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