Wireless Revisited

Adanger in reporting on new technology is that, inevitably, somebody else will always know more on the subject than you, and will often want to further educate you on the matter. I found myself in this position recently, when one reader took interest in the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) story we did in this space this past December, and invited me to his Milwaukee facility, which was just...

03/01/2005


Adanger in reporting on new technology is that, inevitably, somebody else will always know more on the subject than you, and will often want to further educate you on the matter. I found myself in this position recently, when one reader took interest in the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) story we did in this space this past December, and invited me to his Milwaukee facility, which was just retrofitted with a wireless system as a utility.

Savvy readers may have already guessed I'm talking about Johnson Controls' Brengel Technology Center, whose wireless system has been in operation for about a year and a half. My host, Jim Hermann, JCI's program manager for wireless solutions, took me on a tour of the facility and made a brief presentation on the merits of wireless and where it makes sense, primarily in health care. In fact, Jim, along with Paul Norine of the IP Design Group, Omaha, Neb., co-authored a white paper on the subject that's available in the HVAC community at csemag.com . But besides hospitals, he argues, wireless systems make a lot of sense for commercial office buildings. Why? Productivity. "Over the past decade, companies have gotten much more lean, and they need to continue that productivity engine," says Hermann.

A wireless network, he explains, provides a lot of opportunities for things like VoIP, realtime and mobile data collection from the building automation system. It also generates an ability to track assets and people and improve security in general. And, of course, it can be tuned to matters related directly to a business' enterprise. "When it comes to office design, I can't think of not including wireless any more than you'd exclude lighting or plumbing as a utility," he says.

While wireless technology may allow means to better protect people, what about the network itself? Hermann notes JCI's system provides a certain degree of cyber protection in that it is a contained system that does not beam outside the building or above or below the floors it's meant to serve. That said, the system is "agnostic" regarding any kind of security encryption, and any anti-hacking measures are still the domain of the local IT staff.

But in testimony to the future of the technology, he points out these early adopters: AOL/Time Warner for its new headquarters in New York and the city of Charlotte for its new basketball arena. "They immediately thought of about 20 different applications they could do with this [wireless technology]," he says.

I would be remiss not to mention the folks from Siemens Building Technologies, who also have a wireless network for VAV set up for demonstration in their Buffalo Grove, Ill. facility. SBT, however, is pushing the Zigbee mesh networking technology we reported on briefly last November. According to SBT's Jeff Raimo, besides things like reduced wiring and labor costs and flexibility in locating thermostats—and of course, the points made by Hermann—another major benefit of wireless systems is that they allow for building services such as submetering that were once cost-prohibitive.

"The challenge, of course, is that you'll get a lot more data, and you'll have to manage that data," says Raimo.

But that, I think, is a good thing.



Benefits of Wireless Systems

Reduced wiring and labor costs

An ability to collect more building data in real time and in a mobile fashion

An ability to implement once cost-prohibitive services such as submetering



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