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Wireless and IoT to bring mobile control over workplace

Jean Sorensen
Wireless and IoT to bring mobile control over workplace
A closer look at how a wireless cellular connectivity box can be installed at a construction site. -

If you have not heard the term ‘Internet of Thing (IoT)’ or seen the abbreviation, get used to it.

IoT is the broad-brush label for the explosion of wireless technology (Wi-Fi and cellular) that is affecting all aspects of life, coined by international telecommunications companies wanting global standards.  In the construction industry, the impact ranges from construction of buildings, how individuals work on jobsites and keep track of information, how buildings "talk" to one other, site security, or tracking vehicles on site.

Internet of Things Global Standards Initiative (IoT-GSI) defined the IoT as "a global infrastructure for the information society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving interoperable information and communication technologies".

It essentially means more use of wireless systems to connect people and ‘things’ for communications, asset management or information collection. ABI Research, a U.S. technology market intelligence company, estimates that more than 30 billion devices worldwide will be wirelessly connected to the IoT by 2020.

Josh Melanson, senior vice-president of business development for Comtech Canada, called the days of hard-wiring buildings "legacy" technology. "Where we would usually do hard-wire, the future is now wireless," he said. "Even cable is dead."  He points to Netflix and the trend toward streaming television in private homes today.

Large residential and commercial buildings, large work sites, industrial areas are using small cell networks (like a routers is used in homes) or DAS, a distributed antenna system which can provide wireless communications through a geographic area or building through broadcasting radio frequencies. The onsite networks or DAS have the ability to not only deliver services to individuals ranging from cell phone use to internet connections but wireless systems can be used to tie in systems such as HVAC for energy optimization, security, and other building operational aspects.

In the past all the different systems within a building might be stand-alone. "People had not figured out they can leverage it all with one or two networks to get their goal," he said.

One of the emerging trends seen in municipalities, he said, is public safety networks within new construction, especially large structures of concrete and steel. "So, when the emergency personnel such a fire and ambulance arrive, their communications is going to be great inside the building," he said. First responders who entered the damaged New York World Trade Centre found their cell phones useless inside the building. Today, in large commercial and residential buildings, he said, there is a trend to provide cell coverage in all areas including stairwells, public areas, and especially underground parkades.

Comtech does what Melanson calls "full life cycle" management of projects, he said. The consulting company works with the client, designs and builds the network needed, whether it is a new building in the city or a remote camp in the wilderness to set up the network and does monitoring after the build-out.  In remote areas, towers can be brought in or mobile towers (called COWs – cell on wheels). One of the challenges at camp is distributing the radio frequencies to the prefab units that make up a camp as they are usually metal or steel which inhabit a signal. Comtech can also supply remote on-site monitoring of systems when the camp is vacated to ensure that support activities are still functioning.

"When it comes to construction, I think one of the biggest areas of innovation is around the Internet of

Things and the "connected jobsite", said Ryan Bazeley, media relations offer for Telus, in an email.

Telus offers a number of programs for construction: tracking and monitoring vehicles for service records, location, and fuel consumption; the ability to lodge blueprints on cloud technology and transfer site information between parties; on-site security that can be wirelessly monitored; construction equipment can be equipped with Wi-Fi so that an operator can connect to head office and transfer any required information. Rogers is another large provider who is offering IoT opportunities and a free IoT assessment for businesses who want to take advantage of the technology to track or gather information.

Shaw, which is a main player in many of non-urban communities in Western Canada, announced in June that it had acquired additional low-band spectrum which would benefit Alberta, B.C. and Ontario by offering more wireless connectivity. In late 2016, Shaw engaged in an aggressive price campaign to pick up new wireless subscribers against Telus by providing high speed internet.

The IoT will not fundamentally affect a building’s structural, said B.C. architect Ian McDonald and partner in Carscadden Stokes McDonald Architects, a firm that bills itself as a problem solver. But, renovating a building will be easier as there less wiring to tear out.

"It does have an impact in the sense of tidiness," he said, adding that there less emphasis on designing work stations that can accommodate cords and hard-wiring.  There is no "the pulling of cord" to accommodate workstation design. In large open office spaces that may have 50 or more work stations, the ability to connect wirelessly can eliminate hardwiring and cord clutter.

Surfaces can be cleaner.  Offices today he said are increasingly seeing more laptop use, providing greater mobility.

McDonald sees three aspects of IoT that impact architectural design. The first is accommodating the infrastructure (such as a utility room) to achieve wireless broadcasting, the increased ability to connect and monitor the building’s performance can lead to greater sustainability features in a structure, and, finally a free-zone within a building may need to be created in the future. McDonald said this break zone where no radio frequencies can penetrate are "for relief of always being on."

He said that wireless has opened new concepts of how to deliver wireless into design. He designed a skate board park where he looked at incorporating Wi-Fi into the LED lighting system. – "We didn’t have the money," he said, but it is an easy concept to hook the two together.

Professor Harald Haas, chairman of mobile communications at the University of Edinburgh, coined the term "Li-Fi" at his 2011 TED Global Talk where he introduced the idea of wireless data carried on light rays and used in office buildings.

In 2006, the City of Minneapolis became the first major U.S. city to go wireless as placed broadcast capability in 117 different points covering the whole city with free Wi-Fi. There are now more than 50 U.S. cities offering it free or minimal charge. Smart cities have also emerged, utilizing IoT to gather information and monitor use of public buildings or even monitor parking meters. Toronto, Mississauga, and Kitchener are three Canadian cities that are using smart IoT technology to more effectively manage their assets.

The explosive in being wirelessly connected is driving the need for better networks, as telco work to bring forward the 5G or Fifth Generation network. It is essentially a broader radio frequency band that can accommodate more users, provide more information and do it faster.

Telus has announced it has been able to develop the basis of a 5G network working with Huawei, a largest information and communications technology companies. "This successful pilot represents one of the most advanced connections yet made using technologies that will form the standard for global 5G," a press release in June announced. The 5G technology, which will become mainstream over the next five years, is 200 times faster than current networks in place. Robust 5G network will enable technology such as driverless cars, encourage more smart cities, and better enable machine to machine (M2M) communications in "smart" technology.

However, other countries such as the U.S., Japan, and Korea are well ahead of the curve. In May, Verizon and Ericsson demonstrated 5G technology at the Indy 500 racetrack as they blacked out the windshield of a racing vehicle and streamed visual real-time track video to the driver for navigation at speeds up to 60 mph around the circuit.  A Korean company will debut a driverless bus at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics using 5G technology).

"Wireless is the wave of the future," said Melanson, adding that rather than hardwiring each house or building in a neighborhood may someday be thing of the past as there could come a day when networks or antenna could sit on street lights. "Look at it like a fourth utility," he said.

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