While a number of low-voltage contractors specialize in one or more types of low-voltage (structured cabling, security, audio/video, etc.), some of them emphasize combining their offerings into a single integrated package for customers.
Tirone Electric, Hollywood, Fla., is a contractor that focuses on low-voltage integration. Not only that, but it has successfully been able to merge high- and low-voltage, providing customers with a complete solution.
“With the direction the electrical contracting industry was going, in terms of merging with the low-voltage industry, such as power over ethernet, we figured it would be a strong point for our company to be able to provide a turnkey solution for end-users,” said Mike Tirone, vice president of the company’s data division, which employs some 30 people.
About 30 percent of the company’s work involves low voltage. Tirone’s data division specializes in structured cabling, security cameras, access control, information technology, and internet solutions, and it does a lot of its work for healthcare, hospitality and technology customers. About 50 percent of this work is new construction, and the rest is retrofit.
“We have found that end-users like to deal with one project manager who can handle both for them,” he said.
For the last three years or so, the data division has created a service that not a lot of other contractors offer: IP-based systems in buildings that can integrate A/V, access control, and CCTV into one IP network.
“For example, customers might ask if we can install digital signage in their elevators, as well as IP music in elevators and throughout the building,” he said.
The integration is working, thanks largely to advances in technology.
“As technology has evolved over the last four years, manufacturers have been able to offer equipment that will allow us to do this,” he said. “Then, using our own engineering and designing, we have been able to figure out a solution that will allow us to integrate all of the systems over one network.”
There is a challenge, though. While most technology is shifting to IP-based, there are distance limitations with IP, so the challenge is to be able to design the correct infrastructure to accommodate the different solutions that the company is installing in a building.
Still, Tirone Electric is finding a way to make it work. One recent project is a 685-room retrofit of a historic hotel in Florida.
“The hotel was built in the 1920s, so the challenge was to get the fibers to all of the guests throughout the building, because the walls were all block and brick,” he said. “We ended up converging four networks into one, transmitting on one fiber back to the data center.”
In order to get the IP systems throughout the building, the work team installed structured cabling, CCTV, etc. The team was also able to remodel voice, data, and TV cabling in 370 rooms, install more than 150 access points for the Wi-Fi network, improve the fiber optic backbone system between buildings, and extend the technology to guest areas by the beach.
Integration, it seems, is the new thing in low-voltage work. Another contractor getting in on the ground floor is Sprig Electric, San Jose, Calif.
“With fire and security systems going IP-based, the opportunity for low-voltage contractors to become integrators of these systems has opened up many business opportunities,” said Bill Aguirre, group executive, low-voltage systems.
Sprig Electric has already made a commitment to pursue data, fire, two-way communications, access control, video surveillance, distributed antenna systems, Wi-Fi, and building automation from an integration perspective.
“You can’t really talk about integration without talking about converging technologies,” Aguirre said. “I think some of the biggest drivers of this converging technologies trend are code-driven requirements, such as NFPA and [National Electrical Code]; the internet of things; mobile connectivity; and the consumer-driven requirements, where people want more bandwidth.”
Wi-Fi, the future of 5G in cellular networks, and RF signal distributions are all key factors, and, according to Aguirre, everyone is competing for user bandwidth. The question is, which will win?
“As communications contractors, we need to prepare for all of the possibilities, so this is our opportunity,” he said. “And this is where structured cabling systems come in. For example, even wireless requires wire. When a wireless system goes down, and laptops aren’t working, people immediately look for outlets on the wall, so they can plug into the network.”
In addition, all of the security systems are moving toward being managed by corporate IT departments. Since Sprig Electric has been working with IT departments all along on other projects, it is a smooth and logical transition to begin working with IT departments on security systems as well.
“In other words, it is becoming a seamless integration to move from data to security and to whatever other technologies are around the corner,” Aguirre said. “Even manufacturers are now starting to bundle systems together.”