Taming the IoT: Interoperability 
of Internet Power Gains Traction

The Internet of Things (IoT) has many moving parts, and they’re moving quickly. One is power over ethernet (PoE), the IoT’s electric power delivery agent. That’s why the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and other industry authorities are developing standards to help installers, manufacturers and users work well within this growing data and power frontier. “Built for the IoT” could be a fitting slogan for electrical contractors (ECs).

Memoori, a London-based market research firm focused on smart-building technologies, projects the global market for the IoT in buildings will rise from $22.93 billion in 2014 to more than $85 billion in 2020. It cites physical security, lighting control and fire detection/safety as the three largest market segments that will factor in added connectivity to building systems through sensors, growth in related network hardware and IoT data services.

With the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirming net neutrality, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) will treat high-speed internet as a public utility. Data capacity could also see a bump as the FCC pursues a wider band spectrum, enabling 5G wireless networks and applications. Both movements could help fuel a burgeoning PoE market. However, is it inevitable as a disruptive power source?

“In my opinion, there is a certain inevitability, and PoE should be viewed as an opportunity,” said Daniel G. Walter, vice president and COO, National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). “There certainly is similiarity with voice over internet protocol [VoIP] technology, so maybe the jump to PoE isn’t so foreign a concept. The integration of IoT, including increasing use of sensors for multiple purposes and components to transfer that sensor data, place ECs in an enviable position. ECs could help build the backbone and be the integrator for these building systems and the assortment of devices they will require.”

According to Joey Shorter, Ph.D., NECA’s director of research, the IoT marketplace is wide open for electrical contractors.

“We are in a unique position to script the benchmarks for safety, and codes and standards based on our current leadership in this area of expertise,” he said. “The training and skills, tools and equipment, and knowledge of systems and connections are already woven into the daily work and routine of NECA contractors and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers employees. It is a natural connection to see our contractors and electricians adding an element of consultation and maintenance to the installation processes they’ve already designed and built for the IoT.”

While NECA’s role in IoT standards has been more “observational,” Walter said decisions made by standards groups will affect how ECs go about their jobs in PoE installations. 

Efforts toward open standards

One of the IEEE’s goals is an IoT architecture that promotes interoperability and “cross-domain interaction.” Though the IEEE has more than 350 proposed and some approved standards applicable to the IoT (most notably IEEE 802.3 ethernet standards), its P2413 aims to be an umbrella or a “standard for standards” to serve an open, interconnected landscape. That openness includes working with other standardization bodies.

The IEEE cites some beginning discussions with the IEEE’s committee for 802.24 (local area networks and metropolitan area networks), the International Electrotechnical Commission/IEC SG8 (smart manufacturing), oneM2M (machine-to-machine communications), and more. For its part, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association would like to see what standards it might develop to better help electrical product safety in IoT power applications, cybersecurity and communications/information architectures.

“When we look at cell phones and apps, they coalesced around open norms, and that’s the pattern we see in wireless power,” Walter said. “I think that’s likely in related devices to support IoT. The more proprietary your product, the harder it can be to grab a portion of the market.”

With its SmartCast PoE-enabled luminaires, Cree Lighting, Durham, N.C., is one of a handful of lighting manufacturers that has ventured into the IoT marketplace.

“PoE is really great technology, but manufacturers like ourselves need to look at standards,” said John Casadonte, product marketing manager, Cree. “There is such a thing as a proprietary system, but multiple vendors may not be able to communicate with each other. You need a gateway to understand the different translations.”

Then there’s the question of standardizing wattage for PoE.

“For example, the troffer is the most common light in corporate America,” Casadonte said. “Internet power must provide at least 40 watts [W], but today, there is no standard set by the IEEE over 30W. The IEEE has been crafting standards for PoE with a set goal of 90W or more. We will see the standard, though IEEE might start at 60W. Troffers could run at that wattage, downlights, as well as any fixture requiring 60W or maybe less.”

Some LED fixtures, such as high bay, are not likely PoE candidates because they require much higher wattage than it could provide. PoE is a power delivery method in which you pick and choose based on applications and the required wattage. 

“The controllability of LED light married with PoE delivery is almost a perfect match between power delivery agent and fixture with huge controllability benefits,” Casadonte said. “Further, embedding your sensors into the lighting fixture just simplifies fixture design and commissioning. It also takes a lot of the guesswork out of the coverage the sensors provide as each might overlap with the other, thus providing better coverage and control. For IT professionals concerned about network vulnerability, you are more secure than a wireless connection because each fixture is hardwired into a corporate ethernet PoE switch.”

Lighting has traditionally been the responsibility of building facility managers. With the IoT, information technology (IT) specialists enter the picture, he added.

“There will have to be a marriage between these two groups to understand how to roll out IoT technology and not overload each with responsibilities,” Casadonte said. “I liken this to when the voice and data world had to have their discussion to merge those technologies.

Cree has been working with Cisco, which has developed universal power over ethernet (UPoE) that extends the IEEE PoE Plus standard by doubling the power per port to 60W. Cisco developed UPoE to extend resilient network power to a broad range of devices, including virtual desktop terminals, IP turrets, compact switches, building management gateways, LED lights, wireless access points, and IP phones. 

Casadonte said Cree fixtures will be able to interoperate once the IEEE standardizes the UPoE proposal and ethernet switch vendors incorporate the new standard. In fact, internet power puts lighting in the spotlight.

“Messages can be sent to the sensor fixture for control be it lighting or HVAC or safety,” Casadonte said. “Sensor information can be read and stored for deeper management analysis and building operations improvements. Maybe it’s a heat sensor to check HVAC; a sensor that indicates a fire; a sensor that is heat-activated to read body heat both for HVAC control or to indicate an unauthorized person in the building; a gas sensor to pick up dangerous levels of CO2 and set an alarm if needed.”

While PoE and smart lighting fixtures can do so much already, what could the future hold?

“A future of sensor reading with deep granularity of data and its analysis could certainly lead to new discoveries,” Casadonte said. “A lot of the time, you are sampling or measuring sensor information every 30 minutes, maybe 15. How much energy is being used in 15 minutes if no one is in that room? Smaller time increments could be a trigger to reveal even more regarding a building’s operation while improving energy strategies. IoT would seem the best platform to gather info, analyze, present, compare. It is a new frontier just being tapped.”

“The office building of the future is already here,” Walter said. “Recently, a group of NECA contractors had the privilege of seeing a Philips Lighting PoE-connected lighting system at the Edge building in Amsterdam. This is a project where the connected LED lighting serves as the backbone of a digital ceiling that has made the Edge the smartest office building in the world and energy-neutral. Because of improved space usage, the Edge is able to accommodate approximately 2,500 employees with only half as many desks. They’ve realized a 1.5-million-euro cost-saving just from the improved use of space. And that’s a tremendous value added over and above an LED retrofit.”

At the June meeting of the Academy of Electrical Contractors in Asheville, N.C., Shorter took note of what keynote speaker, technology entrepreneur and academic Vivek Wadhwa, had to say regarding the IoT, smart houses and smart buildings. 

“He pointed out that our contractors are in a unique position to capitalize on consultation and maintenance of connecting all the pieces of IoT, especially as it relates to the home, commercial and industrial enterprises,” he said.

“Philips’ connected lighting technology is already in service around the globe in indoor and outdoor applications,” said Jon Zelinsky, P.E., director of contractor marketing at Philips. “We know LED is a huge leap ahead in energy efficiency, but this is just the beginning. For example, it is driving innovation in the retail space with a major retailer in France, where connected lighting and indoor positioning are delivering a better shopping experience. A smartphone app designed by the retailer reads this code and pinpoints exactly where you are standing using indoor positioning. LED fixtures can use visible light to send a code that is easily detected by a smartphone camera. The customer can then select promotions from a catalogue and will be guided directly to a list of items. Whether in a retail store, an office, or on the city streets and highways of a connected municipality, real-time information from the IoT on energy use and occupancy then allows facility managers to make better decisions on everything from cleaning and maintenance to HVAC operations.”

As Casadonte said, some ECs will want something more than just placing the fixture in the ceiling and then plugging the Cat 5/6 cable into the light. Those ECs can turn to the IoT.

About the Author

Jeff Gavin

Freelance Writer

Jeff Gavin, Gavo Communications, is a LEED Green Associate providing marketing services for the energy, construction, and urban planning industries. He can be reached at gavo7@comcast.net.

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