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Smart Technology Network Connections and Wiring Design – Part 2

by | Sep 27, 2020 | Blogs

In this blog I explain the different types of connections that can be used in smart technology systems. I highlight some strengths and weaknesses for each type. Naturally, we guide our clients at MODO through all this so they don’t need to understand all the technology unless they want to!

In the first part of this blog about building smart technology we looked at the vast array of apps now free with all our home technology and how each app is often displaying a lot of data. We thought we might resolve the multiple apps by using a central control smart technology system to collate all the data we need. This would be a single efficient control app for smart phones, keypads etc.

The need for a central smart technology control system is obvious if you have any size of building where you need to control more than one device. This could just be a small domestic heating system boiler and some lighting control or it might be a fully loaded building with security access systems, CCTV, irrigation, intelligent ventilation systems, swimming pool heating and heat recovery, audio and video distribution and more besides.

So how do we get all these devices talking to each other? Well, there are a number of ways to physically connect devices. The three main ones are:

IP network connection of devices, this is the system that most of us use every day to connect our smart phones, TVs, gaming systems and laptops in our homes and businesses. These days a large majority of IP connected devices connect easily by Wi-Fi straight out the box and some have a cable connection called a network port or Ethernet port.

The biggest strength of IP connected devices is that all IP devices can connect to any IP network and are by design able to talk to each other. The enormous selection of IP connected devices means you can connect many different types of devices made anywhere in the world to the same system. They will then talk to each other, marvellous! However be careful, because all these devices can talk at the same time this causes a huge amount of data to flow between them. This can stop the devices from working properly.

As an analogy, it’s a bit like a child trying to ask the teacher a question in a very noisy classroom at best the teacher’s response will be delayed and at worst the teacher will not hear the child at all! So IP networks are fantastic ways to connect our smart technology but you will need to think about this noisy classroom effect by designing your IP network connections for a planned data strategy. An experienced network engineer or AV installer will design your strategy, ensuring important devices are given priority over the less important devices and that a healthy IP network structure is possible.

We mustn’t be fooled into thinking that we can connect lots of Wi-Fi devices to a network by the simplicity of connecting your smart phone to a network. This belies the complexity of adding multiple devices and the scale of the problem if we add devices in an unplanned way.

BUS network connections are similar to IP network connections in that they can be wired or wireless, but they use a connection process that carries much smaller amounts of data than IP networks. So why would we use BUS connections?

BUS connections tend to be mostly wired and use a 2 to 4 wire connection (IP networks use an 8 wire connection) between devices. BUS connected devices are linked together like a daisy chain making each link cable additional to the total network cable length. This is instead of each device having to connect back to a connection hub like IP networks do. Using a daisy chain connection method means that cable connection lengths can become much longer than IP networks. This works in concert with the simpler less demanding electronics required to drive data on a BUS network. The result is that BUS networks can run for very long distances between devices which suits building services equipment being linked for smart technology control. They are by design more reliable and stable than an IP network tends to be. So BUS networks are excellent for connecting devices that need to work with low failure like air quality control systems, heating systems, lighting control and air conditioning.

Again you’ll need to think very carefully about designing your BUS network and this should definitely be designed by an expert to ensure the BUS strategy and its cabling is correct.

Typically you might require an IP network for your ‘Internet of Things’ and include a BUS network for your critical building service devices. Having two different networks is often desirable in order that you can divide your devices into two groups. If one network stops, the other is not affected. In this arrangement it’s likely that you will need to link across the two networks to allow smart phone App control and monitoring of say lighting, heating and air quality control as an example. In this instance you will need to bridge the two networks together to allow only the desired data to pass between them. The  bridge should be designed in at the pre-build stage.

Wireless radio connections are in simple terms, information sent and received through air bourn waves that we call radio waves. Radio wave technology is used to connect nearly all non wire connected devices. Walkie talkies are one of the most obvious and simple forms of radio wave connected devices. However WiFi uses radio waves in the same way too, along with Bluetooth, police radio, satellite/terrestrial TV broadcast, aircraft and ship navigation. So in our buildings environment we use WiFi connected devices for smart phone connection, wireless heating controls, perhaps some limited wireless CCTV. Bluetooth connection for short distances like headphones or music players and there are longer range radio connections like Zwave, Zigbee and RF connections. These longer range connections are used predominately for control of automation in smart technology buildings like heating, lighting, garage door and gate openers, roof venting system, AC control and many more. So these wireless devices are a fantastic advance from the control systems of wired only connections. However wireless is not the total connection panacea for everything despite what some brands would have us believe. Here’s why. We all still suffer the radio going quiet in the car at the crucial part of the news or a song as you drive into a tunnel or past something emitting interference. This same quiet effect can happen with any of the radio wave connection types, like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, because they transmit data through air. It is true to say that wireless has become considerably more reliable over the years to mitigate data loss due to the enhanced design of the technology. However the principle of data transmission through air is still not 100% reliable, but a well installed cable will always be reliable and faster than Wi-Fi. So I would always advise you to use a wire connection first and only use Wi-Fi connections if a wire is not possible.

So in summary, to get the optimum connections of devices you should usually consider:

  1. IP networks for your ‘Internet of Things’
  2. BUS networks for devices that need to be reliable
  3. Wireless connections where no other wired connection is possible

This is all fairly complex to get everything working at the touch of a button and hence does require a lot of ‘under the bonnet’ technology and expertise. This is why you should always seek smart technology based professional design of all your networks and controls before you start to build. This will ensure that you design your network in the most efficient way, with reliable systems giving optimal results and value for money.

We at MODO Solutions are always happy to have a preliminary conversation to discuss your system, requirements or issues you are having.

Ian Rae