Wireless Technology Will Improve Buildings' Functionality
By Jim Young |
The technology that commercial properties use to control their energy, security, facilities, and management systems is ever-changing. This year, advances in combining wireless local area networks with the use of Internet appliances signals a quantum leap in the property management arena. Further integration of Internet-based systems and new software applications for commercial properties will make smart buildings even smarter. Eventually they also will help reduce costs by streamlining efficiency.
Wireless LANs are adding increased flexibility to properties` information systems at a lower cost. This new breed of networks requires facility control device manufacturers to outfit their traditional devices, such as fire alarms, thermostats, door locks, and video cameras, with wireless connections. These enhanced capabilities eliminate the need for hard-wiring and reduce the installation and implementation costs. Soon, vendors will be releasing prototypes of these wireless systems that are capable of simultaneously managing thousands of connections.
Since these systems still are in the prototype stage, it is difficult to estimate how much they will cost. One vendor of wireless smoke detectors, for example, recently announced that its product could sell for as little as $50 per unit -- not much more than the cost of a conventional model. Although these wireless products are not cost prohibitive, it most likely will be a few years before they become mainstream for commercial properties.
Internet appliances are home or business devices that are controlled wirelessly through a Web connection. Home appliances, such as refrigerators and microwave ovens, were the first products envisioned for this type of technology. However, commercial properties are beginning to grasp this opportunity, and it is likely buildings will begin implementing more Internet-controlled devices in the coming years. Some of the appliances that commercial properties probably will use include thermostats, motion detectors, smoke detectors, and Web cameras. Early prototype designs also are being developed for parking garage entry systems and door access and elevator controls.
Although the concept of Internet appliances has been around for about four years, it has not yet gained wide- spread acceptance in commercial or residential properties. Lack of available bandwidth, early design flaws, and high costs are some of the reasons why this technology has not gained more acceptance.
Developing software for these Internet-based integrated systems is the last piece of the puzzle. Creative software will help launch wireless LANs and Internet appliances into the mainstream business culture.
Most of the applications that have been demonstrated to date have been prototypes. A few commercial properties are experimenting with different systems, and during the next six months it is likely that many of these systems will begin to make their way into the mainstream.
One application that is expected to emerge soon is Internet-based leasing. For example, prospective tenants may be able to sign a lease on the Web that automatically integrates their information into the building`s networked system. Instantaneously, the tenant is added to the building`s electronic directory and digital signage, given access codes for entry and parking systems, granted broadband access in its office space, and connected to the building`s intranet. In addition, the tenant even will be able to transfer funds electronically for its rent payments -- a function that currently is not offered by most integrated information systems.
Another application for this new era of smarter properties will improve building safety. For instance, in the event of a fire on the premises, a wireless chain of events will streamline the response process. At the first sign of smoke, a wireless smoke detector will alert the building`s integrated system; the system then will activate a Web-based camera in the suspect area while concurrently contacting the emergency response officials and paging the appropriate facilities managers. Because the systems are Internet-based, more people have access to the emergency communications, which could result in improved response times. However, since these systems are dependent on electricity, they may be rendered ineffective if backup power is not available during emergencies.
In addition, new security applications will provide heightened control for commercial property owners and managers. In a retail property, for example, Web-based cameras can observe activity in remote areas of the building or after hours. If the system detects unusual movement, it will e-mail a snapshot image to management and the security personnel`s mobile devices. Owners and managers will have real-time, reliable access to what is happening on the property.
In the near future, smart buildings will be taken to a new level of sophistication. The effects of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, financial operating pressures in a slow economy, and a highly competitive marketplace are just a few reasons why increased technology systems are essential for today`s commercial real estate properties.