Back to Blog

All About Smart Building Protocols

When it comes to a network of devices, both wireless and wired, items must find a way to connect and communicate with each other in order to exchange information. A protocol is the link between these devices and draws everything together via the Internet of Things (IoT). Protocols allow devices to “talk” to each other in the same language. When devices are connected together via a protocol, it forms the smart building network that can be controlled with cloud-based software.

When it comes to a network of devices, both wireless and wired, items must find a way to connect and communicate with each other in order to exchange information.    

A protocol is the link between these devices and draws everything together via the Internet of Things (IoT). Protocols allow devices to “talk” to each other in the same language. When devices are connected together via a protocol, it forms the smart building network that can be controlled with cloud-based software, such as the Chariot platform by FSG Smart Buildings.

There are two main types of protocols: wired and wireless. Wired protocols are most often seen in older or highly complex buildings. However, the rapid growth of wireless technologies allowed for wireless protocols as well. These protocols have taken the smart buildings world by storm with their easy installations and applications.

To better understand how smart building protocols are used in the smart buildings space, let’s take a more in-depth look at some of the most common applications of wired and wireless protocols. 

TYPES OF WIRED PROTOCOLS

BACnet
Although building automation seems to be a new development, BACnet was developed more than 30 years ago in 1987. In the mid 90s, BACnet made an impact on the HVAC controls industry with a complete product line. 

BACnet protocol defines a number of services that are used to communicate between building devices. The protocol services include Who-Is, Who-Has, I-Have, which are used for device discovery. Read-Property and White-Property are used for data sharing. BACnet defines 60 standard object types. 

The cost of BACnet is low as there is no charge for usage or licensing fees. BACnet is used in many different markets, including industrial, transportation, energy management, building automation, regulatory, and health and safety. 

Modbus

The Modbus protocol dates back to 1979. Modbus has become a de facto standard communications protocol and is a commonly available means of connecting electronic devices. 

One of the most common applications of Modbus is in the industrial environment, as it was developed with industrial applications in mind. It is openly published, easy to deploy and maintain, and moves raw bits of words without placing many restrictions on vendors.

Modbus is similar to BACnet in that it is low in cost with no charge for usage or licensing fees. The Modbus protocol is used in HVAC, lighting, life safety, access controls, transportation and maintenance. 

LonWorks

Introduced in 1990, LonWorks is useful for building automation applications designed on low bandwidth. More than 100 million devices are installed with LonWorks technology, including outdoor lighting, transportation, utility, process control, and home automation. 

The LonWorks protocol supports five communications media: twisted-pair, power line, radio frequency, coaxial cabling ,and fiber optics. 

Of the wired applications, LonWorks has the highest cost with a limited user base as it is restricted by a licensing fee. 

TYPES OF WIRELESS PROTOCOLS

Wi-Fi
With wireless internet available in most commercial buildings, Wi-Fi is one cost-effective and easily accessible ways to connect IoT devices, as deployment is done simply over a Wi-Fi network. 

Some of the drawbacks of Wi-Fi include occasional issues of interference, bandwidth due to a large amount of connected devices, and it the amount of power it requires.

When used in smaller networks of connected devices, Wi-Fi stands out with quick speeds of sending data. For devices that are plugged in, such as most smart thermostats, Wi-Fi makes a great choice. In addition, Wi-FI is a great choice in smart building networks powered by cloud-based software applications, such as the Chariot platform.

For building automation, Wi-Fi is most commonly used for thermostats, lighting, smart devices and broadband internet access.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is known for use in smartphones, wireless speakers and wireless headphones, but it is also widely used in building automation. Developed in 1989, Bluetooth uses radio waves to communicate. Bluetooth devices contain a computer chip with radios to allow everything to talk to each other. Hundreds of products are compatible with Bluetooth automation. 

Already one of the fastest-growing sectors of building automation, Bluetooth’s annual device shipments is estimated to reach 5 billion by 2021 with Bluetooth smart devices making up 27 percent of the total shipments. 

The main drawback of the Bluetooth when compared to other wireless applications is its range restriction. The main uses of Bluetooth are home entertainment and lighting controls.

Zigbee
 
A protocol created specifically for commercial use, Zigbee is perhaps the most widely used protocol for building automation. Zigbee uses a mesh network to create long ranges and fast communications via radio frequency. Conceived in 1998, Zigbee has more than 1,200 products that are compatible with the protocol. 

Known for operating with minimal power usage, Zigbee devices can last up to several years on a single set of batteries. Along with devices being low on power usage, Zigbee is one of the most secure protocols. The level of security is the same 128-bit bank-level encryption major financial systems utilize. 

Zigbee’s typical applications are in industrial control, monitoring, sensor networks, and building automation. 

***********

Protocols are one of the most critical items to consider when developing your smart building strategy. Whether you used wired, wireless, or a mix of protocols, FSG Smart Buildings can help you bridge all your protocols together in one building automation system. As Master Systems Integrators, we are protocol and hardware agnostic so you can keep you existing investments while also designing future-ready solutions. Ready to get started? Contact us today to speak with one of our building automation experts.

More from the Blog

What is the Cloud?

When it comes to the Internet and connected devices, the word “cloud” is a popular buzzword. But what exactly is the cloud and how is the cloud used in smart buildings and building automation? 

Read Story

Smart Metering 101

Learn more on the basics of smart meters and how they can help with energy measurement and verification, tenant sub-metering and can potential equipment performance issues.

Read Story

Top Four Reasons Lighting Controls are a Smart Play

Smart lighting controls are about much more than simply flexing your technical prowess. It is about striking that perfect balance between illumination and efficiency. If you happen to be on the fence over whether integration of smart lighting controls is the right move for your business, consider the four following key benefits of doing so: energy savings, convenience, safety and aesthetics.

Read Story

Any device. Any system. Any facility. Any time. Automating your buildings has never been easier.

Talk to an Expert