It’s not about PowerOverEthernet?

24 November 2023

My recent post on whether Power Over Ethernet (P0E) is all it is cracked up to be sparked what at times felt like a pantomime conversation (oh, no is it isn’t vs oh, yes it is). That included questioning my motivation for asking it along with lengthy character assassination and even whether my asking the question in the first place might all be a bit moot i.e., if the 5G Mesh product from Wirepas due for release next year comes to pass. That’s one to keep an eye on along with other 5G announcements next year, which gives me time to try and understand what problem 5G Mesh helps solve to add to a growing list of other homework from Brahm Lategan at the MiX consultancy e.g., Unified Name Space, N3uron industrial IoT system architectures, etc (hopefully more on these soon).

That train of thought above lying behind what this post is really about:

  • Clarify to others what I do, how and why
  • Reflect on what I am doing, how and why to myself, as well as how that might be improved
  • Share a perspective from expert in the smart building ecosystem

Clarifying to others what I do, how and why

The flak I got about my PoE post seems to have totally missed the point about what I write about, as well as why and way that I write them (whoosh). Hence this one is in part an explanation because it really makes no difference to me about whether PoE is or is not the future of smart building enablement. Or Unified Name Space for matter. I am pretty in the moment or ADHD-like about what I post about with that being usually prompted by a passing comment at an event, on LinkedIn and/or as part of conversations I have via my ongoing outreach.

This post being an example of that. What seems to be common about those prompts is how they remind me of how much I don’t know about smart buildings and that growing exponentially the more I do find out. It’s the plugging of that knowledge gap that drives my curiosity along with not having any real position by looking at this from outside in and hence having no reason to believe in any sacred cows and my questioning what might lie behind them (follow the money). Point being that it’s my edification ‘process’ that’s the basis for what I write about. Hopefully, the ‘how’ of that is explained more below.

Short version is that due to the limited resources at my disposal, I need to frame what I write about provocatively to get attention. It’s that simple and particularly on LinkedIn where post previews in someone’s feed have a very limited character count. And how that helps with my edification process is exemplified by the feedback below from Dave Lister, Managing Director at specialist systems Integrator at IAconnects Technology.

He seems to have totally got the point of what my post was about and for i.e., it not really being about PoE. Maybe that’s because we had met previously at Smart Buildings Show where he was kind enough to take the time to explain who IAconnects are, what they do and why i.e., the smart enablement problems they help solve. Either way, the reason for highlighting his response is how he used the PoE theme of my post to shine a light on some of the issues that he and others are facing and trying to address in their day jobs, including that of early engagement, proper specification and coordination.

Reflection on what I am doing, how and why to myself, as well as how that might be improved

Apologies for my reflective practice stream of consciousness, but I have included Dave’s feedback below pretty much verbatim as I am hoping this will be a catalyst for others to share something similar. And by doing so, perhaps refine the purpose of this blog and how I go about facilitation conversations between the ever-increasing number of stakeholders and the purpose of it i.e., to help improve common understanding among them. This is also another experiment to see if and how I can help with that, among others I have attempting this year. And the thing with experiments is that they don’t always work. Hopefully, this will be one of those that does and if nothing else it illustrates how what I post about on here unfolds with one thing leading to another as part of the edification process mentioned above.

Sharing a perspective from expert in the smart building ecosystem
In this case, Dave’s feedback also allows me to share a perspective that could be seen as representative of a particular stakeholder group involved with smart enablement. Hopefully, more to follow:

Where are we at with POE? A sweeping statement I know but in truth we’re lacking an opinion either way! We use POE devices week in week out but it would be fair to say that’s only because the application dictates we need more juice for the device than energy harvesting or batteries can deliver. What we have noticed of late however is the ease of getting a POE supply as opposed to the more traditional Fused Spur to run a PSU requirement. Clearly the IT bods run cheaper than Electricians in this day and age!

Where I do have an opinion that’s most definitely related is around the shared usage of devices on the network, in that using the network (wired and wireless) as the conduit for cross discipline device sharing should now be a thing. Network speeds, resilience and QOS is such that a PIR should absolutely be used by the Lighting Control System but equally the same device could be used as a data feed for HVAC optimisation and also rudimentary occupancy analysis as a minimum. If that PIR is then also Wireless and Energy harvesting with Backhaul through an AP then all of a sudden there’s now a tangible benefit in not just installation cost but also embodied carbon and the added benefit from simple relocations for future moves.

We did conduct a small exercise recently looking at a New Build School delivered by one of the UK’s largest Construction and M&E companies. 791 devices were identified across BMS and LCS that were hard wired. These included PIR’s, Switches, CO2 Sensors, Temp Sensors, Humidity Sensors etc. Each discipline had its own requirement, so as always a number of devices are duplicated and appear twice in some locations (madness I hear you cry). We took an arbitrary, and I think not unreasonable, allowance for cabling in each case of 6m and we accounted for nearly 5km of Copper! Add to that the containment both local to the device and centrally for distribution and add to that the installation plus the cavities for containment and you’re racking up some serious Carbon Debt…

Now our point in this scenario was that if you’d used the EnOcean model for instance, with all the devices connected to the AP’s (which are there anyway because nobody ever Value Engineers the Network out), and a competent strategy was in place for cross discipline data sharing, then all of a sudden there’s a new way of delivery that has Capex, Opex and sustainability benefits in spades! 

Apply this concept then to Cat A fit out, and all of a sudden what shape or size the customer wants to occupy later becomes almost irrelevant as the devices needed to run the space are all wireless. Best case they may be energy harvesting, worst case they need batteries and are status managed throughout their lifecycle by a grown up platform.

I’ve never taken the time to analyse the footprint of 3 lithium AAA’s over 5 years as opposed to the cabling, containment and power for the same device, but it throws up an interesting question around what we should perhaps be using. Equally it may prove me completely wrong but I’m happy to at least ask the questions! I’m aware that the systems described are obviously best-case scenarios and it’d be full of challenges, but none I believe are insurmountable.

This loops me back to the topic in hand, POE. It absolutely should be part of the strategies but not the default! The grown-up approach to both new build and retrofit is a deeper analysis of the requirement and a specification then builds with a more granular approach. We need to stop the sweeping statements driven by laziness in specification! Additionally, let’s not forget the delivery, in new build world mains power (and of course batteries) are typically in place a long way ahead of the active network architecture and the associated VLAN’s, plus credentials needed to actually make devices function!

To me nothing I’m touching on above is even close to cutting edge, more an exercise in rationalisation coupled with common sense adoption and a more measured approach to delivering value! The kicker is we (the company) simply can’t drive these things alone. I believe we have the credentials to justify the “specialist” tag, but equally we’re not even claiming to be or even want to be given the much abused MSI tag…. Ergo when it comes to cross discipline design for controls, especially when Networks are a dependency, then we simply cannot, and more importantly should not blaze a trail alone…

What Next?
Huge thanks to Dave for sharing and it would be great to figure out a way so that I can help more with the last bit. Again, hopefully more on this soon.

  1. Been in your position not so long ago Dave and I’m in general agree with what you say. PoE plays a well defined and proven role in underpinning any smart building. It is what it is and I don’t really understand why it’s even being discussed, although it’s unsurprising and perfectly understandable that network equipment vendors wish to keep it on the buyers’ agenda.
    It’s no different from when Justin and I have heated debate about the relative merits of our home plumbing.

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