The commercial building technology industry is expanding at an unprecedented rate. This rapid evolution, in turn, means securing the right infrastructure to support physical technology has never been more important. It’s not difficult to see a massive cabling expansion in the near future. Statista predicts connected devices will nearly double from 15 billion today to 29 billion by 2030.
Adding to the sheer increase in volume is the expectation of an increasing need for the speed and bandwidth these devices require. The volume, speed, and bandwidth combination is impossible to manage without a strong IT infrastructure that can be at least somewhat prepared for the unprecedented cabling expansion we are about to see.
What Do We Mean by A Massive Cabling Expansion?
Our society is about to witness a massive influx of new IoT (Internet of Things) technologies, moving further into the mainstream. These include sensors embedded in LED lighting systems that turn off the power when spaces are unoccupied. Smart buildings are no longer the subject of future speculation but are already bringing tangible business benefits today. That’s the reason behind this doubling of connected devices.
As building technology changes at an unprecedented rate, information technology and operational technology are converging. The merging of these systems will give facilities teams greater control over operational costs and energy consumption. Improved sustainability will protect both the environment and enhance revenue. SecurityInfoWatch predicts that the number of commercial buildings will double by 2060, creating a host of new spaces optimized for advanced technical device integration.
These developments necessitate a new infrastructure layer that can support seamless connectivity, building automation, and control. This infrastructure is what technology expert Matt Powers defines as the Fourth Utility:
In reality, [the Fourth Utility] is a concept; an approach to digital transformation that will help to meet essential business challenges and goals. It highlights the reality that today, intelligence and information collected from connected devices is now as important as gas, water, and electricity.
That infrastructure layer, of course, requires more than just the devices themselves. It also requires thinking of new ways to deliver power and data to the devices within the building. It requires creating a single and central platform that finally brings the vision of the ‘smart building’ into reality. That means cabling to and from every device, including wireless access points that support Wi-Fi, and ways of ensuring that each of these devices can access the highest level of bandwidth possible.
What Types of Devices Will Drive the Cabling Expansion?
The biggest challenge standing in the way of this building technology revolution is managing the volume. A 2019 study found that the average connected device will require about 40 to 50 meters (about 150 feet) of structured cable per device, not counting wireless, bundled devices that use one connection point for several endpoints.
But some devices will require especially significant attention because of the bandwidth they consume. Examples include:
- Video streaming, especially when connected directly to multi-camera setups, requires both live streaming and high quality recording.
- 8K virtual reality headsets are increasingly integrated into training simulations for dangerous and high-pressure workplace environments.
- Ongoing cloud backups of core data increasing exponentially in size as the number of connected devices collecting that data increases.
According to some estimates, the required bandwidth for businesses to operate smoothly increases by about 50% every year. Isolating the highest-bandwidth devices you will need, and ensuring enough attention and speed is set aside for them, can go a long way toward planning a more efficient cabling infrastructure.
What Types of Cables Will Help Businesses Prepare?
Of course, simply knowing that you will need an expanded data and cabling infrastructure is only the beginning. Businesses will also need to make sure that they have the right cabling structure in place to prepare for the upcoming expansion.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, a few different types of cables will need to be part of your consideration set:
- Fiber optic cables, which transmit signals using light. Signal quality can remain steady for up to 60 miles, making it ideal for long distances.
- Ethernet cable, which uses copper to transmit a low-current signal. While the distance and bandwidth requirements are lower, Ethernet strongly supports LANs (Local Area Networks). This works well for setups with close distances to end devices thanks to a lower cost and greater capacity to provide power in addition to data.
- Class 4 Power cables are a new hybrid solution that combines copper and fiber to carry up to 450v along with high bandwidth data over long distances.
The emergence of class 4 options has also made integration with existing systems more complex. As your cabling infrastructure expands, you must determine how your existing ethernet and fiber cables fit in with the more powerful alternatives.
How Will Facilities Prepare for Technology Advances
Naturally, the upcoming cabling expansion has made not only understanding your cable needs more important. It also makes the cabling distribution systems that your infrastructure will feed through just as important, if not more.
Thankfully, the number of options is expanding. Consider a low-profile raised flooring system like the Gridd® Adaptive Cabling Distribution®, for example, which creates a hidden pathway beneath the floor through which all cabling can run. This added flexibility increases the opportunity to change and adjust your technology infrastructure as needed.
The Gridd system’s modularity allows for easier cabling expansion and greater adaptivity to new needs and requirements for connected devices. The two height options (1.6 inches and 2.75 inches) allow building and IT managers to reconfigure power and data access while maximizing the headspace of the workspaces.
With experts recommending no more than 24 cables per bundle, this flexibility will only rise in importance in the new future. So too, will the need to consider sustainability when adapting your existing buildings, which can be difficult to balance while rethinking the entire cabling and technological infrastructure. A modular and flexible distribution system can help ensure that even as technology advances and the number of connected devices rises, your building will be well-prepared for the coming cabling expansion.