One of the greatest values of a smart building platform lies in its ability to protect from damage. Sure, controlling lights, shades, and HVAC systems are useful. But considering that typical water damage repair costs are around $2200, and insurance companies pay out over $9 Billion in claims every year for water damage, smart building technology stands to save property owners and insurance companies significant cash. Even worse, water damage costs skyrocket in multi-story apartment buildings, where a single leak can cause damage to multiple homes.
Smart building platforms today consist of sensors and controllers spread throughout a property and one or more hubs that bridge one wireless networking technology (Zigbee, Z-Wave, or something proprietary) with WiFi or ethernet. The hubs generally must be placed in a central location, so that they are within WiFi range as well as within range of their various devices. Managing these hubs is no small task either, as they must be separately powered and configured. Changes to a WiFi network can throw the entire system offline, such as purchasing a new router, changing passwords or network names, or even switching internet access providers. Smart buildings invariably end up with a patchwork of hardware and software to utilize their devices.
There is a way that the situation can improve. Enter "Low Power Wide Area Network" wireless technologies like LoRaWAN, Sigfox, Weightless, and LTE-M. These networks are designed to operate for years with coin cell batteries and communicate with other devices up to 20km away. Network providers like Verizon, Comcast, and Senet are deploying these networks throughout cities, effectively blanketing them with wireless connectivity designed specifically for machine-to-machine communication, like sensors and controllers, at a very low cost. The goal is to allow the end devices to operate independently without the need for a hub to sit locally on site to bridge to WiFi or other internet accessible networks. For example, imagine if your water meter could communicate its data straight back to the utility company without the need for expensive, high-speed cellular radio technology like LTE. These LPWAN technologies are not ideal for realtime monitoring and control applications, but if you have low bandwidth and flexible latency requirements, they are ideal.
While these networks are designed for industry and utilities, there is no reason they can not also be leveraged for smart building devices, eliminating the need to install and configure hubs. You might not want to use an LPWAN to control lights, but if you need to monitor for dangerous or damaging conditions, such as moisture detection, or high humidity and low temperature conditions, they are perfect for the job. These networks will allow property owners to outsource important alert and monitoring tasks to third parties who can immediately send notifications to stakeholders to quickly respond before major damage occurs. Got a leak? Your superintendent and maintenance staff will know. Is the temperature in the basement approaching freezing? You'll be notified so you can contact someone to check things out...and all without having to deal with an additional hub.
At Perceptive Things we are creating a service utilizing such sensors to prevent damaging incidents, like water leaks. Our sensors talk directly to our cloud application through LPWAN networks, which means property owners only need to place the sensors in the right locations, and record where they are and who should be notified. In the event that signal penetration is an issue, we can cheaply deploy an LPWAN microcell to boost coverage for the building for minimal cost. What's more, we are focused on multi-family buildings where typical products that require a WiFi hub *within each household* makes deploying a building-scale monitoring solution downright impossible.