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How is the smart building market developing in the Middle East? R&M, MEA & India technical director Eugene Botes outlines the recent changes in the region's sector.

R&M Electrical Group, INTERVIEWS, MEP

How is the smart building market developing in the Middle East? R&M, MEA & India technical director Eugene Botes outlines the recent changes in the region's sector.

What products and services does R&M offer?

R&M provides copper, fibre and plastics fibre optic cables, connectors and an assortment of housings and outlets that can be used in most residential and commercial buildings for voice, data, video (VDV) and building automation systems (BAS) to create intelligent or smart buildings.

In commercial buildings we are seeing more systems being integrated on a common cable platform, but true system convergence is some time away.

In which Middle East countries does the firm operate?

R&M has offices in Dubai, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Our installation partners are based in these countries, but we also have partners in several other Gulf countries including Lebanon and Libya.

Where is the biggest demand coming from for intelligent building products?

Due to the high construction levels in the UAE, we see most of the demand in this area.

In residential developments, the move is towards providing VDV outlets in every room. In commercial buildings we are seeing more systems being integrated with a common cable platform, but I believe that true convergence of all systems is still some time away.

What exactly is an intelligent or smart building?

There are many different definitions, but the best two are:

• intelligent buildings are those  that are controlled by a building automation system (BAS);

• smart buildings are plugged into the Internet so that every aspect of the facilities management is online, eliminating the need for on-site maintenance personnel.

In any building there are numerous electrical systems such as hvac, lighting, audio/visual, video distribution, access control, voice and data networks, power management and life safety systems.

To a large extent, most of these are proprietary networks that use their own cables, cable trays, management consoles, databases and communications protocols. If any or all of these systems provide some form of reporting or alarming to a central location we tend to think of them, and therefore the building, as intelligent.

Smart buildings are a bolder leap forward. All of the above systems can operate on a single cable platform, for example Category 5e or 6. One reason is that IP-based communications over Ethernet is replacing proprietary BAS interfaces and protocols.

Power-over-Ethernet standards will also allow the use of communications cabling to power a remote device such as a wireless access point or smart controller, eliminating the need for more expensive electrical cables.

Wireless access points, Wi-Fi and new standards such as Zigbee will assist in reaching places and devices that are too difficult or expensive to reach with traditional cables.

How is the smart building market developing in the region?

It's developing, but at a slow rate.

How can these building systems be used to help meet the new sustainability standards?

Ultimately, whichever system is used or if the building is deemed smart or intelligent, the primary focus is reducing operational and maintenance costs, plus reducing demands on the environment and energy sources.

Can these systems help gain points on green ratings systems?

They definitely can; for example, using water and electricity more efficiently and providing more environmentally friendly surroundings will link to some of the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system credits.

What do the different systems used to create intelligent, smart and green buildings have in common?

All the systems for such buildings use power on one common cable and one common infrastructure.

If we could integrate all the systems into one common communications platform or protocol, the same could apply ie one cabling contractor, plus one common cabling system, cabling pathway, equipment room, management tool and a familiar skills base.

What are the benefits of using integrated and converged systems?

With an integrated system a common cable can be used that follows the same pathways and termination spaces in the equipment rooms for all the different systems.

With converged systems everything that an integrated system offers is used, plus IP-based traffic and common network electronics are included.

Less time is needed to commission systems; there is a reduction in devices; energy consumption management is greatly improved; staff productivity and change management procedures are easier to track and manage.

Can systems be retro-fitted?

The obvious main benefit of such systems would be for new construction, as better decisions can be made during the design phase about the integration of cables, pathways and equipment rooms.

For retro-fit projects I foresee a greater use of wireless systems, more use of Power-over-Ethernet devices due to a lack of electrical outlets, the cost and problems with migrating from older proprietary protocols to open protocols and the issue of abandoned cables.

How are overall costs and installation times affected by constructing a smart building?

Each building is unique, therefore blanket cost saving or increase statements are not possible.

Research indicates that there should be capital savings on a new build project due to the integration of so many common items, but the real benefits come with operational expenses, where savings could hit double digits over a building's life cycle.

Finally, from the definition that smart buildings are plugged into the internet, facilities maintenance no longer needs to mean on site personnel. Multiple smart buildings can be managed remotely from one central location, thereby allowing maintenance companies to be pro-active rather than reactive.

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