Wireless in the Facility

Facility Manager Relationship with IT
The relationship between the facility management department and the IT department is an important one. The IT department is responsible for delivery of services to the organization for the IT systems that exist within the facility. It is the wise facility manager who cultivates a good relationship with the IT director, and vice versa. Together IT and the facility management department can collaborate for the good of the enterprise, yet these two departments are often separated organizationally and sometimes IT and facilities are embroiled in turf wars. If there is a poor relationship between the facility management department
and IT, the entire organization will suffer and both will be hampered in conducting their responsibilities. With good collaboration, IT can focus on the details of system administration and the facility management department can focus on how systems occupy the facility. Wireless projects will inherently be a collaboration of IT and the facility management department, as IT will be responsible for the technical system details, but the equipment will be housed in the facility.
Wired Infrastructure for Wireless Systems
An important thing to understand about wireless network systems, in all but the smallest facilities, is that
in most cases wires are required. There are still network backbone cables that connect the computer room
to the wiring rooms (IDF) and there are wires (horizontal station cables) from the wiring room to access points2 or antenna throughout the facility. The following drawing shows how wiring rooms connect to the computer room. The wiring room on the left shows a traditional wired network. The wiring room on the right shows a wireless network. The wireless system eliminates the wire from the wall to the computer. A
rule of thumb is that a fully wireless network requires 40 percent of the cabling of a fully wired network. Small offices may not require backbone cables and can use a minimal cable plant from the central equipment to the access points.
2 The radio device that transmits between the wired network and wireless devices is called an access point.
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The following drawing shows a typical wire infrastructure:
Thus far, wireless networks have been weak at supporting office telephone systems, so wire has still been required to the telephone instrument, even where the computer connection has been eliminated. The ability of wireless LANs to support telephones is expected to grow in the coming years. The following diagram shows the wiring associated with a wireless data network and wired phones.
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Wireless Interaction with the Facility
It seems likely that most new construction of large facilities in the next three to five years will have fully- wired systems in conjunction with wireless systems of growing sophistication. It will be some time until major organizations do not have wired networks at all. Some organizations will experiment with all wireless, particularly smaller and start-up organizations. Consequently, the impact on workplace configuration and furniture design will be slow and gradual.
Many of the remarks in this section relate to typical office environments. Factories, warehouses and industrial locations have unique requirements and situations. Wireless has been particularly effective in warehouses where wireless bar code readers on fork lift trucks transmit inventory data to a central system. In these situations wireless access points are typically installed on columns and girders, with the wire running along the girders. Wireless can be difficult in heavy industrial sites. Heavy industrial equipment can generate significant interference to today’s wireless systems. Installation in such areas requires extensive testing.
Office Buildings
Conference Rooms
Conference rooms and conference centers are often intensive areas for technology. This is the area where there is most likely to be a wireless LAN in an office today to provide guests with Internet access. There are often complex audio visual systems in conference rooms for presentations and these systems are mostly wired today. While there are wireless AV control systems, video over wireless is very difficult for the foreseeable future
Raised Office Floors
Raised office floors serve several purposes: AC power, voice and data cable, and sometimes air conditioning distribution. Most facilities will still have voice and data cables to workstations in the next three to five years. Even as the voice and data cables phase out over time, raised floors will continue to have value for power and air distribution.
Wiring Rooms
Distributed wiring rooms (IDF or TR) in larger facilities have been growing in size and complexity for the last 20 years. Newer wireless LANs locate additional equipment in these rooms. Emerging voice technology (VOIP) is adding equipment to these rooms for providing power to telephones. Ethernet switches, traditionally located in these rooms are getting larger. Wiring rooms will be getting larger during the coming years and will require additional power and cooling. They will be treated more like miniature computer rooms with UPS systems, security, environmental monitoring and anti-static floors – all of the features of a computer room.
Computer Rooms
Computer rooms hold voice and data servers and as such are little changed by wired vs. wireless distribution systems. Because backbone cables from the computer room to wiring closets are still required in a wireless system, there is little change in the wiring entering the computer room. VOIP phones reduce traditional telephone wiring in the data center, but this is unrelated to wireless.
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Systems Furniture
Systems furniture has evolved significantly with regard to supporting technology. Interactive whiteboards, sensors for lighting controls, sound masking, cable management and distribution and flexible power circuiting are just some of the features that have become available. In terms of wireless networks, there will be some continued evolution of systems furniture, but it may not be as dramatic as might be seen in other aspects of the facility.
Power to the user area will continue to be a key requirement, even for wireless devices. As a result, the wiring raceways that commonly occur in systems furniture panels will remain for some time. More user area equipment will require small power supplies and transformers3 that plug into traditional electrical outlets and then supply low voltage (i.e. “DC electricity”) to a device like a laptop or PDA. Systems furniture could evolve to build these power supplies into the wiring raceway for easier distribution and/or provide better management for the transformers and power supplies.
Telephones may be hard wired in some cases even when computers are wireless, causing continued need for low voltage cable raceways. Bluetooth-type technology will likely minimize the local wiring for keyboards and mice and will clean up the workspace. The grommets in the tops of desks for wires will be less needed in the coming years, but will still be used to manage lamp, calculator and similar type cords. There could be situations where wireless access points and antennae are built into systems furniture in the future. Antennae could be inside the furniture panels and the wiring raceways will
be needed for the antenna cables.
Wireless may encourage greater use of laptops in place of desktop computers, because the primary benefit of wireless is mobility. The use of laptops may reduce the amount of equipment at the user area and systems furniture work surfaces. Storage may be redesigned to specifically accommodate the growing number of devices associated with the mobile user, such as a laptop, a docking station or a PDA.
Moving people around and reconfiguring systems furniture to support changing business requirements (churn) has and will continue to be a challenge. While wireless technology can greatly facilitate this (by reducing the volume of low voltage cabling), there will still be power wiring for the foreseeable future, so the process of reconfiguring systems furniture will not change much.
Fabric covered cubical walls can affect wireless signals, and wireless coverage should always be studied after cubicles and other furniture and finishes are installed. One study indicated that cubicles could negatively affect wireless signals more than just about anything in an office other than a concrete wall. The materials in future systems furniture construction may change to minimize this impact. The facility manager needs to be mindful of the potential impact on existing wireless systems when reconfiguring systems furniture.
Wireless access points are often installed above the ceiling. The electronic part of wireless systems may move into the distributed wiring rooms, but antennae will still need to be distributed throughout the facility. Plenum ceilings complicate installation. Special ceiling panels are already on the market to hold access points. Antennae do not have to be in the ceiling and we may see them built into walls or furniture in the future. Some ceilings tiles have a foil back that can interfere with a radio signal when the antenna is installed above the ceiling.
3 Often called Wall warts or AC adapters, wall transformers or a power pack.
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Workspace Requirements
As wireless systems evolve in the coming years and achieve substantially more functionality than is available today, there could be major impacts on the facility. Wireless technology in the future could impact how people use office space. In particular if telephones within an office become completely wireless, people could become much more mobile within the office. This could change the ways in which people collaborate and meet. It could also change the typical scenario where every worker has a dedicated workspace. This is mitigated by the workers need for personal affects, paper files and a place to call home. The elusive paperless office long discussed as a consequence of computers, though not necessarily wireless, has never materialized. This connection to paper, keeps workers connected to their workspace.
There is a long standing concept called hoteling where workers do not have a dedicated workspace, but are assigned one for the day. This is often used where workers are frequently in the field, and occasionally in the office. Hoteling is often complex to implement, partly because of telephones and computers. Extensive evolution of wireless could make hoteling easier.
How the workplace will evolve as a result of wireless is not clear at this time. We cannot say there will be more hoteling, no dedicated workspace or more collaboration areas. These changes are not only a function of what technology makes possible, but corporate preferences, psychology, people and how they want to work. It is likely that there will be a lot of experimentation in facility design in the coming years as wireless matures. Architects will be following these trends closely as systems evolve. The facility manager is also advised to follow these trends closely and keep an open mind to the possibilities.
Educational facilities are the ideal environments for wireless LANs. Students are highly mobile within
the campus and many have laptops. Moving from class to class, dorms and public spaces, the student can connect throughout the wireless campus. Many schools have old buildings that do not have wired systems where retro-fitting wired data connections is difficult. Wireless is a good solution in such facilities. On the other hand many schools have high bandwidth requirements such as distance learning and AV and video applications. Educational buildings with high-end classrooms require a wired network. Colleges and secondary schools tend to have a greater amount of technology than primary schools.
Medical Facility
Many hospitals and medical facilities have implemented wireless systems which are widely used. Patient monitors, bedside monitors and clinical tools have been in use for some time. Due to the need for high reliability, there are special radio frequencies being set aside for medical wireless networks, however regular wireless systems are also in use. Some systems allow doctors and intake workers to collect and enter data into wireless devices while consulting with the patient. Wireless in the hospital is a specialty area requiring considerable expertise as the systems involve life safety. Interference to the wireless signals can have serious consequences in medical applications.
Public Facilities
Public facilities such as libraries are logical venues for wireless systems where customers may bring in laptops or PDAs and connect to a public network. Marinas, restaurants, coffee shops, cultural centers, museums and airports are also likely locations for such systems.
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Restaurant applications allow the server to take orders on a PDA and have those orders immediately transmitted to the kitchen from the table. Such systems are speeding up service delivery.
Building Management Systems
It is possible for building management systems to have a wireless component. This is particularly useful for remote devices that may be difficult to wire. It is possible to read the output of a system on a wireless device, enabling the facility manager to be aware of the status of the systems even when not on site. In large facilities, service personnel could be dispatched and report service calls via wireless PDAs.
New Facility Construction
When the facility manager becomes involved in new facility construction there is a great deal to consider. It would be wise to meet with management and IT very early in the process to determine what types of systems will be implemented. The requirements for wired and wireless systems, computer rooms, distributed wiring closets and special technology requirements, such as satellite antenna, conference rooms and unique areas, should be defined early in the process.
New construction design does not always provide sufficient space for distributed wiring rooms, computer rooms and communication cable pathways such as risers, cable trays and conduit. It is important for the organization to consider what systems it will implement, what systems will be wired and wireless, and what is required for IT spaces. This should be provided as programming information to the architect as early as possible, so that adequate space is programmed in the schematic design phase. Ideally the architect and wireless system designer would meet to discuss the impact of materials and design. If there are to be wireless systems and/or satellites, there is an opportunity to build these systems into the plan of the building if they are identified up front. When technology requirements are considered late in the design cycle, this often results in inadequate technology facilities.
Regardless of the foreseeable evolution of wireless systems, wired entrance cables or the connection to the telephone company in the street for telecommunications service are likely to be required indefinitely. Wireless can be used as backup to wired connections, but wired entrances are required for bandwidth and life safety considerations. In times of emergency, the telephone system is a lifeline to help. Conventional wisdom is not to rely on wireless communications for emergencies. Consequently, facilities will need entrance conduits which are usually underground, but sometimes aerial, NetPOP rooms in the basement and communication risers for distribution for the foreseeable future.
IT Infrastructure
Sufficient space for distributed wiring rooms, computer rooms, NetPOPs and cable pathways, requires
special consideration. In most cases wireless systems do not reduce the need for these facilities. Other factors such as the growth of computer applications, growth of data storage, disaster recovery, and the convergence of systems on the network that were not traditionally network-based, drive the need for good quality spaces for computer rooms, wiring closets and risers. Organizations and facilities that do not allocate adequate space for these functions will have ongoing problems. It was assumed that the downsizing of equipment would create more and more space in data centers and wiring rooms, however, there are now diminishing returns from this previous trend and the expansion of the number of devices going into these rooms is the bigger factor.