Interoperability in IoT Systems for Smart Building and Digital Energy.

12 Luglio 2022

The majority of Smart Home solutions in Italy relate to security and energy management. The possible uses are many and varied, but the majority of the more than 290 connected home solutions surveyed in Italy and abroad (31 percent) are dedicated to security (surveillance cameras, locks, connected video intercoms and motion sensors), as reported by data from the Internet of Things Observatory of the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano.

Another major application field is energy management, such as solutions for remote control of household appliances (10 percent) and management of heating and cooling systems (8 percent) and consumption monitoring of electrical devices (10 percent). It is precisely thanks to the new second-generation electricity meters (” with a communication protocol called “chain2”) that service providers will be able to acquire an increasingly important role within the Smart Home, and they will also have the arduous task of managing the energy consumption data collected within the home in real time in compliance with regulations.

Interoperability between platforms and devices is what will make all the difference in a Smart Building and Smart Home Digital Energy system, and that could foster the growth of IoT. But what is meant by interoperability and what is the difference between open and closed communication protocols?

Closed and open communication systems and protocols

For many years, “home automation” systems have been characterized by closed technologies, linked to closed communication protocols (also called “proprietary” since they are developed by a specific manufacturer) characterized by a certain limitation of use: this approach allows devices to communicate only with devices of the same brand and not to interact with devices of other manufacturers. This means that the customer is forced to buy a specific brand and has no possibility to customize his or her own “home automation” system. The lack of communication between different devices and platforms is a real obstacle for IoT.

When devices and systems of different brands communicate with the same standard, i.e., with the same communication protocol, a very high level of customization of the system is possible where the designer can choose components from different brands without communication problems, without having to redo parts of systems or buy specific gateways. Certainly open communication protocols are more versatile and a more ethical choice.

Wired and Wireless Communication Protocols

The mode still most widely used to date for transmitting data packets is the wired (wired) mode in which communication takes place over a cable. This system is very reliable and stable, but more expensive. An example of this technology is the Ethernet network, built from a series of cables with a twisted pair at the end within a local area network (LAN).

The cableless (wireless) mode, however, is seeing ever-growing uses and allows for better intervention on pre-built systems whose modification would require more time and cost (so-called “retrofit”). Some examples of the most widely used wireless communication protocols are WiFi (which, while certainly not born for building automation, is progressively gaining specific market share), ZIgBee, Z Wave, Bluetooth low energy, and EnOcean, which are born wireless and do not work wired (in the Outdoor/WAN domain, relevant growth is expected for LoraWan and NBIoT).

The role of gateways in IoT systems

Gateways act as real translators that not only have to provide translation between the different languages (communication protocols) of the sub-networks, but also have to reconcile the differences between the communication paradigms on which the two systems are based. The implementation of this type of gateway, cannot do without a thorough knowledge of systems to be connected. It should be noted, however, that the amount of languages used in a system therefore makes the creation of home automation/building automation systems more complex and expensive, especially when using multi-brand devices.

For this reason, the concept of interoperability is fundamental in the choice of devices, since it allows the designer, especially when called upon to work on existing systems, to operate more easily on the system to improve it. Managing different systems and devices beyond technological differences is the real challenge: using a gateway that is an intermediary between two or more systems turns out to be the most effective and scalable solution.

In this sense, the new trend, which optimizes both the interoperability typical of gateways in general, and flexibility (which can be defined as the “sum” between modularity i.e. the possibility to introduce new functions on top of previous ones , and “Scalability” , namely the possibility to add more measurement/implementation points of the same nature as existing ones), is to use “edge computers” as gateways. In such a case the advantages of gateways are added to the possibility, thanks to the presence of the open operating system (typically embedded Linux), to remotely upgrade new functions, new protocols and to allow third parties (professionals, typically system integrators, in the “do-it-yourself” sphere, directly the user himself) to perform evolutionary maintenance of the systems.

Interesting additional information is provided in the following article written by Elisabetta Bracci.

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