Building Management Systems: Maintaining the Connection as 3G Technology Providers Say, “Goodbye” and Hang Up

Building managers, system integrators and equipment designers are facing communications challenges ahead as 3G wireless technology is exiting the stage while 4G LTE absorbs any remaining legacy networks and as 5G looms ever closer.   What do you do when your building management system (BMS) and equipment were designed 7-10 years ago for a 3G world that’s now skipped relatively quickly to 4G LTE (long-term evolution) technology?

Cellular connectivity is the critical link that allows today’s modern office buildings, corporate campuses, industrial factories, retail centers, institutional facilities and entertainment complexes to not only operate functionally, but also profitably.  Without cellular connectivity, a wide range of automated BMS local and centralized operations, such as equipment monitoring, diagnostics and predictive maintenance capabilities are potentially unable to perform routine daily tasks.

The fast pace of these communication technology developments along with the migration of automation systems and equipment to cloud computing and ever more intelligent devices with edge computing capabilities has the potential to leave everyone scrambling.  As building managers are notified that their 3G connection is being replaced with 4G LTE, they quickly recognize the need to upgrade their wireless communications systems and equipment and original equipment manager (OEM) designers find themselves in a similar predicament as they continue to add 4G LTE to their newest products and upgrade legacy products for customers.

Building managers typically call in a system integrator engineering firm first to evaluate the building’s infrastructure equipment and requirements to comply with 4G LTE cellular communications.  With the relatively long-life and expense of many building equipment systems, such as power, HVAC, security, lighting and safety, the chances are that the system integrator will recommend upgrading the wireless cellular communication system to 4G technology with the ability to accommodate the existing legacy building system equipment designed for 3G.

Meeting the Challenge

To simplify and speed the process of replacing 3G with 4G LTE technology, MSA’s FieldServer Automaton Gateway line of products is ready with a proven answer to the challenge for building managers, system integrators and OEM design engineers.  The MSA FieldServer ProtoAir 4G LTE Wireless Gateway covers the two major carriers in the USA (AT&T and Verizon), Vodaphone in Europe and many more around the globe.

The 4G LTE MSA FieldServer ProtoAir is an external, high-performance, low-cost building automation and industrial control industrial internet of things (IIoT) gateway developed for OEM design engineers that provides manufacturers connectivity into the cloud and instant multi-protocol deployment of field protocols, enabling new or legacy devices to easily interface with other protocols.

To simplify the process, the MSA FieldServer ProtoAir Wireless Gateway features a virtual private network (VPN) connection allowing OEMs to have remote access into Ethernet-based devices for programming and configuration with software on their local personal computer.   The security of the ProtoAir’s VPN access protects the BMS and its equipment from unwanted intrusions and the threats of malware, etc., as system engineers or OEM installation engineers complete the 4G integration process or later on should they need to load routine updates or new configuration software.

The ProtoAir is also protected from cyber attacks’ by MSA’s FieldSafe, which is a security feature set added to every MSA FieldServer gateway product. The FieldSafe feature set ensures device security in a world where cyberattacks are increasing in frequency and threats are becoming more sophisticated by securing the local hardware and the SMC Cloud application with some of the latest technologies that are currently available on the IIoT marketplace.

With the ability to connect devices to the cloud over wireless and cellular connections and automatically support multiple known controller profiles, the MSA FieldServer ProtoAir Wireless Gateway is the instant answer to the OEM’s customer’s needs and IIoT requirements. In addition to cellular 4G LTE connections, the ProtoAir provides Wi-Fi local connectivity and acts as an external Wi-Fi access point.  OEM design engineers will find the ProtoAir Gateway helps them decrease new equipment time-to-market while minimizing execution risk and lowering overall development costs.

Offering multi-protocol translation, the ProtoAir also provides OEMs with the ability to perform standard protocol translation between devices over a wireless network when wired networks are not available or difficult to access using Wi-Fi and cellular. This will enable access between devices or networks of devices to management systems or to the cloud for remote device management, control, and diagnostics.

A Proven Solution

OEM equipment design engineers can rest assured that the ProtoAir Wireless Gateway was designed with their needs in mind when it comes to providing wireless communications access to the cloud for building management and factory automation systems.  It supports both BACnet and Modbus for compatibility with the full range of today’s commercial building equipment, as well as industrial plant sensors, instruments and control systems.

The BACnet and Modbus data communications protocols have been de facto industry standards for decades because of their ease of implementation and high reliability. When they are combined with the ProtoAir Wireless Gateway, OEM designers can offer their customers the best of both worlds with an MSA Cloud-ready solution that’s already at work and proving itself every day.

Conclusions

MSA’s FieldServer ProtoAir Wireless Gateway and other network products support facility automation systems around the globe and are used by OEMs and system integrators to enable local and remote monitoring and control. With more than 300,000 products, supporting over 140 protocols, installed in commercial and industrial facilities, MSA provides the industry’s leading multi-protocol gateway to the SMC Cloud or any other third-party cloud.

Building managers, system integrators and OEMs alike will find the ProtoAir Wireless Gateway offers them efficient, reliable cellular access via 4G LTE technology.  From design to installation to upgrades, there’s a ProtoAir Gateway solution that delivers highly efficient cellular access locally or to the cloud while minimizing risk, reducing deployment time and offering superior value.

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Richard Theron
Richard Theron is the product Line manager for Fieldserver and cloud at Sierra Monitor, where he works intimately with companies in the building automation, industrial automation, energy management and life safety markets to help them cloud-enable their equipment.

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