How much smart technology does one building need?

Smart technology can significantly enhance a space for living or working. But how much do you really need to incorporate into your project?

It largely depends on your end users’ expectations and what you’re prepared to spend. Building-wide systems talk to each other and respond to the needs of both the property and occupants. So, integration of these systems will take time and effort to design, install and maintain.

Infrastructure and internet connectivity

A building’s infrastructure can include hardwired data, AV cabling, WiFi networks and radio frequency systems, all brought back to a central point.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway!) that there’s no point investing in smart apps, devices or systems if your WiFi is going to keep dropping out.

Non-wired options to boost your wireless network (as an alternative to running network cables through a building) include:

  • WiFi extenders – In small properties these may help devices far away from the router connect to the internet.
  • Mesh router systems – Suitable for larger areas or buildings, these work using multiple ‘wireless mesh nodes’ that talk to each other to extend the router’s signal reach; mesh routers offer remote management via their mobile apps.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that wireless networks can suffer from latency – a delay in processing data – as well as dead spots. Whenever data has to jump between WiFi points, it will have a slower transfer speed compared to a hardwired system.

Hardwiring certain devices, such as desktop PCs, servers, smart TVs or gaming consoles, will offer faster speeds (up to 10 Gb/s using a Cat 6 cable) as well as lower latency and reliable connectivity.

As standard, we suggest a Cat 5e/6/7 [as required by the project] network, strategically positioned around the building as a minimum. This ensures you can add in WiFi points to counteract dead spots. For commercial spaces, we would typically design the cabled network using a patch panel (this enables you to point the cable to the right device), which goes into a switch (this looks at the digital signal and pushes it around the network) or out to a router to your internet provider. Where a large amount of data or distance is involved, we’d also consider fibre networks.

When we design a building, we look at what you want to achieve with your network and determine what ICT (information and communications technology) services will be required.

User expectations

It’s important to identify what users will need, both now and in the future.

When it comes to new build residential properties, what will tenants expect? Building regulations dictate that we include the infrastructure for high-speed data networks. After that, the extent of smart technology depends on the target market and developer’s build budget.

As a minimum, we’d recommend:

  • Broadband connection
  • Data and WiFi
  • TV points
  • Home security (door entry/alarm systems)
  • Smart metering

Beyond that, consider what else the user might want to interact with or control. This could be anything from iPads and AV systems to coffee makers!

  • Virtual assistant / smart speaker
  • TV streaming services (this is the future)
  • Home server
  • Online gaming
  • Smart controls for lighting, blinds, etc.
  • Multi-room audio
  • Smart thermostat / HVAC controls
  • CCTV
  • Smart gadgets and appliances (e.g. remotes, fridges)

Offices, hotels and leisure buildings are using smart technology on a day-to-day basis, for the benefit of both staff and tenants. For example, boardrooms and meeting spaces with their own booking system, and AV systems that allow multiplatform presentations and remote working.

We have previously worked with Zennio to create bespoke control panels. They have now further advanced their KNX devices for the hotel market, where systems know if a room is actively occupied. The smart technology highlights to the guest what’s on at the hotel or in the local area. It also informs staff about the room’s usage pattern for room cleaning, to help reduce guest disturbance.

As technology is constantly evolving, our design process includes future proofing for next-generation products.

Smart technology: platforms, systems and products

Multimillion pound projects are always fun for us to work on, when it comes to designing in smart technology! The scope will be client-dependent, but is usually based around a few of the big name AV providers: Lutron, Crestron, Control4, Rako, AMX, ELAN, and Kaleidescape. We have worked with a number of AV installers and specifiers over the years to produce some stunning results:

Tillman Domotics  |  Craigweil House, Bognor Regis, West Sussex

Ideaworks  |  Lennox Garden Mews, Knightsbridge, London  &  1 Hyde Park Gardens, London

Mayflower | York House, Kensington, London

For projects on a smaller budget, there are lots of inexpensive solutions on the market. Here are a couple of our favourites:


We’ve been using Nest thermostats for years. The interface is simple and gives home and business users ultimate control over their environment. If internet connectivity fails, it will keep to its last schedule and allow the user to override that from the unit. Tip: if occupancy is irregular, then monitor the energy patterns it creates to ensure it’s not switching systems on when you’re not there!

Nest supply heating control, security and alarm products.

Philips Hue

This smart wireless lighting from Philips has been around for a while. I have a few of these at home myself. The Hue Bridge can connect and control up to 50 lights and accessories. Just plug it in and set times, lighting moods, etc. via the app.

The energy-efficient LED bulbs cost a bit more than a standard lamp, but this system is a great choice for rooms in older properties without 2-way switching. Especially on dark winter mornings!

We can also recommend:

Our high-end clients have smart technology systems that are programmed to react in certain ways, but if you can’t afford that, try IFTTT. It’s a free way to get a gadget to do something specific or to talk to another app or gadget. You’ll need to be tech savvy to wade through the thousands of pre-made applets, but it’s a great alternative if you can work out how to make it happen.

So, what’s next?

Digital assistants are here to stay, and it wouldn’t surprise us if we see them becoming more commonplace in our work environments. Not just taking notes, but booking meetings, arranging and programming workloads and taking care of more menial tasks (like formatting a report, for example). After that, who knows… let your imagination run wild!

Also, Sony has developed a new IoT (internet of things) chipset that promises a 100km range, using a low powered wireless system. This will enable all kinds of tracking and reporting of data. Let’s see where this goes, but no doubt there will be a huge number of uses for the chipset.

As everything becomes digital, the infrastructure you put in will become the backbone of your technology. If you have a project that could benefit from our expertise in smart technology design, please get in touch! Call 01273 915010 or email us.

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