The smart building market is expected to grow from about $7.4 billion in 2017 to nearly $32 billion in 2022, according to a recent report by Garner Insights. That’s more than a quadruple increase in just 5 years!

While the term “smart building” can mean many things to many people, the essence of a smart building is really about connections. These connections enable building systems to collect data about its occupants and environment, respond automatically to conditions and activities, and communicate with other systems both inside and outside the building.  The effectiveness and overall success of a smart building hinges on its ability to collect, share and analyze data.



Data isn’t what it used to be

In years past, before the alphabet soup of IoT; before smart cities and the hyperconnected world, data communication cables had one simple purpose: to transmit data. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s data applications ran over Category 5, 5e, then 6 cable. Voice traffic was transmitted over plain old telephone systems (POTS) that used Category 3 cabling.

Fast forward a couple decades, and things in the data transmission world have changed drastically. Even the data itself, which used to be simple text files, now includes large, graphically intense documents, data packets in the form of VoIP, and streaming video. With the fast growth of smart building applications, data travelling over Ethernet cabling now also includes information collected by building device sensors – ambient light levels, motion, occupancy, temperature, humidity and more.

There are more devices in more buildings connecting more data than ever before. And you can expect these amounts to skyrocket. Estimates say that by 2022, there will be 28.5 billion connected devices in the world.

On top of this additional data being transmitted, we’ve also added power to the mix. Many smart building devices employ Power over Ethernet (PoE) to provide electrical power to the device using the same structured cabling that enables data connections, eliminating the need for separate AC outlets.  Devices that aren’t yet PoE-enabled likely will be in the future. In 2018, IEEE ratified the 802.3bt standard, which allows up to 90W of power to be transmitted over Ethernet cabling. These higher levels of PoE enable a new class of building devices – lighting, wireless access points, PTZ cameras and more – to be powered via the IP network.


Ahead of our time

For decades, our industry has evaluated a cable’s performance by counting decibels (dB). We make our performance claims in terms of how many “dB above standard” a cable performs, or how many “dB of headroom” it has. These are important and valid measurements, as they provide a benchmark against which cable and system designs can be measured to establish whether a product meets the requirements to be recognized as category compliant.

But what these measurements don’t take into consideration are the real-world challenges now taxing cabling systems, as applications have evolved from simple voice and data, to converged IP applications and PoE. The engineers at the TEK Center at Berk-Tek saw this challenge years ago and began to enhance our testing methodology to more closely replicate real-world conditions and converged applications.

In 2013 Berk-Tek introduced our Voice-Data-Power testing platform to bridge the disconnect between the established testing parameters and what was truly necessary to support networks for the next several decades. The Voice-Data-Power test configuration was revolutionary, in that it broadened the evaluation of cabling systems beyond simple electrical transmission characteristics.

This new test set-up, which employed the simultaneous transmission of voice and data in conjunction with power, was very different from what any of our peers were doing at the time. Our testing utilized a 100-meter, four-connector channel that includes the simultaneous transmission of Voice, Data, Video, and PoE through a cabling channel. During the test, real-world conditions such as heat and nearby voltage spikes were simulated to stress the cabling as they would be in the installation environment.

This new paradigm provided a more robust and diverse set of evaluative mechanisms, painting a more vivid and detailed picture of system capabilities better suited to the varied and critical nature of contemporary IT infrastructure. Rather than just measuring decibels, we developed several application-based tests to determine the impact that environmental stressors (namely heat and external noise) would have on the performance of a converging network in a real-world environment. 


Increasing convergence calls for further advancements

Berk-Tek’s Voice-Data-Power platform was introduced at a time when the rest of our industry was still measure decibels alone to evaluate cable performance. It addressed the effects of convergence and real-world conditions in the installed space, but as technology continued to evolve, we realized our methodology needed to change to help our customers stay ahead of the advancements.

The goal of convergence is to simplify the management of network and building operations. We’re all feeling the pressure to produce more with fewer resources. When it comes to the inner workings of a building, many organizations are addressing this challenge by connecting and powering once disparate via the IP network. Doing so promotes cost savings, efficiency, and streamlined control.

But system convergence also presents a level of complexity for the network manager, specifically when it comes to selecting the right cabling infrastructure. With more building systems on the network, the infrastructure needs to support a whole new set of devices that consume more power and bandwidth than ever before. Our customers were looking for a way to quickly and effectively evaluate how a cable would perform under these new conditions.

In 2015 Berk-Tek developed the Converged Application Score (CA Score) to provide our customers with a simplified means to evaluate a cable’s performance under the stress of converged applications. A cable’s CA Score is an indicator of how well IP traffic is protected, as well as how much heat rise there is when the cable undergoes PoE testing.


Verified results mean you can connect with confidence

The CA Score is calculated using an algorithm that combines the results of the VoIP quality (MOS), the Data quality (FER), and Video quality (MLR) tests, weighting the results according to how sensitive the IP traffic is to errors. For example, VoIP and video IP traffic are weighted heavily because they usually use protocols such as UDP or RTP where packets with errors are dropped. Due to time constraints of the application, there is no resend. Conversely, data traffic typically uses a protocol like TCP/IP which isn’t as time sensitive, so resend requests are sent. Therefore, FER test results for data applications are not weighted as heavily as the results for MLR for video and MOS for VoIP. Additionally, the results from a separate high power PoE test are used in the calculation. The PoE test determines how efficient the cabling is in dissipating/minimizing temperature rise.

The score is represented by a numeric value between 1 and 10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. A performance rating of “Unacceptable” (less than 3.6) means that there are consistent noticeable flaws (dropped frames, media loss, etc.) in the applications tested. As you move towards higher scores, you notice fewer flaws until you reach a threshold of 8.6 or higher, which equates to near flawless performance. PoE testing is also an important factor; cables that experience less temperature rise can achieve higher CA Scores.

When we first introduced the CA Score in 2015, the industry was skeptical because it was so different from what any of our peers were doing. But over time, and as system convergence increased, we started to see other industry leaders tout the same kind of platforms. In 2019, Berk-Tek’s CA Score Process was verified by UL, validating its credibility as an effective measure of cabling performance.


A shift in the industry

Berk-Tek’s CA Score was the beginning of a major shift in the datacom industry. Instead of looking at a cable’s features and characteristics, we looked at its ability to handle the bandwidth, power and technology requirements of the applications for which it would be used. This applications-based methodology would prove instrumental to evaluating and specifying cabling infrastructure over the next several years, and the CA Score would become the benchmark to evaluate cabling performance in the converged enterprise.

Berk-Tek’s Everything IP platform put the CA Score into practice. Simply put, Everything IP refers to the digital revolution that is upon us – the ever-increasing number of devices being connected, integrated, controlled, and powered by the IP network. The CA Score was a measure of how well a cable could manage Everything IP requirements of the future.

At the time Everything IP was introduced in 2015, global network traffic was expected to double in the next three years. The IEEE 802.3ac wireless standard had just been ratified, allowing up to 6.9Gbps to be transmitted back to the IDF, and 802.3ax was already in development. PoE was just starting to take off in popularity, with 802.3bt standard on the horizon (later ratified in 2018).

Technology was advancing rapidly. What Everything IP did was take all of these advancements – both current and planned – and rolled them up into a single platform. So instead of looking at cable as a piece of wire to connect things, we changed our focus to the emerging technologies, and viewed the cable as a way to enhance network performance and enable their adoption.


Introducing the uLAN

The enterprise LAN is still experiencing Everything IP in full force. Every day, more and more devices are being connected to and powered by the network. In the enterprise environment especially, organizations are seeing the efficiency and cost-savings benefits of converging once-disparate building systems onto their IP networks.

When we think of the core Local Area Network (LAN), we think of devices that have traditionally been Ethernet-enabled – desktop computers, Voice-over-IP (VoIP) phones and wireless access points. With increasing convergence, today’s network infrastructure is connecting and powering lights, cameras, AV systems, and many other building automation systems, some consuming a lot of power and bandwidth. Many network managers are concerned about the additional stress these utility applications will put on their Core LAN.

What we are seeing as a result is the emergence of a Utility LAN (uLANTM). Like the traditional LAN, the uLAN is an interconnected set of devices that share data within the enterprise. But the uLAN is comprised of nontraditional Ethernet-enabled devices – lighting, HVAC, security, and AV systems – that are now being connected and powered by the IP network.

The uLAN can be thought of as the nervous system of the smart building – brain, nerves and muscle.  Lights are the brain. The reason for that is that smart lighting provides a sensor network to capture data, as well as the software (and the API) that allows us to integrate other systems so they can all work together.

The cabling infrastructure serves as the nerves that connect everything together and sends signals back and forth. Berk-Tek, along with our connectivity partner Leviton, offers several cabling systems that are specially designed for the higher levels of PoE that many smart building systems require.

Finally, the muscle is the switch that provides the power (via PoE). With the ratification of 802.3bt in 2018, you can now transmit up to 90W of power over category cabling. This opens up a whole new set of utility devices that can be powered by the IP network. With utility applications, you don’t need Tier 1 electronics, but at the same time, the switch has to be reliable. Your security system can’t go down, and your lights need to turn on.


To learn more about Berk-Tek and the uLAN, please visit