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The Future of BACnet Q&A

The Future of BACnet featuring Pook-Ping Yao, Adam Rinderle, Phil Zito, and Andy McMillan

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We recently hosted a webinar on the future of BACnet, moderated by our own CEO Pook-Ping Yao, with very special guests Andy McMillan of BACnet International, Phil Zito of Building Automation Monthly, and Adam Rinderle of bluEvolution.

There were a ton of interesting questions from the audience, on everything from industry use of LonWorks and MODBUS, to BACnet and the concept of a building’s Digital Twin. Unfortunately we couldn’t get to every question on the webinar, but we had our panel dig into these questions offline. Read on for the Q&A, or check out our recap and recording.

1. “Are there IP-based terminal units (e.g. VAV) controllers with built-in wireless routers out in the industry? Or is the industry looking at relying on typical off-the-shelf wireless routers?”

Adam Rinderle (AR): There are IP-based TU controllers, and there are wireless controllers, but I have not seen any Wi-Fi-type controllers. Usually wireless stuff will be Zigbee or EnOcean.

2. “BACnet does not define tool sets from manufacturers (configuration, service tools etc.). Talk about the challenges that the industry still sees on the field controller side.”

AR: Backups, control logic, and object editing capability – if we could do these things with any BACnet AWS, then it would remove many of the proprietary hooks still hidden in products.

3. “I work mainly with LonWorks and I have heard that the new Neuron Chips that are developing are going to talk BACnet and LonWorks at the same time, so my questions are: What are your thoughts about these synergies or “fusion” between LonWorks and BACnet inside a BAS? Also, what are your thoughts about LonWorks future as a main competitor (as I have seen) against BACnet?”

Andy McMillan (AM): BACnet currently has a global market share of more than 60% and it is still growing. The use of Lon+BACnet devices to integrate existing Lon systems into BACnet systems makes a lot of sense. Perhaps this is the intention of these new devices.

AR: I don’t think LonWorks has a place in the future of BAS. LonWorks is a proprietary protocol that is full of schemes to help manufacturers make their products proprietary — and lots of Lon products are incompatible or interoperate poorly due to these variations in implementation.

4. “Any information on industry use of LonWorks? Or MODBUS?”

AM: See the attached market study data sheet.

AR: I’m not exactly sure what this question is asking, but if it is a question about trends, then it’s clear the trend to use LonWorks is for sure a downward one. MODBUS is a little more complex, in that while it is probably downward as far as adoption, it is still commonly available in many field-level controllers and energy meters. As a secondary protocol it retains, but I suspect its use will continue to dwindle over time.

5. “Do we need BBMDs in the future? Can BACnet be made to broadcast less? IT hates that.”

Pook-Ping Yao (PY): It is possible to design without BBMDs even today. Although difficult, it is possible and has been done. BBMDs are only necessary for broadcast BACnet messages (e.g. Who-Is, I-Am, Unconfirmed-COVs, etc.) to “overcome” IT routers. All of these can be avoided with careful programming. For example, instead of using Who-Is and I-Am to discover the devices on the network, these devices can be manually entered. As such, broadcast messages are eliminated and only unicast messages are used. As for the future, I believe BACnet/SC would eliminate broadcast. The BACnet Committee would have to confirm.

AR: One way to reduce the broadcast is to create more MS/TP segments with less devices, however this can have other unintended consequences and increase the level of effort required to manage your BACnet network. Regarding BBMDs, as long as you are routing BACnet/IP across IP subnets, BBMDs will remain necessary. It’s also important to remember that if you feel the amount and frequency of broadcast is negatively impacting your network, you need to take a look at what’s being broadcast. There could be several issues or problems that are fixable, which once repaired can significantly reduce the volume of broadcast traffic. Visual BACnet is a great tool for performing this analysis.

6. “How does BACnet support the concept of a Digital Twin for a building?”

AR: BACnet provides rich BAS, lighting, and metering data to a Digital Twin model – a Digital Twin is just a data model of the building, and BACnet supplies the data using a truly open protocol.

7. “Moving forward do you see customer IT teams dedicated to design and servicing?”

AR: As building technologies increasingly rely on modern IT infrastructure, it becomes only more necessary to bring in the necessary skill sets in the area of network architecture and systems administration to support the implementation, production use, and maintenance. There is, however, a bit of a skills gap on the IT side and their lack of familiarity with these types of technologies. Organizational alignment, education and acquisition of services from subject matter experts are good first steps to take in this transition.

8. “What’s your experience with tagging on BACnet? And what are your thoughts on the upcoming BACnet semantic data tagging standard?”

AM: In my opinion, the work on a standard for semantic tagging will motivate the development of a wide range of very cost-effective, highly automated monitoring and diagnostic services.

AR: I am not familiar with metadata tagging from the BACnet side of things – we’ve always used BACnet as a means to get the data to some kind of historian that had tagging capabilities. Doing it in BACnet makes some sense, but I have not read anything about it yet.

9. “Isolated data islands. How can we more easily harmonize IoT standards and technologies into BACnet? (Into BACnet and into existing BAS systems?)”

AM: It depends on what you mean by “IoT standards.” To the extent that this means use of web service interfaces and end-to-end security, BACnet/SC incorporates them.  

AR: When you talk about “standards” it’s worth considering that the organization managing the relevant standards for each are different. IoT is also such a wide array of device types that it’s unlikely that all types of devices considered IoT will ever fall under a single standards umbrella. It is possible that some different standards boards such as IEEE, ZigBee, and others will form some overlapping circles around the industry and that will foster conformity. Additionally, there is definitely space for a consortium of sorts among manufacturers and industry experts to start bringing consensus around specifications for interoperability and security. Ultimately, I believe it is the market itself that will drive uniformity.

10. “The BACnet protocol tends to be very “chatty” on a network. Are there any plans to streamline BACnet communication so it’s not so busy?”

PY: BACnet systems are only chatty when “incorrectly” programmed. There are simple ways to significantly reduce the chattiness (broadcast) of BACnet systems. For example, regular global device discovery can be disabled and only used when necessary (e.g. commissioning a new device). Replace unsubscribed notifications with subscribed notifications. Also, it’s important to note that IP networks can be configured to fence off BACnet systems and therefore avoid the chattiness to impede other services/systems. Please contact Optigo Networks for more information.

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