• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Networked Av Systems;
  • Date: February 2016

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a buzz phrase in a variety of industries, but the concept it describes — the networked connection of devices and sensors for monitoring and control — has been part of professional AV for the better part of two decades.

Internet of Things

“I think it was way back in 1997 or so when Crestron did our first deployment of Ethernet-connected control systems,” says Dan Jackson, Manager of Research and development at Crestron Electronics. “We tied our projectors into our control systems, and were able to gather a bunch of information out of the projector, including things like lamp life, power, status, all that good stuff. We reported it back to a centralized management software system that was able to provide the information to people so they could monitor their rooms.”

The evolution of a variety of technologies has advanced the relatively simple deployments of the last century into something wholly new. The continued miniaturization of sensors and processors has fueled a massive explosion in the number of devices deployed around the world that can connect to the Internet or another network and interact with other devices. Machine-to-machine communication has reduced the need for human involvement in routine operations, allowing more to get done with less oversight. And the capability to analyze data collected by myriad networked sensors provides valuable insights that further boost the benefits these technologies deliver.

The combination of these capabilities has created great opportunities for the AV industry.

“AV was stuck in fixed workspace environments. Evolutions in technology enabled the IoT to really take root,” says Gary Hall, CTS-D, CTS-I, Chief Technology Officer for Federal Defense at Cisco Systems and President-Elect of AVIXA. “When you take a video camera or a microphone, you miniaturize it and you put it on a sensor, then you have it connect back to hundreds of other sensors, it gives you a brand new capability that never existed before: the ability to do things better.”

The Building Blocks of IoT for AV

To take advantage of the capabilities the IoT offers, AV professionals must understand several foundational elements. Industry experts explain that mastery of supporting technologies isn’t essential, but AV pros need a basic knowledge of several networking and data concepts.

Mike Coburn, a designer with the Technology Design Studio at RTKL, says the emerging IPv6 standard, developed to replace the obsolete IPv4 standard and offer a virtually unlimited number of IP addresses (an essential consideration with millions, even billions, of new devices coming online), is becoming more important to IoT deployments. Many government agencies require AV implementations to be IPv6-enabled, making it critical for AV firms looking to do business with the public sector.

AV pros also must be familiar with wireless networking, says Shane Long, Principal at Waveguide. “Today, the one thing that everybody wants in their meeting environment is no wires,” Long explains. “They want to walk in and present wirelessly.”

For devices that are connected via copper cabling, Power over Ethernet delivers another important capability. As devices and sensors proliferate, the ability to power them via the same cables that connect them becomes vital. PoE allows AV professionals to maintain power to their IoT nodes without having to run electrical cables or rely on batteries.

Hall adds that AV professionals also need to understand industry standards for capabilities such as video transport, data compression and connectivity, which are key to the flow of information that fuels the IoT. Further, AV pros have to enable data analytics at the edge of a network to take advantage of IoT’s machine-to-machine communications. When data is analyzed automatically at the edge, it can deliver real-time value without sending unwanted data to take up space in the cloud or in an organization’s storage systems. 

The Security Imperative

As the number of networked devices increases, so do the security threats that AV deployments face. AV professionals “need to get smarter on security, because IoT and AV share the fact that they create new threat vectors on the network that can be exploited, if not used properly,” Hall says. "Those threats are multiplied when you're putting hundreds or even thousands of sensors out beyond the edge of the network.”

Security hasn’t always been a top-of-mind concern for the AV industry, Jackson says, but it has become “absolutely imperative.” In years past, AV systems were “air-gapped,” meaning they were not connected to the public Internet, but that’s not the case with the vast majority of IoT deployments, which could be vulnerable to hackers if not protected properly. “Our devices are connected to the Internet in some way or another," he says. “They really have to be hardened and protected, because your network is only as good as its weakest link. These devices cannot be the weakest link.”

As IoT projects increase the number of connected devices, AV professionals must employ encryption on all network traffic, experts say. AV systems also must be capable of authenticating the identity of authorized users. Passwords for individual systems are insufficient to meet this need, Jackson says, adding that more effective authentication can be achieved by integrating AV systems with an organization’s Active Directory or Lightweight Directory Access Protocol service.

The importance of meeting the security challenge is difficult to overstate. “Security is the biggest impediment to widespread adoption of IoT technologies,” Hall says “Unlocking the value of IoT is completely dependent on mitigating the risks that it presents.”

How It Works: AV Use Cases for the IoT

For AV professionals who understand the essential disciplines of the IoT and establish an effective security posture, the opportunities it offers are limited only by the imagination.

The monitoring and command-and-control capabilities that the IoT offers make it a good fit for managed AV service providers, says Richard Blackwell, President of Linked2 Software. Service providers must keep close tabs on the state of equipment they provide to clients in order to maximize the efficiency of their maintenance and support efforts. “Network-based hardware allows integrators to stay in constant contact with the equipment their service policies are based on,” Blackwell says.

AV hardware manufacturers, such as Crestron, have developed products that deliver advanced capabilities via the IoT. “One of the biggest places we've seen success with is our scheduling devices,” Jackson says. “We have a line of scheduling touch screens that sit outside the door of a conference room. They'll show you whether the room is booked or available and allow you to book the room or one that’s available nearby.”

Networked digital signage is another solution that takes advantage of IoT capabilities. Display prices have dropped significantly in recent years, greatly increasing the feasibility of deploying more and broader signage. By networking signage with other devices, such as computers, sensors, cameras and databases, AV professionals can dynamically change displays to meet a variety of needs seamlessly.

AV professionals also are integrating building systems, such as HVAC and lighting, to make them smarter. This gives a building the capability to automatically turn the lights off and adjust the temperature in empty rooms, improving efficiency and decreasing energy costs.

On the horizon may be mobile collaboration equipment that brings advanced video and communication hardware to users, instead of requiring them to visit a conference room. A user may summon a mobile setup that provides high-definition videoconferencing camera and screen, increasing the availability and usability of the technology. “When the technology itself is mobile, then you don't have to dedicate it to every single room,” Coburn says. “You can put it in a dock somewhere and farm it out. When people need it, it goes to where they are.”

Other mobile IoT platforms include drones. “Really, drone is just another word for any mobile computing platform,” says Coburn. He predicts that telepresence robots — connected mobile devices with wheels that could carry teleconferencing technology such as a tablet — could make communication simpler for users in far-flung offices. “If I wanted to consult with someone, instead of having to check a status on a webcam, I could easily log in and pilot a robot over to the cubicle and say, ‘Hey, do you have a second?’ “ he explains. 

Overcoming IoT Challenges

As they deploy IoT systems, AV pros need to be aware of several hurdles they may face. Privacy is a key consideration, and one that raises concerns for many parties. The efficiency of smart buildings offers plenty of promise, but some users may be worried about just what the building knows about them, such as what they’re doing and where they’re going. They may want to gain some control over how they’re tracked or whether they can opt out of monitoring, Coburn says.

Organizations looking to deploy IoT-enabled AV systems also must ensure that their data analysis capabilities are up to the task. “If you connect these devices to the network, but they're not providing you the right information, then you're not getting the full value out of everything,” Jackson says.