Future technologies like streaming, 4K, whole-house audio and voice control require a robust network, lower latency and installer expertise. Here are a few tips to get started.
CEDIA 2016 show floor, attendees saw not only a great number of devices that can be placed on the network, work with the network or can be connected to a network in some way, shape or form. They also found those stalwarts that have become synonymous with the Internet and IoT. Amazon and Google are just the start.
Sitting in 2016, where are we with home networking?
“Compared to a decade ago, we are in a good place,” says Hagai Feiner, founder and CEO of Access Networks. “The integrator and the homeowner see the value of a good network. That means there are dollars to invest in the network.”
Part of the reason for that is the technology that has adapted and evolved in the last decade. Ten years ago AV and IT were most likely two separate systems.
“In 2005 the network wasn’t used by integrators for control,” adds Michael Maniscalco, VP of product for Ihiji. “It was used for web browsing, requests and maybe a few wireless touch panels for control. Robust Wi-Fi was only in the biggest homes.”
The systems and products integrators saw at CEDIA were, more likely than not, able to talk to the network on some level. Some were pure IoT, others were simply able to be controlled through one app or another. All that takes a robust network.
“Everybody needs better Wi-Fi,” says Feiner. “Especially in a smart home. With voice control the challenge is going to be amplified. When you speak a command you expect a reaction like you are speaking to another person.”
The length of time that reaction takes is dependent not on the available bandwidth but the latency of the system. This, Feiner says, is the real key to the networks of today and tomorrow.
“To get consistency when it comes to low latency you need a good network and hardwire where possible,” says Hagai. “Mesh networks have their own inherent latency and voice control will bring the need to latency to a head.”
In addition to latency issues you also need density for solid coverage, according to Maniscalco.
“Wireless breakdown is the biggest issue in connected home,” says Maniscalco. “To get the right coverage and handle all these external factors you need to consider the network as well as the construction materials.”
We are no longer in an era when the client can run to Best Buy and grab any wireless router, hand it to you, and tell you to just “plug it in.” As an integrator, it is your job to make sure it all works together, which means you should either provide or be intimately involved in the design and deployment of the home network.
“I would want the integrator to own the whole system,” adds Feiner. “As we add more technologies to the system the integrator is in the unique position to create a unified system that the homeowner cannot create on their own. The network is the center of all this.”
The construction materials are a significant concern as you are designing the clients’ network. Especially the Wi-Fi component.
Concrete, glass and metal are all materials that do not like radio waves (i.e. Wi-Fi signals). Getting around these challenges will require more than simply stronger Wi-Fi signals or more access points (AP). Deploying the APs to individual rooms where these materials are present is one of the only solutions. This means running hard wires to the APs and home running back to the switch.
Then what cable are you going to run?
The increase in available bandwidth to the home will require rethinking the transports inside the home. Currently Cat 5 is rated to carry 100 MHz. Cat 6 can transport 250 MHz. If you are only getting 100 MHz to your home, that is no big deal.
What about initiatives such as Google Fiber that are dropping 1 GHz to the home? When this begins to happen your clients will demand a solution.
One way is to begin running Cat 7 which will deliver 10 gigabit Ethernet.
Another solution is to run fiber. This will allow you to setup the delivery of not only high bandwidth network but also higher resolutions.
However, the only true “future proof” solution is to run empty conduit. But that’s a conversation for another article.
The residential integrator of today is not the wild west cowboy of thirty years ago when you were hanging concert speakers in someone’s living room and setting up a three gun Trinitron to watch the big game. These are audio visual professionals with businesses to run and succeed.
“You only make money on jobs when you don’t have to go back and fix problems,” Feiner says.
Get your staff certified, or hire certified techs, in networking. Yes, the CCNA is a Cisco certification. It’s also widely recognized and quite hard to achieve. It’s not like you just give them $100 and they give you a piece of paper.
Once you have your certified team in place, let them help you design your next install. Make the network the center of the system. Not the audio or control system. The network needs to be the center of it all. Mainly because, it really is.
You then go about finding the areas in the construction that will provide the biggest challenges. And work with the manufacturers. Developing those relationships will do more for you bottom line than it appears on the surface.
As more devices come online and your client brings more devices into their home, the network has become the center piece of any successful integration. Become their technology expert and a resource for them to trust, because you provide the headache-free experience they want.
Do this and not only will you be set with those clients, but clients for the future.