- April 2004 -
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As you may have experienced in your own projects, start-up was the hardest part. Once the "plumbing" was in place, the applications we wanted to demonstrate, ranging from video entertainment to music services to showing digital photos on your big screen and much more worked like a charm.
We're Sandy Teger and Dave Waks, founders of Broadband Home Central, and we've been exploring the potential of broadband for much of our careers. Each month, we write about new technologies and applications of broadband, both to and within the home. We also have the fun (and sometimes frustration) of using the newest of these technologies in our own house to find out how well these products and services deliver on vendor promises.
In the fall, we were offered an opportunity to take some of the best new technologies and products and incorporate them into a fabulous showhouse called Home By Design (see www.homebydesignshowhouse.com ). These are not "future" technologies but rather ones people can buy today for their own homes, without breaking the bank. We acted as the "broadband architects": creating the broadband plan and overseeing its translation from theory into reality. We learned some interesting lessons and we'd like to share a few of them with you.
Our goal was to match affordable broadband products and services with the wonderful design created by architect Sarah Susanka, and to demonstrate that these technologies can enable families to live more enjoyable, convenient and productive lives.
The take-away message from the "Connected by Design" tour was that the combination of broadband service to the home and the right wiring infrastructure in the home creates the fundamental "plumbing" to connect new consumer appliances and enable new applications.
So what did we use and what did we learn?
Cox Communications provided a full range of video, Internet and telephone services. Cox's services were connected to the showhouse with "fiber to the home" using Corning fiber and cabling and Wave7 Optics electronics. We were delighted by the sponsor cooperation and the performance of Cox services.
Structured wiring provided the underlying infrastructure for home networking-we see it as a requirement for emerging services like networked high-definition video. The "nerve center" of the showhouse was a Leviton Structured Media Center which brings all of the broadband connections to and throughout the home to a central distribution panel. On one side it connected to Cox's network and on the other to each room of the house using differently colored cables.
The Structured Media Center panel was in place and most wires had been terminated before we arrived to oversee final integration a few days before the opening of CES. We assumed that all wire terminations had been planned and documented beforehand, and were surprised that this had not been done; we were also surprised to find that terminations had not been checked out. Both caused us lost time playing "catch up" throughout integration. Our "lesson learned" for the next project is to pre-plan the wire terminations, and insist on circuit verification as part of wiring termination.
Wireless is clearly the right solution for mobile devices in the home, such as laptop computers and Smart Displays like the ones we had from Viewsonic. We created a Wi-Fi network covering the entire house using three SMC 802.11g access points: two inside the house and the third on the outside terrace. This was somewhat "overkill" for the size of the house, but we designed it to provide good coverage at full 802.11g speed of 54 Mbps. Everybody working on the project used their laptops on the network, and it ran as a hotspot for visitors to the house during CES and IBS.
Our plan for the hotspot was to operate as an "open" network to make it easy for visitors to connect (to be a little technical, we set up the access points to broadcast the SSID and left WEP turned off), and we set it up on the same LAN segment as the PCs operating in the house. A few hours after we turned on the wireless network, one of the PCs caught a virus. While we couldn't prove that someone had hacked into our network, we quickly moved the wireless LAN to an independent LAN segment. We also found that our loaned PCs were missing many security updates, and we quickly secured them with the latest Windows updates. So our "lessons learned" included keeping public hotspots on separate network segments away from PCs, and making sure that loaned PCs were up to date with required updates.
Several types of digital media adapters (DMAs) were a major feature of our plan for the showhouse. These new devices provide a "bridge" between the new world of digital content stored on PCs and the old world of audio and video systems which are still overwhelmingly analog. DMAs connect to a home network with Ethernet or Wi-Fi on one side, and to existing equipment in the home entertainment center on the other, so that music and video files stored on the PC can be played over the loudspeakers and screens.
We had intended to use several DMAs to stream sponsor product videos from a source PC to the flat-panel displays mounted throughout the showhouse. We hadn't thought to specify the encoding data rate for the videos, and the producer had chosen to code them with very high quality at about 9 Mbps. Unfortunately, none of the DMAs was able to accommodate this speed and the video "broke up" on the screen. Our "lesson learned" is to look at the maximum data rate of the DMAs we use for the next project, and make sure that encoded video stays well within the specified limit.
We have written in the past about using HomePlug to extend our Ethernet network to our Audiotron in our dining room. In the showhouse, we used HomePlug equipment from Asoka USA - a Security Camera and an Ethernet/HomePlug adapter. The security camera connects in the simplest possible way - just plug it into any wall plug. We mounted it in the front hall and it attracted lots of attention. Amazing how easy this was to set up and use.
The reality of a converged home network carrying data, video, voice and music over a common wired and wireless infrastructure is getting closer every day. Perhaps some of our "lessons learned" will help readers as they install these networks:
- Pre-plan and document structured wiring terminations in patch panels
- Test all terminations to verify proper wiring
- Isolate "open" wireless hotspots on networks away from PCs and other equipment
- Keep PCs current with security updates
- Make sure digital media adaptors will work with video content
As you may have experienced in your own projects, start-up was the hardest part. Once the "plumbing" was in place, the applications we wanted to demonstrate, ranging from video entertainment to music services to showing digital photos on your big screen and much more worked like a charm. So persevere, and remember some planning and documentation go a long way toward smoothing the installation process!