Lighting control, convenience products, security, and automated task functions—they all have a hand in strengthening the move to residential automation. However, if there’s a new buzzword in all this, it’s “home networking.”

“People want to have the same functions at home that they have at the office, a ‘mini-office’,” said Frank Velleca, marketing manager, The Siemon Company, Watertown, Conn. “There’s more and more interest in residential wiring systems today, driven by the proliferation of multiple personal computers in the home and the availability of high-speed Internet access. What good is a 1 Mbps connection to the Internet if you have to wait an hour for a spouse or child to finish before you can use it? A networked home allows the entire family to get on the net simultaneously or share large files, such as MP3s,” he said. The company manufactures the Siemon Home Cabling System, a home wiring solution, as well as commercial premises systems.

Home networking has come of age. In fact, the home networking market is on the threshold of dramatic growth and evolution, said Allied Business Intelligence’s latest report, “The Broadband Home: Home Networking Gets Ready to Go Mainstream.”

In 1999, the home networking market had revenues of about $134 million. The market is expected to grow dramatically to $495 million by the end of 2000, with global revenues projected to reach $2.4 billion by 2005. Soon it will be the norm for all homes to have high-speed Internet access, digital satellite, network cabling, and a host of automation functions.

The players

The security industry, which has already noticed that homes need networks, is positioning itself to offer builders a resource to install and buy some of these new technologies. ADT is one traditional security company exploring this focus. The company is developing a plan called “PowerHome,” a program of one-stop shopping for low-voltage products. One of the first integral steps in the plan was an agreement with Lucent Technologies to provide their HomeStar structured wiring system as part of the program.

Brink’s Home Security as well, through its “Home Security National Builder Program,” is bundling wiring solutions. This program includes structured wiring systems from OnQ Technologies, intercoms, and home theater systems from M&S Systems, as well as satellite television (TV) through DirecTV.

Companies such as Progressive Electric Inc. in Charleston, W.Va., are already networking communications with voice/ data/video (VDV) in commercial installations. The company’s president, Ted Brady, expects that this portion of the work will continue to grow, and may spill over more into residential environments. “Computer networking is a growing part of the business, a natural part of it.” Brady’s company serves commercial, residential, and industrial markets.

It makes sense that if the electrical contractor has experience in VDV and computer networking, these skills can be easily transferred to residential clients. Does it hurt to ask? When you complete a commercial job for a customer, remind them that your company’s expertise can extend to their home as well, then stand back to see what happens.

Wiring for the future is what it’s all about. Without the backbone, integrated automation and security functions are headed down a dead end. According to the Home Automation Association (HAA), Washington, D.C., which is sponsoring the “Wiring America’s Homes” program for new construction, its plan to prewire homes for the information superhighway of the future means following some minimum requirements. The Wiring America’s Homes Task Force recommends the following:
Minimum wiring of one four-pair unshielded twisted pair (UTP) Category 5 cable and one RG-6 coaxial cable to key rooms in the house, including home office/den/study, kitchen, family room, great room, etc.

Recommended wiring consisting of two Category 5 cables (Category 5e preferred), two RG-6 quad-shielded coaxial cables, and five/dual coaxial outlets to key rooms.
According to the HAA, minimum wiring provides the basic structure required for telephone, satellite, CATV, and data services. Recommended wiring provides for basic and advanced services, including multimedia and interactive communications services.

Even at the International Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, home networking technologies and products emerged as a critical component of consumer electronics.

“Home networks provide the communications link that lets consumers access the wide variety of content and control features electronic products provide,” said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

The manufacturing community

On the supply side, manufacturers are responding to this interest and awareness with a variety of control and networking solutions. These products are intended to make the whole process easier by taking the total systems approach.

OnQ Technologies Inc., Harrisburg, Pa., is betting on the strength of the home wiring market.

“As more people set up home offices and home-based businesses, and more students use the Internet for research and school work, many are looking for a more economical solution than buying multiple phone lines, printers, and scanners,” said Doug Fikse, president of OnQ Technologies.

OnQ’s basic Home Wiring System package consists of a central hub or service center where outside services enter the home. Other parts of the system include RG-6 quad-shielded (to prevent interference) coax for TV and video, and Category 5 cable for telephone and data, as well as outlets that determine which services are available in each room. Upgrade options for home entertainment and home office also are available.

On the automation/control side, designer and manufacturer of lighting controls Lutron Electronics Co., Coopersburg, Pa., provides a variety of products to automate lighting, security, and other functions within the home. The HomeWorks Interactive Lighting Control System provides whole house lighting and other control of home electronics from keypads throughout the house, with an interactive processor at the heart of the system. For wireless fans, Lutron has the RadioRA Lighting Control System that uses radio frequency technology.

“We see tremendous growth in whole-house lighting and control,” said Lisa Hobart, marketing communications manager of Home Systems for Lutron. “Awareness is much higher. It gets people’s attention, especially because of the convenience factors. People are looking for hassle-free living and security.”

Follow the trends. Find a niche. Explore new business options. Home networking, automation, lighting control, and security are the safest bets for the future.

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications, Inc., in Chicago. She specializes in writing about the security market. She can be reached at (773) 775-1816 or domara @flash.net.