The hottest thing out there this summer is not the weather but the highly anticipated iPhone from Apple Inc. At a starting cost of $500 and another $60 to $100 per month in service from AT&T (the iPhone’s exclusive provider), it’s not cheap. It has a built-in audience: those who know and love Apple-brand products. But how is the iPhone different from a typical mobile communicator? It’s a device that combines the iPod and the mobile phone and integrates Internet access and other connectivity in one of the largest portable- screen formats ever released.

By some analysts’ decree, the device may change the landscape of mobility and convenience. The access to e-mail and the Internet are where most users see the greatest benefit of the iPhone. The device, though one of a kind, is among many other technologies that have emerged this year designed to add mobility and remote control to how we work and live. There also is Microsoft’s Surface and a host of accessories and wireless, hardwired and other systems that provide more remote capabilities and functions that continue to erode the technological divide between home and office (see “Explosion of Integrated Products” on page 138).

Always at work

With the iPhone, we are moving into an era of convenience in which the boundaries between home and office are barely visible, and telecommuters and extended office hours at the place of residence or on the road are the norm. Home offices are used for telecommuting, for working from home at night and on weekends or, by some, as their primary business space. Often, home offices must accommodate the varying needs of dual-income couples, which increases even further the demand for phone lines, shared Internet access, laser printers and fax machines.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 21.5 million people are working from their homes. The Consumer Electronics Association projects this number will continue to increase over the next several years.

The connection to work will be virtual as more people telecommute and do not depend on transportation. And today, according to Marian Salzman, co-author of “Next Now: Trends for the Future,” the home is not just a home, but instead, it’s the “kids’ school, your office, the incubator for your entrepreneurial ideas, the psychic origin of so many other things other than family and personal life.” Homes are moving, she added, to fully equipped compounds that offer both comfort and entertainment.

Virtual and real

“The office definitely integrates and is part of the home,” said Bill Schoonover, manager of Application Engineering, Technical Support and Warranty Service, Leviton Manufacturing Co. Inc., Little Neck, N.Y. “But it’s not just that people have home offices and are telecommuting. They are working longer hours and at home, so technology and mobility helps them better integrate family and business.”

There are other factors in the continued move to a technology-driven society. A large, increasing percentage of the U.S. population now has been exposed to computers all their lives. The Internet, the home office, playing games and other computer-based activities are woven into everyday lives, and entertainment systems now often reach each room in the home. By far, the technology that has the greatest impact on home offices is high-speed Internet access, with more than 40 million connections for DSL, cable modems, satellites and fiber to the home. The top features supported are high-speed Internet access, e-mail, file downloads, home networking, video teleconferencing, accessing corporate networks and sophisticated telephone systems.

Schoonover said there is no such thing as an overwired home. He advised deploying a minimum of the following at the home for current and future technology needs:

  • At each location desired for connectivity, two Category 5e terminations and two RG6 quad coaxial with four connections—two for voice and two for video (coaxial or satellite)
  • In an office, one such above configuration on each wall (follow Telecommunications Industry Association/Electronic Industries Alliance 570-B Residential Telecommunications Cabling Standard or the latest current structured wiring document.)
  • Large enough structured media centers, boxes and enclosures to handle capacity required for connections and power (especially as fiber comes to the home and as media converters are necessary for their deployment)

For what Schoonover referred to as “super users,” the customers may run fiber to each wall plate and “leave it in the dark” until the telephone service provider brings fiber to the area. Video also will drive the use of fiber in the home, especially for users who want Internet protocol (IP) television, he said.

Do not underestimate what is going to be available in technology in the future, Schoonover said.

“For those contractors who prewire, it represents an opportunity for them to come back and perhaps upsell in the future. If they’ve put in the backbone, the customer already knows of their company, and they can approach them at a later date.”

There are many drivers of integration, and people who work part or full time from home expect the same or similar levels of connectivity that they have at the office as well as an environment that is pleasing, said Phil Scheetz, home systems marketing manager, Lutron Electronics Co. Inc., Coopersburg, Pa. That means security, home controls, lighting and many other applications in one space.

Make it work and play

The home office is different, Scheetz said, so the space has to function for the way the family lives. “Wireless technologies have really opened up the ability to retrofit the home with lighting controls,” he said. “There’s a convenience aspect there, too, and the ability to introduce a more conducive work environment with lighting controls and automation. You can automate a portion of the lighting at a specific part of the home as well to illuminate signage or a pathway for visiting customers like a commercial setting.”

Home and office integration is probably one of the fastest growing trends we will witness, and at the base of it is connectivity, especially selecting the right cabling and other hardwired and wireless solutions to make the two work transparently and effectively.   EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.