The wired home is more prevalent than ever

Thanks to our technology-driven world, the American dream of home ownership has evolved into owning a “wired” home that allows for enhanced networking. Home networking has become a multimillion dollar industry. Though specialized, it is basically a small-scale version of commercial networking that has been driving business for years.

The size of the residential market is astounding. Cahner’s has published reports that the market for smart home products could reach $1.7 billion by 2005. Parks Associates has reported that by the end of 2004, 45 percent of single-family homes in the United States will utilize whole-house wiring.

Home networking is the linking/connecting of various products and applications such as Internet connections, PCs, cable TV, phone lines, security systems, etc., to one another so that they can all operate off of a central system.

The CEDIA Home Networking Council, defines it as: “The technology that allows all electronic devices in the users environment to seamlessly communicate with each other and the outside world.”

Different names, all the same

There are various products and protocols in the residential networking market. Wired Ethernet is the most common. This is what the majority of homeowners have installed when they opt to go beyond plugging in each computer into a phone jack and individually establishing an Internet connection.

One reason why this has become the home network of choice is that not only is it readily available, it is also relatively inexpensive and quite secure. Most installers opt to use Category 5 cabling, traditionally the cable of choice for most Ethernet-based systems. The speed of the network is based on both the cable used and the ability of the products in the network. Running higher priced cable and tapping in with an old PC just won’t create the environment one would hope for.

Wi-Fi (or as some in the industry refer to it, the 802.11b standard) has made its presence known in the residential market with full force. It is the buzzword of wireless.

Many home users require minimal bandwidth because they are mainly concerned with sharing Internet connections and sharing files. For those uses, wireless wins out because it is easily installed, easily tapped into and easily transportable. Those who have gone this route generally install wireless modems in their laptops, allowing them to tap into other wireless connections outside of the house.

While it sounds like wireless is a sure bet, one may not want to cancel that order for cable just quite yet. There are some notable kinks associated with wireless that make some people a little leery of using Wi-Fi as the sole source of networking. The biggest drawback is probably the signal range issue (more pronounced in multistory homes). The other is almost a Catch-22 since it is also a benefit: the fact that wireless systems (particularly residential ones) can be easily accessed, not just by users within the home but perhaps also by outsiders.

The combination key

Since the benefits of both wired and wireless networking for the home are obvious, many just cannot choose between them. Thanks to technology, it is not necessary.

Creating a hybrid system that incorporates the beneficial aspects of each into one system is something that has been not only explored, but successfully implemented as well.

Of course, technology never stands still long enough to allow for just two options in any arena. The home networking realm is no different.

There have been new players entering this market, each seeming to target issue-specific consumers and may be supplemental to the home’s base networking system, be it wired, wireless or hybrid. The two most notable are:

o HomePNA Networking. This is where pre-existing phone lines are used to share a single Internet connection among other users within the home network. This is something that works best with a wired system, since it is based on phone jack connections.

o HomePlug Networking. This is something similar to the above-mentioned connection sharing technology, but instead of using a phone line, it uses power lines instead. This technology appeals to many since almost every home has ample power outlets strewn throughout, thus appealing to both wired and wireless system users.

Getting in the mix

Many know that the best way to create a home network, as with any network, is to have a plan established in advance of construction, since that is the ideal time to wire the house itself. Running cable is an elemental aspect and should not be overlooked.

Many times, you’ll be dealing with a pre-existing home where that option is not available. That is where installers with experience in networking make all the difference. In fact, the residential market is even addressed in a BICSI manual entitled “Residential Network Cabling.” That is also one of the reasons why wireless is such a popular choice. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com