The demand for broadband Internet access along with advancing network technology continues to provide unprecedented opportunities for electrical contractors. Electrical contractors continue to benefit from the need to expand and improve network infrastructure both inside buildings and the outside infrastructure that connects them.

Broadband Internet was once only available and affordable to large commercial and industrial firms. However, as a result of network expansion and the increased usefulness of the World Wide Web, small businesses and people from all walks of life see the value of broadband Internet access and are willing to pay for both the needed infrastructure and service. Broadband Internet service is rapidly becoming as important to small business owners and families as electric power and telephone service.

What is driving this business?

Continuing advances in the following three areas are providing opportunities for your firm both today and in the future:

- Increasing computing power and speed

- Expanding network infrastructure

- Increasing network bandwidth

Increasing computing power and speed at decreasing prices has made powerful personal computers affordable. As a result, the PC is rapidly becoming an appliance in most homes and a necessary business tool for most small businesses.

It is not unusual for families and small businesses to have multiple PCs today. In addition, technological advances have made it both feasible and economical to imbed “intelligence” in appliances and automation devices that were once standalone and now can be networked and remotely monitored and controlled.

Network infrastructure continues to expand and the number of Internet service providers (ISP) continues to increase, which is increasing the opportunities and reducing the cost for individuals and small businesses to connect. As a result, private Internet access in homes and small businesses is increasing along with public Internet access in schools, libraries, and other public places. As the number of users increases, the value of the Internet connection increases for each user which in turn continues to drive the demand for ubiquitous broadband service.

Finally, the network bandwidth available to individuals and small businesses has increased in recent years replacing the slow and unreliable plain old telephone service (POTS) that was once the only access available to residential and small business users. Today, a variety of service providers including telephone, cable television, power and other companies see the expanding demand for broadband Internet service and are competing to provide “last mile” service to their residential and small business customers through a variety of media including digital subscriber line (DSL) through existing telephone service, coaxial or optical fiber cable, and satellite service.

Broadband installation opportunities

Just like power, delivery of broadband service to a building is only the start. To be useful, that broadband service needs to be distributed to locations within the building where it is needed and will be used. When residences and small businesses had one PC that needed to be connected, this was a relatively straightforward task and the service provider often did the needed cabling. However, the need for broadband access in homes and small businesses is no longer restricted to a single PC but required by multiple PCs in a variety of locations as well as a growing number of entertainment systems, intelligent appliances, and automation devices that need broadband Internet access. Residences and small businesses need structured cabling systems to provide ready and flexible access to the Internet just like traditional power distribution systems do by providing outlets throughout a building.

The demand for structured cabling systems in residences and small businesses includes both new construction as well as retrofitting existing occupancies. Opportunities include the installation of cabling systems for individual businesses and families as well as multibusiness occupancies such as small office buildings and strip malls and multifamily occupancies such as apartments and condominiums. In addition, owners and developers of new and existing multibuilding residential and business complexes also see the value of providing a broadband distribution infrastructure for tenants and need assistance installing the underground cabling.

Marketing your services

The electrical contractor needs to assess his or her opportunity in this market niche and target accordingly. Whether marketing to owners, developers or property managers, the importance of a quality installation and experience in the commercial and industrial market should be stressed. With structured cabling systems, installation quality has a direct impact on system performance. Poor installation practices can seriously degrade performance. Residences and small businesses need a quality installation by a qualified installer. EC

GLAVINICH is director of Architectural Engineering & Construction Programs in the Department of Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering at The University of Kansas. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 or tglavinich@ku.edu.