What Is Progress, Alex?

I’m a big fan of the TV quiz show “Jeopardy,” so I was blown away when I saw a demo of Sony’s new Internet TV. You can watch the show on half the screen and search the Internet for an answer at the same time. Now, for me, that’s progress. Why should it matter to electrical contractors (ECs)? The answer is simple: this is going to be a big new market, and ECs can get in on it by installing the wired backbone to make it happen.

Integrated building systems are common in the worlds of commerce, government, healthcare and industry. The last big untapped market is residential Internet protocol (IP) systems. The introduction of digital programming delivered to smart HDTVs, which can directly connect to the Internet through a home Ethernet local area network (LAN), will drive this market. As an indicator of the growth potential for this market, the March 2010 Nielsen Co. reported that 59 percent of the people in this country browse the Internet and watch TV simultaneously at least once per month.

As tech-savvy homeowners lead the way and the news spreads, the market will quickly expand. The Media Research Group (www.mrgco.com) forecasts that the global market for IPTV will expand to 81 million users by 2013.

Already, with most cable boxes, you can sit in your living room with one remote control and not only watch all the regular TV offerings, but also HDTV content on demand, streaming from the Internet; YouTube videos; and all of the standard, such as music, and not-so-standard applications that are available now and will be coming in the future. But that’s just the beginning—connect your TV to your home LAN, and you can access the files stored in your computer: music, videos, photos and all the rest.

HDTV and residential Ethernet
To take full advantage of having an Internet--connected TV, there has to be a means for it to communicate with your computer. The best way to do that is with a hard-wired Internet connection using Category-rated unshielded twisted-pair (UTP) cable, which will enable viewers to easily handle the high bandwidth requirements for HDTV (especially 3D).

Who are the potential users of this technology? MultiMedia Intelligence (MMI) believes “the adoption of Internet--connected consumer electronics will correlate strongly with the overlap between home networking and Internet-based video consumption.” In its white paper, “Preparing for the Internet Video Revolution: A Profile of the Internet--Connected Living Room Consumer,” MMI characterizes these consumer households as having incomes in the range $100,000–150,000.

What can the EC offer?
Assuming the forecasts are right, a growing market of people want to add TV to their home networks. The whole family could be into social networking, streaming video on demand, 3D gaming and animations, and other applications, all of these delivered over broadband Internet to the home. Broadband is becoming the norm for Internet to the home, so much so that, on Feb. 8, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to overhaul the fund that supports rural telephone connections and move it to support broadband Internet service for underserved areas.

Once they get excited about these possibilities, families will discover that the wireless connection from their cable modem to a couple of laptops and a printer will not have adequate bandwidth to do the job. To really take advantage of these applications, you’ll need at least Category 5e or Category 6 UTP cabling for the connections. Although Cat 6 is guaranteed to enable a throughput of 1 gigabit per second, these are minimum ratings and apply at a distance of 100 meters. However, for a more typical distance in a home, it could do a throughput of 10 gigabits per second, under the right conditions. If a whole home were wired with a high-speed UTP LAN, with an outlet or two in every room, there would be plenty of extra capacity to not only run the printer and laptops, but other devices such as audio/video receivers (AVR) for home theaters. You could operate lighting controls, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) telephony, and home security systems, and you could run power over Ethernet (POE) to control those devices.

The bottom line
An EC who is rewiring a home could point out to the owner that, since so much work is being done anyway, a UTP LAN connection could be brought to every room in the home for relatively little extra cost. ECs would also be wise to convince homebuilders of the advantages of installing a UTP network in every new home being constructed. Homes that are prewired for the interconnected world will have a great advantage on the market.

BROWN is an electrical engineer, technical writer and editor. For many years, he designed high-power electronics systems for industry, research laboratories and government. Reach him at ebeditor@gmail.com or at www.writingengineer.com, an independent professional writing service.

About the Author

Edward Brown

IBS Columnist and Freelance Writer
Edward Brown is an electrical engineer, freelance writer and editor who draws on his years of practical experience designing industrial processing and high-power electronics systems. In addition to writing the Integrated Building Systems column for E...

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