April 1998

Home Automation Comes of Age: The Future Has Finally Arrived!

Copper Applications in Electronic & Communications

By Dr. John Cowie

For decades, Home Automation has existed perennially on the horizon. Consistently a year or two away from being mass marketed, the vision has yet to be realized. Due to the once high cost of computer equipment, and the lack of a cost-effective enabling technology, home automation failed to pique the homebuyer's interest. However, computer prices have dropped, and high bandwidth data communication offered at a relatively low cost, such as ADSL, could be the technology that home automation needs to finally be brought into the present.

The home automation industry had always been a low-volume, high-margin market for the high-end homebuilder. The convergence of various wired technologies such as lighting, security, telecommunication, data communications and audio/visual entertainment is giving home automation the push it needs toward a high-volume market.

The consumer's increasing desire for more bandwidth for their Internet connection is also sending ripples through the home automation market. A recent survey conducted for Microsoft reveals that 85% of new home computer purchasers do so for access to the World Wide Web. Home Automation is poised for significant growth due to the recent deployment of ADSL, cable, and satellite dish modems.

Home automation systems of course provide more than high bandwidth Internet access. Integrated home automation systems enable homeowners to take full advantage of the ever-growing, rapidly-advancing communications of today and tomorrow. Packaged as a single network wiring system, they provide instant, simultaneous "plug & play" access to Cable TV programs, digital satellite signals, and fax/modem capabilities. Home automation also offers controls for appliances, security systems and lighting from anywhere in the house.

These systems support interactive voice, data, video and multimedia products and communications services. Commercially available systems offer a single solution which integrates a wide range of telecommunications and home automation technologies. From interactive home entertainment and personal communications to security and environmental management systems, homeowners can have unprecedented control over multiple applications. With an eye on the future, the systems also allow homeowners the option to add new interactive applications and technologies without the cost of rewiring. The typically modular systems allow homeowners to install just the features they presently need while allowing them to easily upgrade in the future.

Benefits & Features

Increased access speeds required for newer technologies such as Internet and on-line services, digital video and home automation are just some of the many benefits these systems offer. True, end-to-end Category 5 performance also provides clear, uninterrupted data transmission. Ease of use and convenience of the systems can also help to maximize a home's marketability during resale.

Home automation systems are presently being marketed as in-home network wiring products designed to meet the networking needs of the modern home. They typically support a new generation of interactive voice, data, video, and multimedia products and communications services, commonly referred to as the global information superhighway. Many of these new innovative products and services are being deployed in high-tech countries around the world, and will soon be available to millions of American households.

Presently, most residential wiring is unable to support the increasing access speeds needed for today's information superhighway. This prevents many new services from operating properly within the home. By adhering to new standards in electronic home architecture, these new systems have been designed to solve this problem.

This new standard electronic home architecture is capable of providing access to a host of services by incorporating a high-performance cabling system and a general interconnection to all telephone, cable TV, digital satellite, cellular telephone, and utility telemetry services. Home automation, control, and security functions within the home are supported as well.

To ensure that home automation wiring system installation exceeds the expectations of the consumer marketplace, manufacturers have developed wiring system installation kits. These pre-engineered, pre-assembled configurations bring together all of the components of the wiring system. They are typically designed to adhere to the standard wiring system architecture and engineering design rules. Installation kits are now being marketed through a certified dealer program that includes training, documentation, and quality management methods. Cables within the kits are usually are pre-configured with connectors and can be tailored to fit just about any size home, household budget, or interactive lifestyle.

Integrated home automation is soon to become a standard feature in new construction, as technology savvy homebuyers demand it. The driving force necessary to bring this to fruition is the development of high bandwidth connectivity to the Internet over the existing telephone wiring infrastructure. Big name players are beginning to target this emerging market as they realize its potential. If these companies are correct in their assessment for wide implementation of home automation in new building construction, there will be tremendous growth in copper wire consumption due to the large increase in wiring per building.

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