TTI News and Updates

It all Starts with Wire

Integrated Homes — Wireless, Wired, or Both?

Michael Tangora, President, HTI+, Tangora Technologies, Inc.

Homes today have wireless phones, wireless light switches, wireless printers, wireless computers, wireless security cameras, and even wireless TVs. Wireless is in and wires are passé. Does this mean that homes with integrated phone, computer, and video systems will go totally wireless? No. The reason is that information and communications technology in the home always starts with a wire. It may not be sexy, but it is necessary. Understanding where wireless works and where wired applies will make a significant difference in how well we enjoy and make the most use of our single largest investment — our homes.

​We shop, bank, pay bills, run small businesses, stay connected with the office, learn, watch, play, and communicate from our homes. Phone systems, cable and satellite TV, and high speed Internet access enable these activities. These services enter the home via a wire or cable, and each is distributed separately throughout the structure mainly by wire.

What most homeowners do not realize is that these “separate” systems are all part of the same 21st century home utility — information and communication — the home’s fourth utility after heat, power, and water. The “fourth utility” includes among other things telecommunications, internet connectivity, video, security, and home automation.

The basics — a primer on the fourth utility

Go into a recently constructed office building, and in each employee workspace you will find a peculiar wall plate that looks like a cross between a phone jack, the back plate on a computer, and a cable TV hookup. This funny looking faceplate is called a data port, and it has the capacity to carry telephone, data, and video signals. Data ports feature plug-in receptacles for phones, computers, fax machines, printers, network copiers, and televisions. Data ports are the wall outlets for the information and communication utility.

Leading new home builders today offer standard packages for data port installation. With this system, homeowners have the flexibility of plugging a phone, computer, TV, security camera, printer — any number of products — wherever there is a data port. Every data port is wired directly to a central control panel. Phone lines, cable and satellite TV, and high speed internet wires from the outside are routed into the control panel and then are distributed throughout the home. It’s basically the same idea as electrical service being wired into a circuit breaker and then out to wall plugs. The difference is that wall plugs are in a daisy chain configuration, while each data port has a direct connection to the control panel. The information and communication control panel is the heart of an integrated telecommunications, data, and video, security system, and home automation system.

Using the integrated information and communication system, computers throughout the home can share files, cruise the internet, and access printers and fax machines. Cable or satellite TV control boxes, DVD players, and security cameras can be accessed from any television in the home. Want a separate phone line for the home office or the resident teenager? That’s not a problem. Each data port can carry up to four separate phone lines. Tired of where the home theater, stand alone TV, or computer is situated? Just plug the product into a different data port and away you go. With the right set up, the homeowner can access security and home automation systems from computers or TVs. Wireless computers and wireless phones offer flexibility and are a wonderful add-on to a basic data port system.

The point is that instead of having a phone system, a cable system, a computer system, a security system, and a home automation system, the data port/control panel strategy presents the homeowner with a unified information and communication utility — as fundamental within a 21st century home as heat, water, and power. Information and communication technology represent the most advanced systems in the dwelling and these systems should be installed and maintained as such — certainly not as an after thought or as a Rube Goldberg jumble of wires and radio waves.

There are three obstacles holding back the information and communication utility from fast, widespread adoption. The first is education. Currently, the majority of homeowners and a segment of homebuilders do not have a firm grasp of the basics of information and communication as a home utility. Builders are notorious for not offering extra features unless people demand them. What we have now is a “Catch 22” situation in which homeowners don’t know the questions to ask and builders are waiting for consumer demand. This situation is gradually changing. Consumers are beginning to ask for the same fast and reliable connectivity they have at work, and builders are catching on to the competitive advantage of offering the fourth utility as a package.

The second obstacle is the expense of retrofitting existing homes. The cost of an eight-data-port system for 3,000 to 6,000 square feet of living area in a new home averages $3,000. Because it is more expensive to install data ports after the walls are up, the cost for a comparable set up in an existing home averages $7,000.

Homeowners tend to limp along with the minor irritations in the home rather than spend the money, fix the deficiency, and enjoy the outcome. If a homeowner is going to be in a dwelling for more than five years, then the usefulness and satisfaction with the integrated information and communication system will justify the cost of the retrofit, and it will be one more positive feature when the property goes on the market.

The third obstacle is infrastructure related — the relatively small number of men and women who are skilled in the fundamentals of installation, set up, and service of the information and communication utility. This situation is also changing gradually as increasing numbers of people are seeing this as a viable career path and educational organizations are developing appropriate curricula. While there are as yet no state licensing requirements, the information and communication industry is behind certification of home technology integrators so that consumers have an identifying trust mark such as the Home Technology Integrator, HTI+, designation.

In the beginning was the wire. It may not be sexy, but it is necessary.

Mike Tangora is a certified, award winning home technology integrator in Delmar, New York.