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Updated 3/4/2006

About Our Broadband Condo

Our Broadband "Second Home" Project

From the time we started this website, we have been writing about how we use our home as a testbed to learn about new technologies for the broadband home. The experience we gain this way is far more valuable than just analysing new technologies and products. Weve already shared some experiences about equipping our home for broadband and as a comfortable place for both work and play.

View of the Gulf of Mexico from our rooftop deckIn April 2005, we added a vacation home—a penthouse condo on Sanibel Island, Florida—to the mix of places we spend our time, so we now have the fun (and challenge) of making it broadband friendly as well. Weve decided to invite you along on our new journey.

Broadband may not be the first thing that comes to mind in thinking about this vacation island paradise off the Gulf Coast of Florida. But we do sometimes have to work when we are away. When we're not working, we find it impossible to live without our email and the resources we look to every day on the Web.

Digital media—much of it delivered over broadband to and in the home—is the wave of the future. At home, we're already using networked digital audio and video. We started testing digital telephone services three years ago. Lots of people have subscribed to Vonage and other digital phone services; digital telephones and video telephony are coming soon. While television is undergoing a transition to digital high-definition, PCs are playing an increasing role in receiving and storing videos. In our new condo, we want to start installing appropriate digital media now and be well prepared for what will come in the future.

We rent our condo to guests whenever we're not using it ourselves, and we'd like to equip it so it will be most attractive to our guests. But we know from our home experience that many emerging products and services are confusing (to say the least)--we don't want our guests calling for help every time they use the PC, TV, sound system and telephones. So we have the added challenge of making anything we install in our condo suitable for the guests who rent it much of the time.

We know things will sometimes go wrong. When anything broadband-related isnt working, we'd like to be able to "look" into our condo network from our home, so we can (hopefully) diagnose and fix the problem.

In the first phase of this project (May 2005), we made good progress with the PC and Internet access issues. In the second phase (August 2005 to January 2006), we addressed the broader issues of cabling, networked media and communications. We found that the television transition was the most difficult to deal with, and we still have work to do.

Phase 1: PC and Internet

Soon after we bought the condo in April 2005, we addressed the PC and Internet issues. Here's that part of the story:

  • The Starting Point describes the PC and Internet user needs: what we want to provide for guests staying in our condo, and what we want for ourselves.
  • Key Technologies We'll Need describes the technologies we think will play a key role: Virtual Private Networking (VPN), Dynamic DNS (DDNS) and wireless bridges.
  • Progress To Date describes what we think we'll need to realize our goals and our progress on the project. VPN has proven to be the most difficult aspect of this phase, and we still have work to do.

Phase 2: Networked Media and Communications

newBetween August 2005 and January 2006, we completely remodeled the condo, tearing out some walls and installing new wiring throughout. This was a perfect opportunity to consider what wiring and systems we should install to support networked media and communications—video, audio, data and telephone services—both for now and for the future. Here's that story:

  • Media Needs describes the media and communications needs: what TV, audio, data and telephone facilities we want to provide for guests staying in our condo, and what in addition we want for ourselves.
  • Media and Communications Technologies describes the technologies we think will play a key role: structured cabling, A-BUS multi-room audio, digital telephone services, digital high-definition television, flat-panel screens with digital video interfaces, personal video recorders and Windows Media Center Edition.
  • Communications and Audio describes how we equipped our condo for data, telephone and distributed audio. This proved to be comparatively staight-forward.
  • Networked Video/Television describes how we equipped our condo for networked video and television services. The video and audio interconnect cabling proved to be the most difficult aspect of this project, especially in dealing with the ongoing transitions from analog to digital, and from standard-definition to high-definition television.
  • Looking Forward describes the issues we're still grappling with, and some longer-term solutions. Interconnect cables are confusing and expensive; the role of consumer-purchased devices such as PCs is unclear.

Well continue to add to this site as we gain more experience and look forward to sharing the learning with you. Wed love to hear your thoughts on the needs and issues we raise.

We're not alone in the adventure of furnishing and equipping a second home: the Wall Street Journal on 14 April 05 quoted the U.S. National Association of Realtors as saying the number of second homes sold in 2004 rose 16.3%.
Next: The Starting Point