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The November 16, 2003 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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Connected by Design -- Doing Broadband Right

Broadband on Tap

A recent article in The Guardian talked about the British government's drive to increase broadband connectivity in order to help make the UK more competitive on the world stage. It then asked the question, "But what exactly is broadband?" Its answer? "Put simply, if the web was water, broadband would be turning on a tap in your kitchen whereas narrowband would be walking to and from a well collecting water in a pint glass." Making broadband as easy as water from the kitchen tap is the goal for broadband in the future.

That's a great way of stating some of the themes we've often sounded during the three and a half years we’ve been writing this newsletter. These themes include:

  • Broadband is the next residential utility
  • Technology should make life simpler and better
  • Broadband products and services should be affordable, and
  • Broadband services should be available when, where and how you want them

...much like water from the kitchen tap.

The industry has made considerable progress toward these goals, but still has a long way to go. If anyone hasn’t experienced the gap first hand, please read some of the emails we received echoing the frustrations with home networking we expressed last month -- they're in the article "Reader Stories on Home Networking Realities" elsewhere in this issue.

The wiring in our house was advanced for 1996 --> Click for larger pictureDespite the shortcomings, much has happened to simplify creating a broadband home since we started on ours in 1996. At that point we had to engineer our own structured wiring layout--because standard residential packages had yet to come to market--and we had to use ISDN because neither cable modem nor DSL service was yet available in our community.

We’ve upgraded some of the elements in our home since then, but have often thought about things we would do differently if we had the chance to start from scratch.

"Connected by Design" Showhouse

In what must be the next-best thing to doing our own house again, we recently were invited to act as the broadband architects and hosts for a beautiful house, designed by the best-selling lifestyle author and architect, Sarah Susanka. The house will be in the parking lot of the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas in January during the CES Show, the International Builders Show and some smaller events.

Sarah’s bestselling book “The Not So Big House” has an underlying premise that Bigger is not necessarily Better and comfort is attained by "tailoring our houses to fit the way we really live". Building Media, the producers of the Connected by Design project, pulled together a wide variety of building materials companies and one of our favorite furniture companies, Green Design, to cooperate in creating the house.

Early in the planning, Leviton joined the project to demonstrate their structured wiring and new home automation controller, and Square D jumped in with their new energy-management system, with a commitment to create the connectivity and control for the showhouse.

Building Media also recognized that connectivity and new consumer electronics were increasingly a part of “how we really live” and that infrastructure is not the whole picture. As a result, Craig Savage invited Broadband Home Central to figure out what applications were going to be featured, what products and services could deliver those features, and how they should be configured to make it all work. The good news is that we don’t have to do it alone. We have the very competent cooperation of Jack Merrow, Director of Strategic Marketing & Business Development at Leviton, who has done similar projects, Efficient Electric as the installer/integrator and Blake Brooks to supply some higher end A/V equipment and controls.

Master bedroom --> Click for larger pictureSarah Susanka’s theme is that to get the kind of home you want, you need to start by planning what you want to happen in each space --who will use it and what activities will take place there. “Connected by Design” focuses on putting the fundamental plumbing (structured wiring and broadband) in the home and showing how a family can have their communications, entertainment, computing and gaming activities supported in the rooms where they will be using those applications.

The Showhouse is designed to demonstrate “real life” connectivity -- what consumers can do with today’s broadband connectivity, home networking, consumer electronic and computing products, and the services all this plumbing makes possible. The goal of the project is to show visitors what new homes should include to make connecting easy today, and future-proofed for tomorrow, plus the “how-to” for connecting products and services so they deliver what they promise. In addition to showing the importance and applications for structured wiring, it will demonstrate applications that can be connected in existing homes using “no new wires” approaches, such as Wi-Fi (wireless) and HomePlug (over powerline).

The house will address the real-world questions of how new digital devices can “talk” with each other – and to users’ existing TVs and audio systems. That’s not to say all the problems are solved. There is still a large amount of work to be done by groups like the Digital Home Working Group and others on interoperability – but the goal is to show what is do-able with real products today. The house will include some higher-end systems, but the emphasis is primarily on affordable broadband and connectivity for everyone.

So that visitors can learn more about the items they are interested in while touring the house, they will be provided with a museum-like audio device with numbers keyed to important elements, enabling them to learn about various products and the applications they deliver. Video clips of some products and services will also be shown.

What Visitors Will See

Long view thru house --> Click for larger pictureThe house will contain the following elements:

Basic Broadband Infrastructure (to and in the home)

  • Broadband service provider for Internet connection and services
  • Structured cabling to enable connectivity for fixed devices
  • Wireless networks for mobile PC and entertainment devices
  • Other “no new wires” networks for retrofit in existing homes

Digital Broadband Products

  • Home Office Network - server, workstations, laptops
  • Networked devices for multi-room use, e.g. smart displays
  • Entry hall and staircase --> Click for larger pictureHome gateway
  • Multi-player networked gaming systems

Digital Home Entertainment

  • Digital cameras and other electronic media devices for recording user content
  • Digital audio, video and photo application software and services
  • Media server for audio and video content
  • Streaming audio and video content services
  • Digital media adapters to bridge the new digital and current analog worlds

Deluxe Audio/Video Systems

  • Multi Room Audio System – zoned with keypads for source selection and volume control.
  • Multi Room Video System

Guest bedroom and office --> Click for larger pictureHome Management and Control Systems

  • Security System - CCTV, intruder alarms and monitoring
  • Automated Lighting and Sprinkler Systems

Energy Management

  • Integrated Home Control System

Communications System

  • Home Office and Personal Phone Network
  • IP Telephone equipment for voice and video communications

It’s the applications that matter!

What really differentiates the house is not all these interesting parts, but the applications and their placement where real families would be likely to use them. And the fact that they are put together in a really attractive home—-but one that is not “over the top”. Real people could afford to enjoy living here.

A few of the examples include:

  • the streaming audio service which comes through the PC and is delivered to speakers over home networking
  • the video-on-demand service so the “residents” can watch the movie they want, when they want it, and in HDTV
  • the personal video recorder (PVR) that lets them record all their favorite shows
  • the digital media adapter to show friends the latest vacation pictures on the big screen TV in the living room, not just huddled around the PC
  • the “virtual worlds” shown on the big living room screen so that the spot over the fireplace can show the panorama of the Grand Canyon, the quiet of a woodland trail or whatever is captured on PCs to set the mood. And it can be accompanied by the music that fits the scene.
  • …and many more which we have written about in past articles, including IP telephony.

Cox Las Vegas is providing broadband access and services --> Click for larger pictureThe broadband connection to the home is the fundamental external building block on which many of the applications to be shown in Las Vegas are based. Sandy and Dave feel fortunate to have Cox Las Vegas as the broadband sponsor. Cox will be responsible both for bringing the broadband connection to the home and for many voice, data, and video services, most of which are available in other Cox locations across their franchised areas. These include HDTV, video on demand, PVR, high speed Internet applications and IP telephony.

During the month of December the house will be erected. All the broadband infrastructure will be put in place, and the home, complete with furnishings, will open in time for CES on January 8, 2004. Any of you who have built a home know that this is a gargantuan task!

If you plan to be in Las Vegas during January, be sure to come by, say hello and see the reality of all this! If you can’t join us, we’ll include subsequent coverage on what the house looked like and some of the specific applications that visitors seemed to be most interested in. We hope you will be able to see it.

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