Electronic House Expo Explores Changes in Structured Wiring Market

March 29, 2002
The Electronic House Expo, held in Orlando, Fla., March 5-9, gave 4,000 attendees the chance to see the newest in Connected Home products displayed by

The Electronic House Expo, held in Orlando, Fla., March 5-9, gave 4,000 attendees the chance to see the newest in “Connected Home” products displayed by more than 125 manufacturers. Vendors continue to promote their solution for structured wiring systems that enable homeowners to install today's technology as needed, but with the flexibility to easily upgrade in the future.

The market for new residential low-voltage wiring systems is expected to increase by more than 60 percent in the next four years, with expenditures for residential cabling going from $302 million in 2001 to more than $2.1 billion by 2004, according to The Insight Research Corp., Parsippany, N.J.

This activity continues to provide important marketing opportunities for residential installers and electrical contractors willing to embrace these developing technologies. In all cases, the cabling and connectivity products involved include: twisted-pair copper (Category 5e recommended) for voice and data, RG-6 coaxial cable for television and video delivery, along with optical fiber for higher bandwidth demands in the future. Security and energy management applications can require other types of cable.

The development of new standards will continue to advance residential networking, home control, digital entertainment and surveillance/security applications. For example, in use for over 20 years, Ethernet has become the de-facto standard for local area networks in offices and factories. It now looks like Ethernet will be an important standard for the home market, too. Two recent standard changes made through IEEE are speeding the usefulness of Ethernet-based services capable of delivering content from a service provider, a telephone company, etc., directly to a residential gateway (a connection box in the home).

Also evolving are the IEEE 802.11b and 802.11a wireless standards. Although the commercial market first applied this technology, many newer products will find important applications in the residential markets, not only for moving data to, or across, a local area network in the home, but also to provide lighting control, and other conveniences.

The Consumer Electronics Alliance has begun testing four powerline technologies to determine a standard for high-speed data transmissions over AC lines in the home. Test results are expected later in the spring. Four companies involved in the program are: Inari Inc., Draper, Utah (two technologies); Itran Communications Ltd.; Ramat Gan, Israel; and nSine Limited, Reading, England.

Security is taking on an important role in the home, and, according to recent consumer surveys, increasingly desired by homeowners. For that reason, GE Industrial Systems, recently acquired one of the vendors at the show, the Interlogix Security & Life Safety Group, St. Paul, Minn., a provider of wired and wireless intrusion and fire protection components and systems for business and residences.

Another General Electric enterprise at the Expo was the GE Smart line of home technology products, which will soon include Interlogix security (gear and services). In the past two years, both GE and Microsoft have invested in SMART LLC, Las Cruces, N.M., a start-up company that showed patent-pending technology and innovative design in three product areas at the show: low-voltage cabling, audio distribution (both cable-based and wireless) and control.

Belden, Hammond, Ind., introduced its HomeChoice line of structured cabling products, which can carry voice, video, data, security and entertainment services on a single composite cable (Cat 5e twisted pair, RG6 coaxial and optical fiber, if needed). Its coaxial cable uses Durobond Plus, which is a foil tape surrounded by an 80 percent braid and an outer layer of foil with a shorting fold, equivalent in performance to metal conduit.

For load control and energy management, it offers the remotely-controlled, mechanically-operated “Smart Breaker.” Cutler/Hammer Eaton Corp. is also teaming with Briggs & Startton to launch a line of home standby generators. Three turnkey solutions are provided: a 5,500-W manual, a 6,500-W semi-automatic and a 10,000-W automatic system. By partnering with FutureSmart Networks Inc. C-H offers a structured wiring panel that can hold cable TV, telephone, DBS satellite and Internet lines and distribute them with RG-6, Cat 5e and optical fiber cables.

Home Director, Durham, N.C., introduced its Elite Series home communications/control system using DiLAN technology from ITT Industries Network Systems & Services, New York, N.Y., which runs over Category 5e cabling. A homeowner can share a single Internet connection among multiple computers and devices, and distribute services including cable and satellite television, security systems, computer networking, home theater, multi-room audio systems and advanced telephone systems to any room in the house. Video signals from cable, satellite or digital television feeds, security cameras or DVDs and VCRs can be viewed on any television in the home while music from a single stereo system or MP3 music file can be played in any room.

Many attendees and exhibitors at the Electronic House Expo said systems integrators will play an important role in growing the market. Being familiar with all (or most) of the different technologies, the integrator generally deals with the homeowner and hires the installers for each specialty.

However, industry professionals also talked about an equipment installer (such as an electrical contractor) stepping up to provide a continuing service, and essentially becoming a “digital gardener.” An electronic equivalent to a landscape gardener would periodically check on the backup battery supply (or UPS), install new software features and/or perform routine system maintenance in the home.