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Industry Opinion: Is There Still a Case for Wired Networks in the Home? (6/3/2012)
By Yasmin Hashmi, HiddenWires
Whether it be for home networking, home automation or home entertainment, wireless technology seems to be attracting all the headlines, thanks to its convenience of installation and portability. So why isnít everyone jumping on the bandwagon?
We asked a number of leading lights if there is still a case for wired networks in the home. Here are their replies:
Steve Lampen, Multimedia Technology Manager, Belden
Home users and/or system designers sometimes forget about the significant advantages that a wired network can offer, when compared with a wireless one. First of all, wired is much more reliable than wireless. While both can be interfered with, it is much harder to interfere with a wired signal. The level of the signal in a wired network is thousands (even millions) of times stronger than that of a wireless network, leading to greater quality, consistency and reliability. You really have to break the wire to get it to stop working.
Wired systems are able to use the same bandwidth over and over again on each pair of wires. With wireless, you are constantly trying to find an empty space within a very restricted band of government-regulated frequencies, which makes it easy to interfere with, or to have conflicts between various wireless users. And whereas wireless may be stopped, or made unreliable, by obstructions such as walls or ceilings, wire can go through walls or up floors in any building.
Although it may be easier to install a wireless network, you actually end up having to pay for the convenience. Wire is still significantly cheaper compared to wireless, especially if you calculate the 'cost per bit'. So you end up paying more for lower performance. Moreover, a wired network is much easier to troubleshoot. A simple handheld tester can tell you which cable is or is not working; some can even indicate where the fault is on a particular cable. Doing that in wireless is beyond expensive.
Of course, wireless has one very big advantage: it offers users the ability to move around with their devices. This is the main reason why home users, at the end of the chain, opt for wireless. In most cases, wireless home networks start with a wireless router. Further up the chain, everything is still totally wired!
Cees Links, Founder and CEO, GreenPeak Technologies
Copper, needed for wiring of home networks, is becoming more and more expensive, even to the extent that it has become a scarce material. However, this should not be a problem since the benefits of wireless alternatives are paramount.
Wireless solutions for home networks are overall less expensive, require hardly any work for installation, and are equally reliable and efficient compared with wired solutions. So why even continue thinking about wired networks?
Currently, three wireless networks are already available in the home: high-quality voice networks (in-house and outdoors for cordless and cellular), high-speed data-networks (Wi-Fi) and finally low-data-rate, low-duty-cycle simple sense and control networks (ZigBee) for home automation.
For the latter, the strength of wireless sensor networks can only be fully achieved when the wiring for both the data communication and the power supply is eliminated, while avoiding introducing frequent battery replacement, which would cause a genuine maintenance nightmare. The current ZigBee-based ultra-low power solutions for wireless home networks use very little power, allowing for total maintenance-free operation: the battery life time exceeds the life time of the product and/or products that do not require any batteries at all (based on energy harvesting).
As more and more residential applications, built on the ZigBee standard, become interoperable, the home network will grow over time, when new applications are added. In the 'house of the future' remote controls are used for controlling home entertainment (TV and set-top box), switching on/off lights, HVAC control, security applications, energy management, etc. This home automation network is connected via the set-top box to the Internet, the IPv6-based 'Internet of Things', where each device can be communicated with and controlled, not only from inside using the home remote control, but from anywhere in the world.
Home automation has been a longstanding promise, and with wireless solutions built on the ZigBee standard, it will become a reality. Wired networks in the home are finished and copper can be used to make statues again.
Rob Gelphman, Chair, Marketing Work Group, MoCA
Although wireless is extremely popular, there is still a case for wired networking. For ease of installation however, wireless isn't the only way to go, and it may not always satisfy the performance and reliability needs for HD video. Both wires and wireless have their own distinct advantages.
Wires, particularly coax, provide the reliability and security demanded by operators and consumers for HD video and other rich content. Coax is immune to interference and unwanted intrusions.
Wireless is the only way to go for mobility. In addition, there are not coax outlets in every room, so wireless or powerline can fill the void. However, coax is generally available where you watch TV, so the home network is most likely to evolve into some combination of a wireless and wired environment.
Michael Stein, Senior Director of Research and Technology, Russound
With iPhones, iPad, Android, and Internet TVs and other gadgets, the focus of consumers today is on the wireless network. This doesn't mean that wireless is the only networking technology that's relevant today. Interconnection of wireless access points, NAS drives, and computers using Ethernet, PLC, MoCA, or other wired technologies preserves the scarce wireless bandwidth for the devices that must be portable.
Even though wireless specifications would indicate that it has got plenty of bandwidth, real world factors such as crowded spectrum mean that only a fraction of this promised bandwidth is delivered. A DLNA NAS drive on a wireless network would have to stream to the access point and then from the access point to the audio system or TV using two wireless hops. If the same NAS was wired, then only one hop is necessary. Now imagine two, three, or more clients accessing this NAS or other shared services. You can see how a good design greatly reduces wireless usage thus increasing QOS and customer satisfaction.
Olivia Dumanovsky, Marketing Associate, pakedge
Wired is always the most reliable and predictable method for IP communication. Wireless is a great alternative but it is not perfect. Many times the advantages of wireless are more noticeable than the disadvantages, but it is important to be aware of the issues. With a wired network, you don't need to worry about security gaps or spotty coverage and Internet access. With wireless, you can face the challenges of interference that cause packet loss and unreliable network connections thanks to walls, appliances, furniture or other structural features, so a wired network would be the perfect solution in jobs that encounter obtrusive structural features.
With wireless networks you also run the risks of facing compatibility issues with the access points and devices, which means your clients will not experience advertised throughput. On the other hand, were you to choose a wired network, you would not have such compatibility issues.
In summary, wireless is a great technology and provides much more freedom than a tethered wired connection, but wireless is not perfect and has limitations. Wireless is improving with methods to combat interference and also roaming with 'virtual cell' technology. But yes, I would say that there still is a place for wired networks in some homes.
Kevin Sheldrake, Business Development Manager, Carlo Gavazzi UK Ltd
Wired home automation solutions have been the choice for many years but wireless technology has gained much ground and support over recent years. There has been a lot of debate about when or if wireless technology will completely take over from the wired solution; however, it just may be that there is room for both technologies to co-exist and perhaps even complement each other.
The common factors in all installations are ease of installation, cost, reliability and performance. The advantages of the traditional wired solution are clear, greater stability supported by frequently faster transmission speeds; longer distances; and power transmission for field devices, eliminating the need for batteries.
Wireless technology has improved on the stability front but it still requires a certain amount of planning and forethought to ensure reliable communication is maintained; wireless devices without batteries are available at a cost, but can still be limited on performance compared with powered devices.
The big advantage of wireless technology is the reduced installation time and non-intrusive factor compared to copper - no chasing out walls or lifting floorboards - making it a simple solution for retrofitting. However, the wireless solution may be affected by other frequently-used everyday devices that generate noise on the same frequency band such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and even microwave ovens.
As both systems have their own strengths and weaknesses, maybe a hybrid solution is the answer, maximising the strengths of both systems.
Johan Vander Beken, Teletask
Wireless is OK for as far as control in concerned, but when people hear about wireless, they often think that they can implement home automation completely wirelessly in existing houses, with no, or very limited renovation required. Obviously this is not the case because all controlled loads have to be connected using powered copper. For example, if you want to add electrical motors for sun blinds, shades, or door openers, motorised gates, extra light circuits, pumps for water circulation for heating/cooling, valves for garden sprinklers, audio/video equipment with power amplifiers - they all need wires.
So wireless is always a very limited part of the job. Wireless devices also need batteries, and therefore most of them are also only temporarily wireless because they need to be charged every x hours or days. You need cradles, chargers, mains adapters etc, all of which is ugly, messy, complex, and has a short lifetime. If we're talking about wireless control devices, with new technologies, some can be powered using energy harvesting, but currently this applies only to some very low power sensors for light and temperature. Theoretically, you could have wallpanels with a battery or a small photovoltaic unit, but modern control panels need good displays for feedback, especially if the panel is being used to control home automation and multiroom entertainment. They therefore need LED displays, and these cannot be powered through energy harvesting. So for me, it is not a question of being for or against wireless, but a matter of practical choices. Think about an audio device placed on a desktop with its wired or wireless speakers. With a simple remote control or Smartphone or iPad, you can manage the unit. The situation is the same with remote control for air conditioning ceiling units, electrical curtains, etc. But as soon as all of them need to be integrated, the situation changes dramatically.
My main issue is with reliability. Our customers are professional system integrators who can't afford to have complaints about a 'not always' working system because of unpredictable and unreliable wireless communication. This makes the difference between profit and loss. If you lose your profits due to service calls that can't be invoiced and can't be completely solved, every order you get is a poisoned gift. And that's not what we all want.?
But of course there are exceptions. Today's customers also want to be in control remotely from outside the home, and to walk around with their iPads and Android devices. The trick is to provide easy-to-configure GUI software for them. And if they temporarily fail or the batteries are low, a wired backbone should always be available. In conclusion, system integrators should leave most of the wireless integration to the retail guys, where complaints result in 'Oh, sorry but we can't help you'. Our system integrators on the other hand can sign any customer's contract stating that the system will work day and night, 365 days a year, for at least 30 years, before and after the storm, as long as there is mains power or an emergency generator. It may be a little more expensive, but it does what it promises: increases comfort, safety and energy management. So please be wired, it will guarantee all of us a fruitful future and happy customers.
Yasmin Hashmi is the Editor of HiddenWires magazine. Additional comments on this issue can be found at the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group where you can also participate in the discussion.
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