The Home By Design Technology

An interview with Sandy Teger and Dave Waks

Sandy Teger and Dave Waks founded the Broadband Home initiative, a worldwide community of companies involved in building end-to-end applications and solutions for consumers with broadband connections inside and outside of their homes. Their backgrounds are deeply rooted in connectivity technologies: Sandy spent 18 years with AT&T, where she specialized in strategic planning, multimedia, and visual communications, and eventually became the company's strategy director for multimedia products and services. Dave was a founder of Prodigy Services Company, where he devised Prodigy's network architecture. He worked there for over a decade and was later responsible for Prodigy's development of broadband, CD-ROM, multimedia, and interactive TV. In 1993, he launched the first residential cable-modem services trials in the United States. Today, Sandy and Dave are consultants, speakers at industry events, and creators of the Broadband Home Central Web site, which focuses on residential broadband technologies.

Because of their expertise in integrating broadband technologies into the home, architect Sarah Susanka asked Sandy and Dave to provide the connectivity technologies for her Home by Design Showhouse. Connected Home Magazine recently discussed this work with Sandy and Dave.

CH: How did the Home by Design Showhouse deal come together?

Dave: We're very much interested in whole home networking and how this fits into people's lifestyles. Last fall, Sarah asked if we'd help with the connectivity aspects of the home. The plan was for the Home by Design Showhouse to be as much about connectivity as it is about design and architecture.

The home exemplifies the stuff we're talking about. Sarah has designed a neat home and fit in all the stuff people can use today. The focus is not on the typical high-end stuff. We worked hard to pull it all together, and used affordable stuff that everyone can use. First, we lined up the external connectivity with a broadband service provider, Cox Cable. They connected the house with fiber, which is a service they're not offering today to customers, but they're testing it. We can show HDTV over that, high speed Ethernet, PVR in set-top boxes, IP telephony, whatever you want. We're showing off the services the cable operators can offer on that type of connection.

CH: What other kinds of technology are showcased in the house?

Sandy: We have a structured cabling system, with a technology retrofit that permits networking over the telephone lines. The story here is that structured networking is good for new home construction, but there are other ways to do it in existing homes. We use 802.11g for wireless mobile devices, for example. Our notion is that wireless is great for mobile devices but not so great for fixed devices. We have a variety of devices connected into the network in various ways—desktops computers, notebooks, Media Center PCs, and digital media adapters that can take Internet content, PC content, whatever, and carry it to the home-entertainment system.

CH: Digital media adapters?

Dave: Well, there's a Turtle Beach Audiotron, which takes PC music content and puts it on your audio system. And there's an SMC Media Adapter that does video, either over 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, or Ethernet, and it costs only $200. That's the kind of thing we're talking about. In our own house, we have many of these devices: SMC, RePlay, TiVo, and so on.

Finally, we look at logical applications of this technology in the house. All of this points to the fact that broadband is the coming utility. Broadband is what comes into the house, and it's just as much a utility as electricity and water. Builders and developers need to think of it that way. You shouldn't sell a new house to people unless Ethernet jacks are in there.

Sandy: We were in Florida recently, and we walked into this million-dollar home. We asked, where are the structured cables? But the builder was over 60 years old. He just didn't get it. How can you sell something like that?

David: Today, this stuff is past the tipping point. Builders need to do this. Developers need to make sure broadband is delivered to the house on the day its sold, just like water and electricity. Builders have to put in structured cables. Wireless won't solve everything, and with CAT5E \[wired networking\] you can future-proof a house.

CH: One thing I really like about the Home by Design Showhouse is that it's based on affordable technologies, and doesn't require a bucket-load of money or an installer.

Sandy: That's an important message about this house. There's some sexy stuff, but it's focused on real people and real life. You want to be able to move photos around and listen to music when and where you want it. These things enhance your lifestyle. It's not about your refrigerator talking to the toaster.

Dave: Right. Broadband enhances your lifestyle. You're able to take that music you ripped and play it in any speaker in the house. You can watch video from any TV. The technology isn't quite there for video, but it's coming fast. Our whole theme is that this stuff is already affordable. If you can afford a PC, then you can afford connectivity.

CH: Describe your working relationship with Sarah Susanka.

Sandy: We're delighted to work with Sarah. She's all about architecture that people can really afford. It's a perfect marriage. The CEDIA stuff is nice, but we don't do that in our own home.

CH: Are there any other aspects of the home we're not covering?

Dave: There is one more piece. We're working with Nevada Power to do some interesting energy management with a Square-D electrical management console. It manages conventional power, and uses a solar-cell system as a backup generator. There's a system-wide UPS, and you can manage the whole thing through a Web browser. This is one piece an installer would have to set up. But afterward, the customer can monitor and control power management, automatically handle power failures, and transition back to main power when it returns. With this centrally managed system, you can also turn off outlets remotely—say, in the baby's room. And finally, power companies can offer a deal to the homeowner for peak power shaving so the owner gets better price for limiting the power. Everything is under control. But on backup power, critical things will keep running. This is an evolving technology that was available only in the commercial domain before. But we're seeing a world in which lots of homes have this capability as well. Brownouts would be less common. We need a way to get there.

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