Letter from America: Is Wireless Always the Way to Go?


Twenty-nine years ago this month my wife and I welcomed our son Daniel into the world. Ah, I remember it well given that unlike his occasionally tardy father he came into the world six weeks early. There I was, being a good modern age, baby boomer-era guy, standing in the delivery room as the “coach”. Then, to my surprise, after his first healthy cries, one of the doctors said to me “Would you like to cut the cord?” I’m sure that was, and still may be, a very new age thing to do. However, my response was, ‘No thanks, that’s what I’m paying you a lot of money to do, and besides, you know how to do it and I really don’t.’ All worked out well, and our son survived without my cord-cutting intervention.

Fast-forward to today, and the cords in question are different, but perhaps the lesson is still one to be learned for the custom community. Depending on where they are located and what stations and services are available they may talk about cutting that cord, but do they really want to do it themselves? And, while one way or another, we did have to cut the umbilical cord then there are some cords in our world that you may want to suggest should not be cut. Indeed, as we soon shall see, wireless isn’t always the answer to all connectivity situations.

When “cutting the cord” to eliminate reception of cable and or satellite services, your first duty is to inform the client that some “cords” will still be needed. For example, if terrestrial over-the-air, or “OTA” is to be used for viewing broadcast you’ll need to provision an antenna and you’re the best person to calculate what kind based on the home’s distance to the transmitter. You’re also the person who can advise when, instead of cutting they will need to actually put in new ones for the feed from an antenna. An outdoor or “in the attic” antenna” not possible, you’re the one who can suggest the best combination of décor-compatible indoor antennas and any required RF amplifiers. I’ve got five of them scattered throughout my own home for places where the cords are supposed to be cut, but really aren’t! And then there is that old issue of cutting the cord or not.

Unless the installation is in an area where there is incredibly fast and ultra-reliable wireless broadband service is available, and there aren’t many, if any of those, you’ll still want to manage the wires from the curb/interconnect point to the modem and the modem to the requisite Wi-Fi and networking. Cut the cord? I’m reminded of one other anecdote. Years ago I did a series of lectures and one of my clients, a very skilled and well respected installation firm owner, asked me not to mention wireless. After all, I was told, “…we do wires – wireless does away with the client to need us for networking…”

Of course, today, the opposite might be the case. Any good custom firm has to navigate the waters of wireless networking to win the bids. That said, and despite seeing relentless popular, enthusiast and business press reports and blogs about “cord cutting”, there are at least two more reasons to tamp down “cord-cutting mania” without sounding like a Luddite tethered to their beloved wired infrastructure. First, always include questions about the level of data security a client requires. Yes, you can secure most things, but never promise that you can secure all things. Here in the US, the “HIPPA” regulations place strict rules on medical facilities and practitioners with regard to data privacy. Does that apply to your clients in perhaps a different form? Does the client require a high level data security to make absolutely certain that financial and business transactions are free from the prying laptops of neighborhood teenagers looking to practice their hacking skills…or worse.

In cases such as that, cutting the data network cord just might not be the right thing to do. Second, as the general notion of “cord cutting” pushes content and services off the more traditional cable and satellite cords, you need more and more bandwidth to make certain that all users in the home have a reliable connection. Yes, that may be done via proper Wi-Fi, but sometimes that requires wires, perhaps with PoE to connect to the access points scattered about a residence. Services here in the US such as the Dish Network’s Sling, Sony’s PlayStation Vue and others to follow deliver broadcast and “pay” content, but they also eat up bandwidth. Feeding the argument, the largest cable operator in the US, Comcast, announced last month that they will soon be giving some customers the option to cut the traditional “cable” cord. Well, at least for the distribution and delivery of content within the home to cable set tops. Instead, a select number of channels will be streamed in a new Comcast service available as an add-on to their Xfinity Internet service customers. Funny thing about that, cutting the cord by a “cord-based supplier”.

Hmm is there a trend here as content delivery moves to IP-based delivery? That has been going on for a few years in the broadcast and production world where “IP delivery” is replacing conventional content HD-SDI digital delivery in major facilities such as ESPN’s new broadcast center. Using network-based infrastructure the bandwidth capability is there and you’re now more or less future-proof. What’s good for broadcasters might just be the thing for homes, as well. Indeed, though the devices through which the new Comcast service will be viewed haven’t been announced, one can expect that it will be something such as a Roku, Amazon FireTV or as a Smart TV app. Perhaps even smartphone and tablet apps, as well. Hmm. “Would you like to cut the cord?” No. “Would you like to connection something to either a cord or wireless and configure it?” No! In both cases, trained professionals are the way to go. For the former it is the folks in the scrubs. For the latter it is, well, YOU.

Don’t let the rise of the notion of “cord cutting” scare you away. If you deal with it properly it won’t mean less business for you, it may mean more, albeit different, business. Let’s prove the point with a final note. The infant whose cord I opted not to cut 29 years ago now has his Master’s Degree and just started working for a major university. Yes, he’s now one of those “Millennials” you read about in the same papers, magazines and on-line reports about cord cutting. With his new job he is moving to a new apartment. One might think that he’d be a cord cutter, but even before he thought about movers, buying new furniture and all the rest he made sure he had broadband service with sufficient bandwidth to cover all the streaming services.

Even more, perhaps with the caveat that the old man (that would be your humble author) made sure he had all the cables to connect his various streaming sources to an AVR and thence to a 5.1 speaker layout and a large flat panel. In two rooms! For all the reports of the younger generations eschewing good audio for ear buds and small speakers, and forsaking large screens for tablets we can take comfort in the fact that once exposed to it they do, indeed, want the best in networking, audio, video and full connectivity—wired or not—that they can afford. Hmm, and maybe even a bit more. Expose millennials to that and they will spread the word to their compatriots just as your big-time clients act as rainmakers to their colleagues for you today. If you look at it properly, being able to manage, manipulate and even sell into the concept of cord cutting may not be the end of our business as some propose. It may instead be the beginning of a new era of specially tailored installations.

Michael Heiss is a technology consultant and journalist, CEDIA Fellow, CEDIA ESC 2 Certified, and US correspondent for HiddenWires magazine. You can contact Michael via the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group, follow him on Twitter @captnvid, or comment on his article, below.