Product Article: Home Networking - For Each Input, Many Profitable Outcomes!



By Jonathan Pengilley, Habitech. Since the advent of multiroom audio, custom installers have been building networks to deliver choice and convenience to their customers. Back in the 1980s, the 'Network of Things' approach introduced the idea of 'custom design' to entertainment in the home, and advanced the genesis of our industry. This was as distant from the single-room Hi-Fi model as we are today from those first 'whole-house' systems. Multiplied by the acceleration of data speed and capacity, the convergence of IT with AV technology has in this decade placed enormous power and design capability in the hands of home integrators - and the potential knows no limits. Today, you and your customers are presented with more choice than ever, not just in what to put in the walls, but also how to send and receive audio and video. Expertise in IP The responsibility is yours to choose and wield the right network from an expanding variety of options. Besides the venerable but still relevant RF protocol, there are DECT phone networks, bespoke systems from the likes of Sonos and NuVo, newly invigorated HDMI networks, and leading the charge, wired and wireless IP networks. [caption id="attachment_4506" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The Habitech ProNet platform is designed for high-performance IP networking and comprises easy-to-use and reliable products allied to comprehensive training.[/caption] While knowledge of all network flavours and possibilities is an essential part of the integrator's toolkit, expertise in all things IP is, I believe, compulsory for any custom install business. It plugs straight in to the exponential potency of the Internet - the most phenomenal and transforming agency of our times. Within the last three years we have gone from a scenario involving a few basic network points around a big house to a situation where major clients are talking about load balancing, VPNs etc. Rapid change like this behoves each and every custom install company to ensure that staff become not only IT-literate, but as creative and enterprising as their competitors, who, incidentally, are most likely to be fellow custom install businesses. A few years ago the fear was that IT companies would invade our market and steal away our livelihoods. This hasn't happened because the smartest of us have attained the requisite skills and become stronger by owning all of the technology in the home, including the IT/IP networks, the telephony networks and all the traditional custom install stuff. [caption id="attachment_4508" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The DrayTek Vigor 2920 Series Router Firewall is a dual-WAN port firewall router with excellent performance to run both WAN interfaces simultaneously. It also now supports IPv6 - the next generation Internet system.[/caption] Changing Business Model Not only have our clued-up cousins become technically-proficient, they've had to re-jig their profit models to subsidise meagre returns on product sales with more lucrative service contracts. As an industry we're used to healthy margins on hardware, but in IT, they simply do not exist. All of us - integrators and distributors - must learn how to think strategically about the overall package, accepting wafer-thin returns here, but accumulating elsewhere. If we don't, we will die like the IT companies of the late 80s and early 90s, caught between the box shifters and the service-led, high-maintenance practitioners (unfortunately I am old enough to have experienced that!) Integrators should look toward building margin through service, become expert at justifying the value and demand that end users pay for expertise. The choice is as stark as it gets: either sell the hardware over the Internet for nothing and without service, or make a little money on the product and charge for every minute of your time - just like lawyers, accountants, dentists and IT companies. Similarly, custom install distributors must accept lower returns on IP kit, support their integrators with training programmes and excellent sales back-up, and be prepared to bill their customers for the value added in order to realise the contribution that great service brings to our industry in general. After all, we're rolling the same coin, and together we can benefit. Quality Hardware The quality of the hardware is a major component of the service provided by both distributors and integrators to the end user. When you are wielding IP, make sure you install good kit in order to give the client a great IP experience. Rich clients such as ours expect efficient networks, because invariably they are used to a smooth service at work. Don't skimp on the hardware. Instead, specify top-end product and demonstrate why it is worth paying three times the cost of an off-the-shelf home hub or Sky box. Make your network fly and your clients will love you for it - they'll quickly forget the bill as well. The reverse applies if the network you supply keeps dropping out. You'll be back every week and it will be your fault! [caption id="attachment_4507" align="aligncenter" width="630"] The Ruckus family of wireless networking products uses Smart Wi-Fi technology to deliver longer-range and more reliable Wi-Fi connections to client devices.[/caption] Conclusion My recommendations, for what they're worth, are first, to use trusted brands, like those from our ProNet stable of products, which benefit from professional training and support. Second, consider other complementary network technologies in order to promote a more resilient outcome. Third, don't forget that a DECT network might be called something different than Wi-Fi, but it is still using the same 2.4GHz frequency. Fourth, please dissuade any client from thinking that Wi-Fi is Wi-Fi. That's like saying Ethernet is Ethernet, or that all CAT cable is the same. If you want to stream video you're asking for a thousand times more data than email - gadgets are getting hungrier and you need to feed them a high-protein diet. Lastly, please get expert at IP, because potential customers will buy from the integrators who understand the protocol. Jonathan Pengilley is the Managing Director of Habitech, a value added distributor of home entertainment and home automation products. www.habitech.co.uk Comments on this article are welcome. See below.

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