Upselling the Connected Home

A decade ago, the notion of wiring a home for Ethernet was considered a luxury upgrade 6/12/2008 8:00 AM Eastern

Upselling the Connected Home

Jun 12, 2008 12:00 PM, By Paul Thurrott

A decade ago, the notion of wiring a home for Ethernet was considered a luxury upgrade for the uber-rich. As is so often the case, however, over the past several years, prices have fallen and consumer understanding of the benefits of this connectivity has grown. As a result, Ethernet is often a standard component of new home construction—just like plumbing, electricity, and climate control—and is an increasingly common option for upgraders.

That’s probably not news to you. But what might surprise you is the wealth of upsell opportunities that present themselves once you’ve wired a home in this fashion. Yes, the first step will be pervasive Internet access throughout the home via both wired and wireless connection points, preferably through a high-speed fiber optic (FiOS) or cable-based connection. But look beyond the obvious, and you’ll see plenty of opportunity to add value. Here are a few recommendations.

Multiphone system

Microsoft and its hardware partners sell a small business-oriented phone solution called Response Point that should prove popular in the connected home. Don’t be put off by Response Point’s small business focus, however. It’s easy to set up and provides incredible functionality. Response Point consists of a small hardware base station and an expandable set of phone handsets that you can place around the home. The base station is essentially an embedded computing device with no moving parts. It includes storage for messages and the logic necessary to control the system; actual interaction with Response Point’s software occurs via simple PC software. What sets Response Point apart from typical business-based PBX solutions is cost and simplicity. Response Point is relatively inexpensive—about $1,800 for a four-phone system—and you can add phones as your needs grow. But it’s also super-simple because it works off your Ethernet network and broadband Internet access. Just plug a phone into the network, the base station will discover it, and you’re up and running.

Response Point is different from traditional phones or phone systems in that it provides a set of functionality that today’s fast-moving families will immediately appreciate. There’s a built-in voicemail system with automatic forwarding of calls to email or particular cell phones, so if you’re away on a business trip or out for the night, your calls will be automatically routed accordingly, while calls for others in your family will still ring at home. Everyone gets his or her own voice mailbox, and a voice control system means that callers and family members can be easily and quickly routed properly. So when your teenager daughter’s friends call, the phone will ring incessantly, as always, but only in her room.

Because it's a Microsoft system, Response Point integrates nicely with PCs. You can import contacts from Microsoft Outlook, for example, so you can voice-dial those people automatically. And if you're sitting at a PC in the home office, you can receive pop-ups when the phone rings, detailing caller ID, phone number, and, if applicable, Outlook contact information.

Response Point phone systems are made by companies such as Aastra, D-Link, and Quanta, and are available in a variety of styles and colors. You can also choose between multi-function handsets (such as those seen in a typical workplace) and simpler, home-style handsets.

Upselling the Connected Home

Jun 12, 2008 12:00 PM, By Paul Thurrott

HP MediaSmart Server

HD digital video recording

Although most consumers are probably familiar by now with TiVo and the other kinds of digital video recording (DVR) technology available through hard-drive based set-top boxes from cable companies, there are more sophisticated and powerful solutions available even for those not able to afford an ultra high-end, professionally installed home theater setup. The most potent of these do-it-yourself options is a computer system called a Media Center PC, running Windows Vista and Microsoft’s Media Center software. This software lets you record and watch live TV, including HDTV, if you have a CableCard-based system, just like TiVo. But it doesn’t come with a monthly fee, and is in fact more sophisticated than the options that do.

Media Center stands apart from the competition, ultimately, because of its cost and capability. The up-front costs are higher: A quality Media Center PC can set consumers back $2,000 to $3,000, compared with $300 to $600 for an HD-enabled TiVo. But Media Center PCs are almost infinitely expandable and provide a much nicer interface for enjoying such things as photo slide shows, digital music, or movies rented or downloaded from a host of online video services. And because a Media Center PC is, in fact, a PC, it can integrate more easily with the other PCs on your home network. So, if you have a library of digital music on a kid's PC and a collection of vacation photos in the home office PC, getting to them via the Media Center PC is a simple affair.

Media Center also offers access to a host of unique and useful services. You can access content from XM Satellite Radio, NPR, Reuters News, Fox Sports, and many others, all while using a remote control from the comfort of your couch. And with Media Center Extenders—inexpensive set-top boxes—you can watch any Media Center content from any TV in the house. Best of all, Microsoft's Xbox 360 video game system works as an Extender.

Home security

Many consumers are seeking ways to install home security systems themselves, and although any number of whole-house solutions are available, a more ad hoc approach is often worthwhile.

Individual Ethernet-attached security cameras can be had for as little as $100, providing an easy way to monitor a newborn child or a new babysitter. And when you’re on vacation this summer, these cameras can provide a way to see that your house is safe no matter where you are in the world, assuming you have Internet access, because many now offer PC software that places live camera images on a website.

Home server

Multi-PC households are a common reality these days, but managing those PCs is exponentially more difficult. Rather than force consumers into IT administrator side careers, you can offer a solution that will automatically manage such things as security updates and backing up critical data, and even entire PCs, all from a central location.

An obvious solution comes to mind. It’s a relatively new product called Windows Home Server, and it is sold with new server hardware from a variety of PC makers such as HP. Home Servers supply centrally located storage, PC backup-and-restore functionality, PC and server health monitoring, remote access, and document- and media-sharing capabilities. And if you’re using a Media Center PC or Xbox 360 game console, these products are all compatible, so you can share media among all these devices and all the PCs in the home. The remote-access functionality lets you access all your data while away from home through a simple web interface. You can even remotely control individual PCs.

Final thoughts

Wiring a home for Ethernet connectivity might seem like an obvious option in a modern connected home. But this functionality is really just an enabler, both for installers and for the people who actually live in the home. If you think beyond the simple act of wiring the home, you’ll start to see some intriguing possibilities emerge. Hopefully, this will be a springboard to further discussions about what’s now possible in the connected home.

Paul Thurrott ( is the news editor for Windows IT Pro. He writes a weekly editorial for Windows IT Pro Update and a daily Windows news and information newsletter called WinInfo Daily Update.

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