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Professionals React to Lennar Eliminating Nearly All Low-Voltage Wiring From New Homes

Lennars commitment to going all-wireless has been received with mixed feelings by those in the home-technology industry.

Professionals React to Lennar Eliminating Nearly All Low-Voltage Wiring From New Homes

Some home-technology veterans are sticking up for Lennar's decision to eliminate most low-voltage wiring in favor of a more reliable wireless architecture.

Lennar, the #2 homebuilder in the U.S., is the first to adopt “Wi-Fi Certified Home Design,” a new Wi-Fi Alliance seal signifying the network is designed for “whole-home connectivity, with no dead spots.”

Bravo to both organizations for recognizing the need to prewire for a robust wireless network!

Lennar’s new technology portfolio — from loudspeakers to thermostats to home automation — will all tap into this anointed wireless architecture. A solid Wi-Fi foundation will ensure these technologies work well today, right out of the box.

New home buyers expect “things to just work,” says David Kaiserman, president of Lennar Ventures, in an interview with CE Pro.

That extends not just to plumbing and electrical, but wireless Internet as well.

With the help of the Wi-Fi Alliance, Lennar is creating Wi-Fi “heat maps” for each of its floor plans, specifying where routers and wireless access points should reside. Routers and other gear are stored in RF-friendly plastic boxes, with Cat 6a cable run to WAP locations – from one to three, depending on the floor plan.

Per the spec, the WAPs must be accessible to the consumer, i.e., not up high on vaulted ceilings.

That way, says Kaiserman, “as [network] speeds grow, you can easily replace the access points.”

“They’re plumbing this in,” says Greg Rhoades, marketing director for Leviton, which helped develop the Wi-Fi spec and has supplied structured-wiring products for Lennar. “We’re really starting to see Wi-Fi being the fourth utility. Just as builders are laying out plumbing, gas and electric, they’re doing it for Wi-Fi.”

For its part, Lennar is using networking gear from Ruckus, a brand known for commercial-grade quality.

Talk to anyone who specializes in home automation and other low-voltage technologies, and they will applaud Lennar for adopting Wi-Fi Certified Home Design.

On the other hand, explain how Lennar is eliminating almost all other low-voltage wires in new homes, and their enthusiasm fades (note that Lennar’s plans are still fluid).

Still, there are a few home-technology veterans who defend Lennar’s faith in a wireless future. Here’s what they have to say…

Wi-Fi Certified: Good

First, the good news for Lennar, home buyers and the tech community: The Wi-Fi Certified seal of approval requires homes to be prewired for wireless access points (WAPs or APs), ensuring whole-house, continuous Wi-Fi coverage with no dead spots.

Lennar is the first to adopt the protocol as a standard for all of its new homes – more than 25,000 per year.

“Good for them for being progressive thinkers,” says William Zidek of Chicago-based Tandem Marketing, a leading manufacturers’ representative for the home-technology industry. “I hope it motivates luxury-oriented builders to offer better infrastructure as a standard.”

Zidek’s sentiment is pretty universal among the home-technology trade. When consumers have trouble with any connected device in the home, chances are it has something to do with the wireless network.

The Wi-Fi router is usually located at the edge of the home, leaving much of the property with spotty coverage.

New home buyers expect Wi-Fi to “just work,” says David Kaiserman, president of Lennar Ventures.

For that to happen, he says, you need to “engineer for wireless from the get-go.”

So far, everyone’s pretty much in agreement on that.

Over-Reliance on Wireless: Bad

Now the bad news: While Lennar pretty much guarantees robust, whole-house Wi-Fi coverage when the buyer moves in, the builder is eliminating almost all other low-voltage cabling – the kind that used to be standard for Lennar and other production builders.

Lennar says they are indeed “value-engineering” the wiring in new homes. CE Pro has learned from several sources that the builder plans to run Category (Ethernet) cable only to one, two or three WAP locations, but nowhere else.

Not to the home office, where network reliability might be critical for videoconferencing or Webinars. Not to the home’s main entertainment area, where users might want to enjoy streaming content in high resolution … or streaming content with no Wi-Fi hiccups.

Furthermore, Lennar is running coax cables only to a couple of TV locations. Speaker wiring disappears altogether.

We already explained why an over-reliance on wireless is a “big disservice” to homeowners, according to CEDIA’s Walt Zerbe and most of the home-technology industry – possible security risks, eventual over-saturation of wireless, incalculable interference, disregard for outdoor usage, lack of preparedness for coax-based TV delivery services (e.g., ATSC 3.0) and most importantly the inability to enjoy future bandwidth-intensive services … whatever they may be.

The ‘Progressives’: Good for Lennar!

The naysayers are over-reacting, say a couple of industry contrarians.

“Wireless is the future, and you should get over it once and for all,” says Bruno Napoli, owner of Krika, provider of remote managed services for connected homes.

A proselytizer of the notion that GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) will rule the connected home, Napoli suggests, “There is absolutely no way that any cabling is the future here – no way. Lennar is absolutely sending a great message of hope for all households.”

Napoli concedes that Lennar is taking a “calculated risk” with a nearly all-wireless architecture, but he’s confident that Wi-Fi systems in the future will be able to support whatever new technology comes along, including 8K video.

Furthermore, he says, these new wireless solutions will be “ready for all new cyber attacks.”

Napoli likens Lennar’s approach to Apple’s.

“Everything that isn’t necessary has to disappear,” he says. “Too many buttons on a remote control? Let’s make one with just three buttons. Micro SD cards on phones and tablets create more problems than they solve. There’s no need for Ethernet on a Mac Book. Keep it simple because everyday people don’t like technology and cables.”

Napoli adds: “Do people complain? Nope. They love Apple even more.”

Meanwhile, he equates the home-technology channel to Microsoft: “The more we can add, the better, even if it’s not necessary.”

Napoli has a kindred soul in Zidek, who shrugs off his cohorts’ doomsday predictions. He says production builders do such a shoddy job of wiring today, that it makes more sense for them to do a really good job on wireless instead … with Wi-Fi Certified credentials to prove it.

“Let me get this straight,” he says. “An entry-level builder is reducing poorly implemented wired infrastructure and replacing some of it with Cat 6a 10-gigabit cable to Ruckus AP locations … and this is a negative?” (Ruckus, by the way, is trusted in mission-critcial enterprise applications.)

Low-voltage installers, he says, are still specifying 2×2 (two coax, two Ethernet) to multiple locations, “like it’s important to prewire for the analog console television in case it were to come back in style. The money would be better spent on higher-performance wireless infrastructure.”

Zidek concedes that “some hardwired ports are appropriate, but not at the rate they are being randomly placed around the home today.”

In any case, the new standard for 802.11ac Wave 2 with MU-MIMO (like the $400-$500 Ruckus R510) “can achieve higher speeds than you can with a modern gigabit hardware LAN,” he says. “Maybe those are the Ruckus APs being specified.”

Zidek himself claims to be a “power user” who relies on wireless to do all his business tasks at home, including VoIP, soft-codec videoconferencing, Webinar hosting and more.

If it works for him, it should be fine for entry-level home buyers.

On another note, Ruckus provides very good, very expensive enterprise-grade networking solutions.


Editor’s Note: The following story first ran in Security Sales & Integration’s sister publication CE Pro.

About the Author

Contact:

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration.

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