Making the Right Connected Home Connections

Systems control and integration is rapidly becoming a leading area of growth for the residential electronic systems industry. Hence, it is essential home technology professionals not only get trained, but put their knowledge into practice. Here’s how to get started.

In the next 24 months, 77% of security installation companies plan to install distributed audio and video. That’s according to a 2012 Custom Electronic Design & Installation (CEDIA) survey; so don’t be left in the dust. However, you may have lots of questions if you are trying to break into this side of the industry. There is no better place to find the answers than with training from industry experts.

Based on the five-day “Advanced Networking and System Integration Boot Camp” CEDIA offers (see sidebars for more) at its Indianapolis training facility, this article serves as a starting point to address topics critical to deliver successful residential projects using today’s emerging technologies. The first step is to determine where your skillset lies. If you’re brand new to A/V installation, you should opt for some initial training to lay a foundation to work on this side of the industry.

If you’re already familiar with running cables and other fundamentals, it may be time to tackle the harder topics. There are many advanced training topics you need to become familiarized with if you’re going to be working beyond security systems in the home. A fully automated home has many parts that all depend on one another to deliver the “connected home” experience. Let’s take a look at some of the essential parts of today’s connected home.

Know Your Way Around Networking

Networking know-how is considered to be developing into the most important skill for a residential technician. This is because the residential network is rapidly becoming the backbone of virtually every low-voltage subsystem in the home. What was once used just for printer sharing and low-stakes Internet access is now handling voice, data, entertainment, surveillance, medical sensors, telepresence, system control and more. The opportunities are endless.

As a home technology professional, clients will rely on your skills to make systems work quickly, securely and reliably. Their family may want to stream Netflix, play an online game with Xbox Live and communicate on Skype video all at the same time. It’s your job to make sure the system performance is top notch. Believe it or not, a $50 router probably won’t cut it.

 In the coming years, more consumer electronics products will be network-enabled, including washing machines, refrigerators and other appliances, increasing the need for a stable, secure and robust network that only a high-level system can truly provide.

When asked to integrate these types of systems, you must make the case to the consumer that a more advanced (and more expensive) home network infrastructure is necessary over conventional residential options to achieve their needs.

The good news: IP is not some “top secret” proprietary language only available to a select few special people. Nor is it an ever-changing technology that is always a moving target and impossible to keep up with. IP is a well-established and versatile language, used the same way by everyone, and consistent around the world.

Addressing IP Allocations

The first key is to understand IP addresses and develop a standardized addressing scheme for all projects. Most home networks are built on IPv4 addresses. When the IPv4 addressing scheme was first put into practice, it was estimated that the number of devices worldwide would eventually exceed the number of possible unique addresses.

For this reason, the address space was separated into two categories: public and private. The public IP address is used by a router to access resources on a wide area network (or WAN; in residential applications this is typically synonymous with the Internet). The devices connected to the local area network (LAN) are then assigned addresses from the private addressing space and the router “shares” the single public WAN address among all the local devices.

This concept of creating smaller sub-networks (subnet) with a single public address allowed us to stretch the limited number of IPv4 addresses to millions more devices than would have otherwise been possible. As an added advantage, a router protects internal LAN addresses by masking them to its own public address when communicating to the outside world.

IPv4 addresses are comprised of four sets of eight binary bits. The most common way to represent an IP address is by converting the binary values to decimal and placing a “dot” in between the octets, i.e. There are three address ranges used for private IP addressing: — Class A Network = 126 networks and 16,777,214 hosts per network — Class B Network = 16,384 networks and 65,534 hosts per network — Class C Network = 2,097,152 networks and 254 hosts per network

The most commonly implemented LAN subnet in residential environments is 192.168.0.x, where the first three octets represent the network address and the last octet signifies the host address. As stated above, using a Class C network allows for up to 254 host devices, which is more than enough for most residential applications today.

Many inexperienced technicians currently rely on the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) built into most routers to assign IP addresses to all devices on the network. While DHCP is a useful tool, it is important to note that the pool of addresses reserved for use by DHCP is commonly defaulted to 50 or 100 addresses out of the total available 254. Although that may seem like a large number, with the exponential increase in connected devices and sensors in the coming years, it likely won’t be enough for very long.

For this reason, it is advisable to thoughtfully allocate the available addresses and consider manually assigning IP addresses to certain devices that are stationary and will not move around the network. To be clear, host devices that are prone to move around such as laptops, smartphones and tablets are better off configured using DHCP due to the high likelihood they will often traverse among networks. Static addresses should be used for servers, printers, IP cameras, Blu-ray players or anything customers regularly need to connect to on the network. Another advantage of manually assigning addresses is it makes those devices simple to access remotely because they will always communicate via the same IP address, making them easy to find on the network.

You may wonder if you need to know this. The answer is an absolute yes. In the CEDIA Boot Camp, you will set up and configure a commercial-grade router and Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) for use in a large residential environment requiring virtual LAN (VLAN) segmentation and Quality of Service (QoS) verification. You will also set up a VPN and apply the proper protocols to ensure both wired and wireless network security.

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