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Lennar’s ‘Wi-Fi Certified’ Homes: Going All-Wireless is ‘Big Disservice’

Lennar's commitment to 'Wi-Fi Certified' homes is a 'great start', but tech industry criticizes #2 builder for nixing future-ready wiring in 25,000+ new homes per year.

Lennar’s ‘Wi-Fi Certified’ Homes: Going All-Wireless is ‘Big Disservice’
Home-technology community applauds Lennar for adopting 'Wi-Fi Certified' home designs, but warns it's a bad idea to reduce or eliminate Cat 5/6, coax and speaker cables.

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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. (That story coming soon.) 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. In order for Wi-Fi to “just work,” he says, you need to “engineer for wireless from the get-go.”

Lennar plans to "value-engineer wiring runs in deference to more robust wireless. ... We’re at a point where wireless is robust enough.”
— David Kaiserman 
president
Lennar Ventures

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.”

In addition to specifying “RF-friendly” wiring cabinets, the Wi-Fi Certified spec requires roaming capabilities for homes that have multiple access points.

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

The company expects to deploy the new Wi-Fi Certified architecture in more than 25,000 homes per year, beginning this summer.

Over-Reliance on Wireless is Bad

Home-technology integrators and the industry at large are cautiously applauding the Wi-Fi Certified initiative and Lennar’s implementation.

“It’s a great start,” says Walt Zerbe, senior director of Technology & Standards for CEDIA, the trade group that represents home-technology installers. "But I'm concerned 'certification' gives builders some kind of 'permission' to exclude wiring altogether."

“On the one hand, it’s great to see home builders finally prewiring for wireless applications,” he says. “But even if Wi-Fi works fine today, it may not do so well when new products, services and applications like 4K video enter the home. Running category cable to strategic locations like Lennar is doing, may provide a level of assurance that Wi-Fi works … but only in the short run.”


NEW! In Defense of Lennar’s Wi-Fi Smart Home Strategy


Eventually, says Zerbe, RF interference could overwhelm the Wi-Fi network, given the already-crowded spectrum, noise-generation from within the home (e.g., microwave ovens), and competition from neighbors.

Wireless communications could become so prevalent – from many different sources – that the signals in any given household will be crippled by interference.

When the Wi-Fi fades, it might be tempting to simply install more powerful WAPs, says Zerbe, but “it’s a race to zero, as everyone else will turn up the power on their access points as well.”

So while home-technology experts appreciate the fact that Lennar and others are running a couple of Cat 6 cables to the ceiling, they worry that production builders will rely too heavily on wireless at the expense of a more reliable and future-ready wired infrastructure.

Their concerns are well founded.

Goodbye Cat 5/6 and Speaker Wire

For its part, Lennar will “value-engineer wiring runs in deference to more robust wireless,” Kaiserman says. “We’re at a point where wireless is robust enough.”

Lennar and other homebuilders are reducing prewires to the bare minimum. While Lennar used to run several Category cables throughout the house, the home builder is now running them only to one or two WAP locations and possibly the front door to power a video doorbell, according to integrators involved with the home builder. (Lennar was not ready to discuss the specifics of its home-technology roadmap, and plans certainly might change.)

Lennar is no longer running Cat 5/6 to home office locations or entertainment centers, where users might want to plug into reliable Internet for work, or stream 4K video content for fun.

“A Wi-Fi Certified network is a boon for today’s homeowners, but an over-reliance on wireless technology is a big disservice to new and future home buyers.”
— Walt Zerbe, CEDIA
Sr. Director
Technology & Standards

As for those “additional Ethernet ports,” says Kaiserman, “we frankly have found that people use them less and less.”

Lennar will dispense with “wiring runs to locations that people originally thought they would use to plug in computers,” he says.

Bad call, according to Zerbe: “As more people ‘cut the cord’ they are relying on streaming content. Ethernet can handle the job far better than wireless, especially when it comes to higher resolutions like 4K."

As for the home office, says Zerbe, “Telecommuters use video conferences, webinars and other demanding services that don't do well with quality of service over wireless. When it comes to doing business, you really can’t afford Wi-Fi dropouts.”

There’s also no accommodation in Lennar's plans for access points or IP cameras outside of the home. According to the 2017 CE Pro State of the Industry Study, outdoor technology is the seventh-fastest-growing product category among home-technology installers.

These installers provide security cameras in 54% of their outdoor jobs; under-eaves speakers in 42%; and outdoor access points in 38% -- the top three outdoor technologies installed by low-voltage integrators, according to a recent CE Pro report.

“I don't want to carry a speaker in and out every time I want to hear music outdoors,” Zerbe says. “Give me some wires at the very least, and preferably some mounted speakers so I can move in and enjoy outdoor entertainment right away.”

That’s not going to happen in new Lennar homes, where speaker wire – both inside and outside – will be a thing of the past.

Lennar used to run speaker wire to in-wall locations for multiroom and surround-sound applications, but now the builder is omitting these wires and moving to all-wireless with Sonos.

When multichannel object-oriented sound (e.g., Atmos) and high-resolution audio become more popular, the wireless network could be sorely taxed.

Couple those bandwidth-intensive audio apps with 4K video streaming, and a wireless network may not cut it.

There’s another thing: not all connected products are wireless; some require a wired connection. These products would not be (readily) usable in an unwired home.

Furthermore, Category cable isn’t just for data exchange. It can be used to power electronics via Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology.

“Without a category wire, a home can't take advantage of that technology,” Zerbe says.

Lennar's not the only one

Lennar is not the only big production homebuilder embracing wireless at the expense of hardwiring.

Meritage is touting its "Advanced Wireless Home Automation Package," with every new home including a "centralized location for the homeowner’s Wi-Fi modem."

We don't know Meritage's wiring strategy at this time, but the #8 homebuilder sure is talking up Wi-Fi.

Brookfield Residential is pushing HomeKit technology in its new homes. We know the builder is cutting way back on custom-installed technologies, but at least the company claims to be installing Cat 6 cable in four locations in a new "gigabit" community in Los Angeles.

Coax Disappears, Too

At the same time, CE Pro has learned, Lennar is cutting way back on coax cable, running it only to two TV locations in most new homes (this plan, too, could change).

Interestingly, this comes at a time when coax will play an increasingly important role in the home.

Broadcasters are rolling out ATSC 3.0, a new platform for delivering over-the-top (OTT) video services for those who wish to dump traditional cable and satellite services.

These providers will offer 4K resolutions with HDR support, on-demand video, and interactive services that allow users to order tickets advertised in real-time, download content, and otherwise communicate with their service providers.

To keep these services robust and backwards-compatible, ATSC 3.0 is running over coax cable.

“Coax is needed at every potential TV location, as video delivery is on the brink of change,” Zerbe says. “TVs will require set-top boxes to deliver the program material, but more importantly the two-way data communication between the consumer and the services.”

To be fair, Lennar builds a huge volume of homes meant for entry-level buyers. For the sake of these buyers, Lennar is eliminating costs by reducing prewires, while enhancing the Wi-Fi network.

A ‘Disservice’ to Home Buyers

It is true, wireless today is far more robust than even five years ago, when Lennar and other production builders were wiring more generously, especially for unknown future technologies.

Even so, “it is still a technology designed to increase convenience at the expense of performance,” says Nathan Holmes, technical trainer for Access Networks, provider of networking products and services for the custom-installation channel.

“Any reduction of infrastructure wiring will severely limit which products and technologies a homeowner could utilize in the future,” he says. “For that reason, ‘wireless’ homes could lose value over the longer term. Future buyers will want those wires.”

Work-at-homers, for example, are likely to require highly reliable connections for video conferencing and bandwidth-intensive applications like virtual reality.

Obviously, mission-critical services like surveillance and digital health would benefit from wired communications, as well.

Finally, and importantly, wired connections can be more secure than wireless (not always). In this era of cyber-hacking, we might see a backlash among consumers who demand more secure (wired) networks.

Many of the high-bandwidth applications mentioned here might not apply to homeowners living in a Lennar home, but the move to “Wi-Fi Certified” could set an unfortunate precedent among the general population of home builders and dwellers. They will likely regret decisions to eliminate wiring.

“Families who are limited to only using wireless products will most likely never be able to enjoy the benefits of future technologies,” says Holmes, “or they will be required to remodel their entire home just to add a wired infrastructure that could have easily been there from the beginning.”

Lennar promises that "Wi-Fi Certified home designs enable today’s best smart and streaming products to operate at peak performance and are ready for the future as new technologies come to market."

Quite the contrary, according to many home-technology experts. They argue that a Wi-Fi-friendly infrastructure should be just another prerequisite for future-ready homes. Eliminating wiring, on the other hand, ensures the homes most certainly are not prepared for new technologies.

At the end of the day, Zerbe says, “A Wi-Fi Certified network is a boon for today’s homeowners, but an over-reliance on wireless technology is a big disservice to new and future home buyers.”



  About the Author

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. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]

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Comments

Posted by TheDarkKnight on July 10, 2017

I couldn’t agree more with Walt Zerbe…wireless is only considered the future because it’s convenient, not because it’s reliable. In this case (new home builds), it doesn’t have to be an ‘either/or’...why not use wired network connections when you can?

Posted by Julie Jacobson on July 10, 2017

Thanks for your comments, Rhino. I included them in the follow-up piece, “In Defense of Lennar.” http://www.cepro.com/article/in_defense_of_lennars_wi_fi_smart_home_strategy_wireless_is_the_future

Posted by RhinoMan on July 10, 2017

Comparing what was available in terms of technology in 2002 to what is available in 2017 is ridiculous!

Wireless is the future and the future is now.  Anyone with any vision will easily see that.  Google and Amazon are embracing it with their home automation products as are all the major mobile device manufacturers. 

BTW…Last time I checked there are no RJ45 Connections available in any of the devices we use today for mobile connectivity…Oh, and if you are re-booting your WiFi device all the time then you are probably not using an enterprise grade Access Point.

Posted by dbendell on July 10, 2017

Real simple, if you are in the AV business, share this article and say “Do not buy a home from this builder” The cost of a proper coax, CAT5e runs to basic TV areas and backfeed from a router to a switch in the structure panel is minimal compared to the repercussions of this WiFi idea.  Just like my client from 2002, he said “in a few years everything will be BlueTooth I don’t need any CAT5e cabling”, he worked on Wall Street, years later we did a retro for him. I billed out my services!

Posted by antoniohardeman on July 10, 2017

For most home builders and most end users the future is wireless whether some like it or not.  It’s not fiscally prudent for a major home builder to enlist a low voltage contractor to run cat5/6 multiple locations throughout a home.  And most of the buyers of these homes will not care if there isn’t cat5/6 in every room or in certain areas. 


Bruno said it best.  The majority of consumers and home buyers don’t need cat5/6 to “key locations”.  They’re walking around their homes with a tablet or phone streaming music or a show on that device using wifi.  They’re on the laptop browsing or streaming with wifi.  They’re streaming on a blu-ray player.  There is no “key location” anymore.  The “key location” is wherever they are at the moment.  When you think of it in that way, what Lennar and other production home builders are doing in makes sense.  Services like Netflix are designed so that streams adjust based on the currently available bandwidth.  So not having a enough bandwidth to stream 4k Netflix just doesn’t seem like a big deal because as Bruno said, consumers just want the video to continue playing.


The folks responding to this article have a vested interested in ensuring that wires are ran everywhere or to “key locations” in a client’s home.  People live differently now and as such there is less of a reliance on connecting things to cat5/6.  Most of the folks buying a Lennar home aren’t going to mount touch panels that need PoE to a wall.  They’re use their tablet or phone or have multiple tablets or phones in various locations. 

I would venture a guess that in the majority of neighborhoods wifi interference isn’t that big of a problem.  Could it be in the future?  Sure.  But I would guess that routers and access points will get better at being able to handle interference.  As it stands now end users do have some remedy by going into the router’s admin setup and changing to a different channel.  That’s a basic function that is offered on most of the current routers that ISPs provide.

Posted by Audioplus on July 9, 2017

All you need is my ‘home builder certification and my electrician and you’re future proofed!’ By the way, where was CEDIA, THX, NSCA, etc. when this Lennar came up with a brilliant idea?

Posted by Adroit1 on July 9, 2017

dbendell, A Domotz or Ihiji monitoring system, combined with a Wattbox, would let you know what your customers’ issues are before they do, and be able to reboot all of their devices while sitting on that beach.
Bruno Napoli, Wireless may or may not be the entire future, but new home buyers want their things to work NOW. By making the buyers think all their networking is going to work with nothing more than WiFi, the builders are taking advantage of the ignorance of the general public. It is dishonest, and, worse, very expensive for the home buyers to remedy after all the walls are in. Coax and category cable are cheap. It is much better, in a situation where retrofit is almost impossible, to have the cables and not need them, than to need them and not have them. If wireless becomes the future, than just don’t use the existing cables, but at this time, cables are very necessary for a complete control system, speakers, Apple and Roku, and many more devices in the system.

Posted by Walt Zerbe on July 8, 2017

Hi Julie, it depends upon the markup. Let’s just say it should be far cheaper than high end hardware (marked up). I will let current installers comment on this one.  If a certified wireless installation will be standard, why not augment it with proper wiring to key locations and call it a technology ready home?

Posted by Walt Zerbe on July 8, 2017

I will remain steadfast. Why not run some wires to key locations?  Wire is cheap and very flexible.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on July 8, 2017

Walt, about how much for a cat 6 run, including components and labor?

View all comments.

Posted by jhamill1 on July 7, 2017

The term “builder grade” is never a compliment. Many builders, especially the mass market types like this, are notoriously cheap. It’s hard to imagine any CE pro buying a house from someone like that. If they skimp on the low voltage wiring, aren’t they skimping on every aspect of the job just to line their pockets? In the end, the customers have high retrofit costs to makeup for these scam artists. Have they also put a big sticker listing how many grams of protein are in their homes? Or how these new designs are low fat and gluten free?

Posted by Adroit1 on July 7, 2017

Can anyone say Apple TV? Or most automation functions? It seems to me Lennar is trying to find a way to cut costs, not help consumers. Yeah, WiFi certified sounds good, but it means a lot less labor for the builder, and some major headaches for the buyer. As TV’s go from 4K to 8K, there is no way WiFi is going to keep up. And those Dolby Atmos ceiling speakers will not work with Sonos. The RF running through the house with wireless trying to keep up with the home systems as they continue to grow will become its own worst enemy. I can see the phone calls now, “I just turned on my new 8K TV and everything else in the house stopped working.” It is not going to be pleasant to inform the homeowner the astronomical amount they are going to have to spend to correct a problem that wouldn’t even exist of the builder had been honest in the beginning. While I applaud Lennar for the WiFI certification, they need to continue to run Cat 6 everywhere it is being run now.

Posted by captainrichard on July 7, 2017

Richard Holtz Totally off the wall. Our standard- InfiniSys Electronic Architects- if it plugs into the wall for power plug it into wired Ethernet. All of our backbones are either 10 Gog fiber or 1 gig Cat5e/6. Even when designing for an IPTV platform we still put in dark coax to all TV wallplates. We have designed tens of thousands of student housing and multi-family units. From our experience wireless even when deployed in an very well engineered scheme and fully managed environment had at best 75% of the capability of a wired / wireless solution. I am talking using latest 3x3 802.11 AC chipset 2 gear. Ugh!!!!

Posted by Bruno Napoli on July 8, 2017

Sorry, no offence here, but you all seems to think with your mind stuck in 2017.

I bet Lennar take a calculated risk.
(I used the word “risk” on purpose because yes, like you, I think there is a real risk)
While a house is build to last decades, every tech product have an expiration date, even router & WiFi access points. One day or another, and there is nothing we can do about this, Ruckus will not support the gears installed by Lennar in 2017.

And one day or another, a new WiFi radio system will be available, supporting 8K, 16K and ready against all new cyber attacks. So I think you should not be worry about this as Lennar will have to proceed every 5 years to an upgrade program of all the tech gears they installed. I just hope they put this on paper for their clients to know about it because it will be a cost.
I just hope also that they have program to upgrade the firmware of all Ruckus gears they install at least once a year, because not upgrading firmware is just not an option here. They can’t act like our actual “Custom Installers” channel, installing network stuff and abandon it like that until the end of time. The “maintenance” job have to be done, and Lennar is a HUGE company, so if they do not do it, a lot of people will take the opportunity to sue them to justice for “abandoning them with a tech system that is potentially open to all cyber attack and not providing any way to maintain it”

Now, wireless IS the future and you should get over it once for all.
There is absolutely NO way that any cabled stuff is the future here… NO WAY, and Lennar is sending here a great message of hope for all household -> We are getting rid of cables ! hallelujah !

 

 

Posted by Bruno Napoli on July 8, 2017

And remember, people don’t consume technology, they consume program, they don’t care about 8K… they car about “Game of Throne”... So even it it’s in black and white, they just want to see the latest episode. The only people that care about technology is our professional channel because we need to sell some stuff to live.

Posted by Adroit1 on July 8, 2017

Wireless is not he future, fiber optic cable is. while multimode fiber is the answer to today’s house issues, single mode fiber has virtually unlimited bandwidth, limited only by the light generating source. True, wireless will cover most of people’s homes, but the backbone and important information will still be on fiber optic, long after I am dead. The utopian idea that wireless will do everything in the future is just a dream. As long as an RF signal (WIFi) is present, it will be subject to interference, and, unless one lives miles from you neighbors, that is where it is going to come from. You can have the best WiFi system in the world, but, because WiFi is all on basically the same frequency, there will be more and more interference as WAP’s send out stronger and stronger signals to handle the bandwidth of the information being consumed. It happened in the HAM radio sphere, and it will happen in the WiFi world. To top it all off, hackers will be having a field day when WIFI signals reach to the streets and all a malicious person has to do is find your WIFI signal and jam it so you don’t have a usable signal in your home, while hacking your neighbor at the same time.

Posted by Bruno Napoli on July 8, 2017

Hey Adroit1 I think you still think with your mind stuck in 2017

We don’t know what are the exact model of Ruckus gears Lennar is going to install. Maybe it will be a special edition for residential with specific feature for remote management and neighbor interference handling.
What I want to say is: don’t think about the future with today gears…
If Lennar has partnership with the WiFi alliance, it’s certainly not for nothing. They should have good reasons to do that way. And even if I’m a little like you, I mean I can see all problems they are going to face, I say: Wait and see.
Peace
Bruno

Posted by dbendell on July 8, 2017

If I had a $1 for every time one of clients tells me how they had to reboot their wifi device, ie apple tv, stuck to behind their TV, I would be on a beach not trolling this site listening to this industry deciding what is best for the uneducated!

Posted by Bruno Napoli on July 8, 2017

dbendell… let’s meet on this beach!

Posted by Walt Zerbe on July 8, 2017

I will remain steadfast. Wire is inexpensive, why not run some in addition to this wireless option to key areas?

View all comments.