Control & Automation

In Defense of Lennar’s Wi-Fi Smart Home Strategy: ‘Wireless is the Future’

Most home-tech experts applaud Lennar’s ‘Wi-Fi Certified’ program, but not the builder’s mostly-wireless approach to the smart home. Still, some pros defend the homebuilder for being ‘progressive thinkers.’

In Defense of Lennar’s Wi-Fi Smart Home Strategy: ‘Wireless is the Future’
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.

Julie Jacobson · July 10, 2017

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,” a smart-home wiring protocol developed with the Wi-Fi Alliance.

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. We share their views here.

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, the #2 homebuilder in the U.S., 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.”


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


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.

POINT-COUNTERPOINT

Readers respond to Lennar's Wi-Fi Certified initiative.

"We have designed tens of thousands of student housing and multi-family units. From our experience wireless, even when deployed in a 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."

"People don’t consume technology, they consume programs. They don’t care about 8k. They car about 'Game of Thrones'. Even if it’s in black and white, they just want to see the latest episode."

"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 if the builder had been honest in the beginning."

"The Utopian idea that wireless will do everything in the future is just a dream. As long as an RF signal (Wi-Fi) is present, it will be subject to interference, and, unless one lives miles from their neighbors, that is where it is going to come from. You can have the best Wi-Fi system in the world, but because Wi-Fi is all on basically the same frequency, there will be more and more interference as WAPs 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 Wi-Fi world."

"I think you still think with your mind stuck in 2017."

"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."

"While I applaud Lennar for the Wi-FI certification, they need to continue to run Cat 6 everywhere it is being run now."

"Lennar solves copper theft problem."

"You never can have enough wires!"

"I don't agree. You can always have too much of the wrong wire. ... Having an old extensive prewire is about as useless as no wire."

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

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 2x2 (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.

Final Words

A reader comments:

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.  

And another:

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.



  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 Larry LewisAV on July 16, 2017

Sure having a WiFi Certified Home gives you a selling point to today’s buyers. However, WiFi is for mobile devices, not for Network Appliances. That includes AV gear. They are not taking into consideration all connected devices. They are only focusing on phones, tablets & laptops. Napoli speaks as though having a WiFi Certified home makes up for a manufacturer putting an unreliable wireless NIC in their TV or Blu-ray player. Entry level homes need a network backbone just as a high-end home does. If you want the network to perform optimally and efficiently. I can’t believe Napoli says running a 2x2 to any location is like “...hoping the analog console comes back in style…”. That statement is totally absurd. All things, today, running over either of those cables is digital. Neither of which are compatible with a console television. A fully wireless IoT may be the future, however, that future isn’t now. Even with Ruckus APs. Then again, let’s see what kind of traction & performance Blackfire RED will have.

Posted by jguagliardo on July 16, 2017

We spent more money debating this than it would cost to buy and install wire. Put in both, make your money and move on.

Posted by jbrown on July 11, 2017

Wire is absolutely the more reliable solution. I am pretty sure no one in their right mind will deny that. The problem is that wires have speed limits. When a new standard comes out, you need a new wire. Sure there are typically band-aids, but eventually the wire will be obsolete. If it’s installed in a wall, it can be VERY expensive to replace (hooray for conduit)

Wireless has no speed limit (theoretically). You just buy new devices. Sure there is a “limit” to the data that one 5GHz stream can deliver, but the number of streams is only limited by our imagination (and currently the FCC). But that can change. Who knows, maybe 802.11pdq will come out and it will support a bazillion streams at a trillion gigahertz each. As long as both devices can communicate, then you’re good to go.

BUT THAT DOESN’T EXIST YET. Basically Lennar is saying “soon front doors will be made of spider silk pantyhose and will be indestructible, so we’re giving you a door made out of regular pantyhose right now, and we’re also going to exclude the ability to install a regular door if you want one, because you’ll just have to throw it away in 5-10 years.” Sounds stupid, right?

A 4K Roku player needs 30-50Mbps of bandwidth to play 4K movies. 802.11g could do that as long as there was only one wireless device. The issue is client density, not speed. A basic wired network switch is WAY better than a wireless access point at sharing bandwidth because any two devices that need to talk to each other can do so directly. A 24-port switch is mathematically capable of 24Gbps (24,000Mbps) of throughput. 24 devices connected to a state of the art $1,000.00+ Ruckus or Xirrus access point would be lucky to have 250-300Mbps to share among themselves (as long as each device was within 20’ of the WAP). Worst case for the wired switch is it is limited by a 1000Mbps uplink for whichever devices need to communicate with something not connected to the same switch.

Xirrus Miercom Test Report
http://wvw.xirrus.com/l/66982/2015-08-11/348g1t/66982/45998/Miercom_Report_Xirrus_19Dec2014.pdf

Ruckus Carnet Test Report
http://marketing.ruckuswireless.com/acton/attachment/3040/u-006f/0/-/-/-/-/?_ga=2.134901361.1049255798.1499719971-768016432.1498665869

And we haven’t even talked about interference yet. Bluetooth, microwave ovens, wireless subwoofers, RC cars, and wireless game controllers all operate in the same space as Wi-Fi. The wired switch is unaffected by any of that.

There are far more layers to this onion than I have time to peel, but count me on the side of “Lennar is making a mistake”.

Posted by tgundo2003 on July 11, 2017

Good wireless is very important, but making the blanket statement that its the future and the future is now so ditch all hard wiring is plain silly. Come spend some time in the trenches with us fixing the issues caused by over-promised Wi-Fi expectations and see what you really think about going all wireless. We don’t have enough spectrum as it is, and we continue to bank on loading it down more….can’t make more wireless spectrum.

Posted by Audioplus on July 11, 2017

Sure don’t think it’s much of an expenditure or labor intensive issue to run a CAT6 to main A/V location, a bedroom/office, and a kitchen location to future proof? Even electrican’s can do that?

Posted by SpivR on July 11, 2017

I disagree with going (mostly) wireless.  There are some very special dynamics here that differ from the usual consumer/technology adoption curve.

First - Running wires and coax conventionally is really very inexpensive.  Given that the average house sells for $300,000 or more and in some areas (like here in Silicon Valley) “starter” new homes can easily cost upwards of $1M plus, I just buy the argument that the cost savings to the builder is enough to justify this really short-sighted plan.

Second - Unless every other consumer purchase, a house is built to last for many years.  50 to 100 years is not unreasonable.  Technology fads come and go, but the electrical wires and plumbing in a 100-year old house still work.

Third - It is incredibly easy/efficient to wire a house that has no walls and full access to every location.  There will never be this opportunity once the house is built.  If there is a need to run wires, the homeowner is facing a huge expense to fish wires and possibly re-plaster and paint to cover up the access holes and physical destruction needed to reach everywhere.

Fourth - wireless is a unique beast.  It is not fully under control of the builder or the owner.  A perfectly tuned, tested, and deployed wireless network can turn to crap if a neighbor’s newly installed wireless network or other ISM band devices, suddenly show up and destroy that previously perfectly tuned “WiFi certified house.  That doesn’t happen with wires.  Once installed, if not disturbed, they work and continue to work.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on July 10, 2017

Yes, Paul, clearly a great marketing move. The Ruckus stuff is top notch and should do a great job for many years. Bound to generate word of mouth, too, as home will be move-in ready for wireless. Figure the retail price of gear - one switch, two access points—is probably $1700 or so. At wholeseale, probably the equivalent of 4-6 cable runs, builder cost. Which will give consumers more value today? Usable Wi-Fi. In a few years?
Resale value won’t really matter to Lennar.

Posted by paul greatreps.com on July 10, 2017

Looks like a follow the money type of thing. Lennar has to be concerned about adding cost to their homes and a wi-fi router is less costly than copper wire and the labor it takes to install it. It can also be easily sold to consumers as “future technology.”

Posted by Julie Jacobson on July 10, 2017

That’s pretty much the sentiment here, Joe. Thanks for your comments.

Posted by Joe Schmelzer on July 10, 2017

Really interesting developments. I work in the wireless industry and generally endorse any movement toward making things ‘more wireless’. However, may be worth noting here that, due to the massive amounts of data being projected to be consumed, infrastructure in the business world is generally moving to MORE WIRED CAPACITY, not less. Fiber infrastructure.

If one really looks into this situation in the home, removing/reducing the wired infrastructure probably isn’t a great idea. Better coverage, combined with (important to note:) higher throughtputs, is going to require more access points. It’s the physics of radio propagation. Those access points need to be connected with WIRED infrastructure. The Ruckus APs are powered over Ethernet (PoE)... Think about the implications of that…

Big data consumers are going to want BETTER infrastructure in their homes. Removing the cabling does not achieve that.

View all comments.

Posted by Joe Schmelzer on July 10, 2017

Really interesting developments. I work in the wireless industry and generally endorse any movement toward making things ‘more wireless’. However, may be worth noting here that, due to the massive amounts of data being projected to be consumed, infrastructure in the business world is generally moving to MORE WIRED CAPACITY, not less. Fiber infrastructure.

If one really looks into this situation in the home, removing/reducing the wired infrastructure probably isn’t a great idea. Better coverage, combined with (important to note:) higher throughtputs, is going to require more access points. It’s the physics of radio propagation. Those access points need to be connected with WIRED infrastructure. The Ruckus APs are powered over Ethernet (PoE)... Think about the implications of that…

Big data consumers are going to want BETTER infrastructure in their homes. Removing the cabling does not achieve that.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on July 10, 2017

That’s pretty much the sentiment here, Joe. Thanks for your comments.

Posted by paul greatreps.com on July 10, 2017

Looks like a follow the money type of thing. Lennar has to be concerned about adding cost to their homes and a wi-fi router is less costly than copper wire and the labor it takes to install it. It can also be easily sold to consumers as “future technology.”

Posted by Julie Jacobson on July 10, 2017

Yes, Paul, clearly a great marketing move. The Ruckus stuff is top notch and should do a great job for many years. Bound to generate word of mouth, too, as home will be move-in ready for wireless. Figure the retail price of gear - one switch, two access points—is probably $1700 or so. At wholeseale, probably the equivalent of 4-6 cable runs, builder cost. Which will give consumers more value today? Usable Wi-Fi. In a few years?
Resale value won’t really matter to Lennar.

Posted by SpivR on July 11, 2017

I disagree with going (mostly) wireless.  There are some very special dynamics here that differ from the usual consumer/technology adoption curve.

First - Running wires and coax conventionally is really very inexpensive.  Given that the average house sells for $300,000 or more and in some areas (like here in Silicon Valley) “starter” new homes can easily cost upwards of $1M plus, I just buy the argument that the cost savings to the builder is enough to justify this really short-sighted plan.

Second - Unless every other consumer purchase, a house is built to last for many years.  50 to 100 years is not unreasonable.  Technology fads come and go, but the electrical wires and plumbing in a 100-year old house still work.

Third - It is incredibly easy/efficient to wire a house that has no walls and full access to every location.  There will never be this opportunity once the house is built.  If there is a need to run wires, the homeowner is facing a huge expense to fish wires and possibly re-plaster and paint to cover up the access holes and physical destruction needed to reach everywhere.

Fourth - wireless is a unique beast.  It is not fully under control of the builder or the owner.  A perfectly tuned, tested, and deployed wireless network can turn to crap if a neighbor’s newly installed wireless network or other ISM band devices, suddenly show up and destroy that previously perfectly tuned “WiFi certified house.  That doesn’t happen with wires.  Once installed, if not disturbed, they work and continue to work.

Posted by Audioplus on July 11, 2017

Sure don’t think it’s much of an expenditure or labor intensive issue to run a CAT6 to main A/V location, a bedroom/office, and a kitchen location to future proof? Even electrican’s can do that?

Posted by tgundo2003 on July 11, 2017

Good wireless is very important, but making the blanket statement that its the future and the future is now so ditch all hard wiring is plain silly. Come spend some time in the trenches with us fixing the issues caused by over-promised Wi-Fi expectations and see what you really think about going all wireless. We don’t have enough spectrum as it is, and we continue to bank on loading it down more….can’t make more wireless spectrum.

Posted by jbrown on July 11, 2017

Wire is absolutely the more reliable solution. I am pretty sure no one in their right mind will deny that. The problem is that wires have speed limits. When a new standard comes out, you need a new wire. Sure there are typically band-aids, but eventually the wire will be obsolete. If it’s installed in a wall, it can be VERY expensive to replace (hooray for conduit)

Wireless has no speed limit (theoretically). You just buy new devices. Sure there is a “limit” to the data that one 5GHz stream can deliver, but the number of streams is only limited by our imagination (and currently the FCC). But that can change. Who knows, maybe 802.11pdq will come out and it will support a bazillion streams at a trillion gigahertz each. As long as both devices can communicate, then you’re good to go.

BUT THAT DOESN’T EXIST YET. Basically Lennar is saying “soon front doors will be made of spider silk pantyhose and will be indestructible, so we’re giving you a door made out of regular pantyhose right now, and we’re also going to exclude the ability to install a regular door if you want one, because you’ll just have to throw it away in 5-10 years.” Sounds stupid, right?

A 4K Roku player needs 30-50Mbps of bandwidth to play 4K movies. 802.11g could do that as long as there was only one wireless device. The issue is client density, not speed. A basic wired network switch is WAY better than a wireless access point at sharing bandwidth because any two devices that need to talk to each other can do so directly. A 24-port switch is mathematically capable of 24Gbps (24,000Mbps) of throughput. 24 devices connected to a state of the art $1,000.00+ Ruckus or Xirrus access point would be lucky to have 250-300Mbps to share among themselves (as long as each device was within 20’ of the WAP). Worst case for the wired switch is it is limited by a 1000Mbps uplink for whichever devices need to communicate with something not connected to the same switch.

Xirrus Miercom Test Report
http://wvw.xirrus.com/l/66982/2015-08-11/348g1t/66982/45998/Miercom_Report_Xirrus_19Dec2014.pdf

Ruckus Carnet Test Report
http://marketing.ruckuswireless.com/acton/attachment/3040/u-006f/0/-/-/-/-/?_ga=2.134901361.1049255798.1499719971-768016432.1498665869

And we haven’t even talked about interference yet. Bluetooth, microwave ovens, wireless subwoofers, RC cars, and wireless game controllers all operate in the same space as Wi-Fi. The wired switch is unaffected by any of that.

There are far more layers to this onion than I have time to peel, but count me on the side of “Lennar is making a mistake”.

Posted by jguagliardo on July 16, 2017

We spent more money debating this than it would cost to buy and install wire. Put in both, make your money and move on.

Posted by Larry LewisAV on July 16, 2017

Sure having a WiFi Certified Home gives you a selling point to today’s buyers. However, WiFi is for mobile devices, not for Network Appliances. That includes AV gear. They are not taking into consideration all connected devices. They are only focusing on phones, tablets & laptops. Napoli speaks as though having a WiFi Certified home makes up for a manufacturer putting an unreliable wireless NIC in their TV or Blu-ray player. Entry level homes need a network backbone just as a high-end home does. If you want the network to perform optimally and efficiently. I can’t believe Napoli says running a 2x2 to any location is like “...hoping the analog console comes back in style…”. That statement is totally absurd. All things, today, running over either of those cables is digital. Neither of which are compatible with a console television. A fully wireless IoT may be the future, however, that future isn’t now. Even with Ruckus APs. Then again, let’s see what kind of traction & performance Blackfire RED will have.

View all comments.