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.’
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at email@example.com
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