Electrical contractors can take advantage of the home networking market by becoming trained as home technology integrators.

So the home automation craze didn't exactly pan out, and now you're looking to expand your business with a low-voltage application. Home networking could be the answer. Networked home automation systems connect a variety of residential subsystems like computer networks, telecommunications, entertainment, and security systems to each other and the Internet through a network application with a user-friendly interface. But although more than half of homeowners would prefer that an electrical contractor take on the task of connecting their residential subsystems, chances are they're only going to entrust certified, home technology integrator (HTI) professionals with the work. Electrical contractors, however, can take advantage of this market by training and becoming certified in this field. This article is the first in a 12-part series that will prepare you for CompTIA's HTI+ certification exams.

The home network integration process. Every home network installation consists of three phases: design and engineering, installation, and customer support. Each is critical to a project's success. During the design and engineering phase, you must gather requirements, complete your design and documentation, and then obtain the customer's approval to begin the project. The installation phase involves roughing in the cables, terminating all of the connections, and connecting and testing all of the components. An HTI professional will then provide customer support by training the homeowner on how to use the system and by being available for future service calls.

It's important to realize that the homeowner's requirements and desires guide the network's design and implementation. Your role as an HTI is to educate the homeowner on the available features and options of various home networking technologies.

As homeowners' knowledge base on home networking increases, so too will their longing for more networked systems and appliances (Fig. 1). That desire will be guided by the ease of use, reliability, scalability, and security of the available systems.

Applicable standards.

The primary standard that affects residential systems cabling infrastructure and the HTI is ANSI/TIA/EIA-570-A, “Residential Telecommunications Cabling.” Standard 570-A was created to standardize the design and installation of residential telecommunications cabling for voice, data, multimedia, and other applications. The Table displays the telephone, television, data, and multimedia requirements for Grade 1 and 2 systems, as noted in ANSI/TIA/EIA-570-A.

The FCC oversees the manufacture, performance, installation, and operation of telecommunications systems installed in residences. Part 68 of the FCC Regulations was developed to assure consumers, manufacturers, and carriers that terminal equipment and wiring could be connected without degrading the network. It describes minimum requirements for the mechanical or physical properties of wiring devices, such as electrical performance, dimensional integrity, and material properties. Therefore, only equipment meeting FCC Part 68 standards may be connected to the network.

In addition, the FCC adopted CC Docket No. 88-57 in 2000, which set Cat. 3 cable as the new minimum quality standard for inside telephone wiring. The purpose of this change was to eliminate inferior cabling, which can cause crosstalk between telephone lines.

As with any installation that deals with electricity, home networking is also subject to the requirements of the 2002 NEC.

The HTI professional must also be familiar with a variety of rating systems for different types of cables used in home networks. The ISO/IEC Cable 11801 standard categorizes cable as follows:

  • Class A — up to 100 kHz

  • Class B — up to 1 MHz

  • Class C — up to 16 MHz

  • Class D — up to 100 MHz

  • Class E — up to 250 MHz

  • Class F — up to 600 MHz

  • Optical Class — optical fiber links are characterized up to 10 MHz and above.

    As an HTI contractor, you should always have reference copies of all standards, codes, and regulations readily available on any project. Compliance with the following codes and regulations as well as individual manufacturer's recommendations will help to ensure a quality installation.

  • ANSI/TIA/EIA — 568-B, “Commercial Building Telecommunication Standard,” 2001. This standard is broken into three parts that cover the overall cabling system and the system testing requirements for copper cable, components, and fiber optics.

  • ANSI/TIA/EIA — 568-A, “Commercial Building Telecommunications Pathways and Spaces,” 1998. This standard explains the use of unshielded twisted pair cable and connecting hardware for high-speed LAN applications.

  • ANSI/TIA/EIA — 606, “Administration Standard for the Telecommunications Infrastructure of Commercial Buildings,” 1993. This standard provides a uniform administration approach independent of applications, which can change several times throughout the life of a telecommunications infrastructure. It's intended to increase the value of the system owner's investment.

Understanding the basics of home networking is the first step in preparing yourself for entering the market; experience with low-voltage installations will even put you that much farther ahead of the pack. Regardless of your proficiency with the technology, though, the burgeoning popularity of the technology alone should be enough to convince you that it's a viable option for your contracting business.

Dusthimer is publisher of CISCO Learning Institute Press, York, Penn.

Sidebar: Market Grows by Leaps and Bounds

The home networking equipment market nearly quadrupled in size from $150 million in 1999 to $585 million by the end of 2001, according to In-Stat/MDR. That pace isn't predicted to slow down: Archi-Tech magazine forecasted in September 2001 that the number of networked homes in the United States would reach 1.7 billion in 2005, up from 650,000 in 2000, thanks in large part to the growth of high-speed Internet access (Fig. 2).

This market is ripe with opportunity for electrical contractors, who can now become certified as home technology integrators (HTI). CompTIA, in conjunction with the Internet Home Alliance and a cornerstone committee of Fortune 1000 companies, has developed a two-exam certification process. The material in this 12-part series is part of a 50-hr training program designed to prepare individuals to take the HTI+ certification exam. Over the next 12 months, the articles in this series will include excerpts from the HTI+ training program developed by the Cisco Learning Institute along with industry partners, Leviton Manufacturing, HAI, Premise, and BlueVolt. This program will prepare electrical contractors and their employees to capitalize on this new and financially rewarding segment of the field.

How to Sign Up For the Course

The articles in this series are taken from the only turnkey training program for the HTI+ professional offered by the Cisco Learning Institute. This Web-based, instructor-led course includes a heavy lab component based on industry standard components provided by Leviton Manufacturing, HAI, and Premise. Students who take the course will also receive three reference books published by Prentice Hall. The course is offered by contracted sites around the country and can take from 40 hr to 60 hr to complete, depending on the student's background. It's open to anyone and requires only a few prerequisites. Some knowledge of the electrical field is helpful but not required.

Once completed, this course will provide the background knowledge and preparation necessary to sit for the CompTIA HTI+ certification exams. For more information about the exams, visit www.comptia.org.

Visit http://www.ciscolearning.org/ to find a site near you. For questions about the program, e-mail the author at ddusthimer1@ciscolearning.org.