PLC Products: Myth vs. Fact

September 10, 2010

Getting the Straight Scoop About New Technology Opportunities

Jeff Kussard ( is strategic development director for Capitol.

There is no need to discuss the challenges that custom installation professionals face as we mark the second anniversary of the near-halt in new housing starts. According to CEA figures, a 35-percent decrease in residential construction led to a 27-percent decrease in sales of multiroom audio, while home automation and automated lighting fell 18 percent during 2008/2009. But, three-quarters of the way through 2010, this is simply old news.

With two years to consider how best to stay vital, I would think that my friends and colleagues would only differ on what new trends to follow, rather than whether or not new opportunities exist. And many of them do, though nearly as many are opting to wear blinders and stick only with what they know.

Nowhere is the need to be open-minded more necessary than when it comes to looking at the many “no new (long) wires” options that have surfaced over the past year. From wireless to Powerline Carrier, not to mention the extensive pre-installed base of long wire runs that offer important new signal transport opportunities (not to mention new and upgraded sources and speakers), our industry is hardly suffering from a dearth of opportunities for new and expanded business.

So why then do so many CI professionals simply wring their hands and turn away from the potential? Personally, I’m baffled. There are far too many professionals who are either resistant to change or are mistakenly awaiting a return of the runaway home building fervor of the recent past.

In an effort to clear up a few misconceptions, here are two lingering myths that I would like to eradicate once and for all:

Myth #1: We tried Powerline Carrier (PLC) technology before and without much success

Fact: No you didn’t. Without mentioning names, an age-old product that received a bad rap is being confused with PLC products and their proven capabilities; forget it.

PLC is a recent innovation, having coalesced in 2000 when the Home- Plug Powerline Alliance set out to create a standard that would allow manufacturers to use existing home electrical wiring to connect to each other and in turn connect to the Internet. The specification published in 2005 opened the door to increased physical layer peak data rates from 14 Mbps to a remarkably robust 200 Mbps.

An example of the topology used for Russound’s Powerline Carrier-based Collage multi-room audio system.

The growing list of manufacturers tapping into PLC is indicative of its market potential, especially for the CI community. Channel leaders such as NuVo and Russound have committed significant R&D to creating entertainment and intercom systems that are specifically designed for retrofit installations.

These new products are typically installed in hours, not days or weeks. With minimal disruption to the end-users’ lives, and a level of reliability that easily matches more traditional systems, an installer can turn to a prospect and safely commit to setting up a multi-zone system within 24 hours or less. This time savings makes it easier to close a sale, yet there are those among us who are afraid to sacrifice more traditional projects because of the significant drop in labor.

Myth #2: I won’t make as much on a typical installation because of the significant drop in labor

Fact: It isn’t a myth, at least when looking at it on a project-by-project basis. However, the drastic savings in time devoted to a single installation means that many more installations can be completed in the time it takes to retrofit a home with a new long wire system.

Back when I spent a significant amount of time pulling wire, I would have been thrilled to have at my fingertips an easy-to-install, easier-to-use product that allowed me to complete, say, three or four jobs in the time it usually took to finish just one. A faster turnaround time allows for more jobs, especially with so many satisfied customers ready to offer referrals to their friends and neighbors.

As much as we would all like to see a return to the building craze of the late ’90s through early ’08, I think we can all agree that it will not happen during our lifetimes. Instead, we can either wallow in nostalgia and misinformation, or take advantage of some of the most exciting new products to come along, no matter the economic scenario. I think we have no choice but to embrace the new and make it work to our advantage.

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