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Building Networks: Keep ’Em Streaming and Zooming

More than a year into the pandemic, demand for stronger, more robust networks show no signs of slowing down.

“A smart home is only as good as its network, and if the network is weak, everything else fails.” So says Derek Flikkema, senior technology advisor, SAV. And he’s in good company.

Networks took center stage during the pandemic and lockdown days, and they continue to be top-of-mind for smart-home clients and integrators. The trick is to keep your clients streaming with the best solutions possible.

For SAV, that means an Access Networks solution managing the flow of audio, video, and data, leaving no weak link. “No matter how many devices are connected to the internet; no matter how much bandwidth is being consumed; no matter how much content is being streamed to displays and speakers — the networking backbone of this house handles it all without a hitch,” says Flikkema in describing a recent luxury residential project featuring new construction.

Networks – SAV
SAV keeps their clients’ networks strong by using gear from Access Networks.

Directing the home’s heavy network traffic is an Access Networks C120 controller. Based on parameters established by the technicians at SAV, the controller assigns each type of signal its own “lane” on the communications highway. For example, signals from online streaming services travel to the home’s wireless Sonos music system on one lane, while commands from the Crestron Home automation system travel on another lane to lights, thermostats, shades, and other components.

Using the configuration settings of the C120, SAV also assigned bandwidth priority to certain applications, like giving home office connections precedence over less important activities like music streaming. “These settings help optimize Wi-Fi speed and prevent communication loops, where signals end up in the wrong place,” Flikkema explains. “Unlike most residential networking controllers, the Access Networks C120 has these capabilities built-in, which significantly minimizes our design and engineering time, especially for large projects like this.”

Nick DeClemente, founder/CEO, Elevated Integration, is also an Access dealer. “Driving home networks forward and enabling them to stream high-quality, high-bandwidth content are several new technologies, including Wi-Fi 6 access points, managed switches, and 24/7 passive system monitoring. Networking systems that enable Wi-Fi channels to be split among different frequency bands also contributes to a better networking experience. We utilize the full family of Access Networks products, including, but not limited to, Wi-Fi 6 access points and ICX switches. While the level of support provided by Access Networks is second to none, we rarely call on them because their products perform so well.”

The Internet Knows

“IoT has taken over residential, and this has been one of the biggest challenges we face,” says Scott Wexler, owner, Industry Tech Sales. “Infrastructure may include five or ten devices upwards to 100 or so connected devices. These new mesh networks are helpful when you don’t have wired infrastructure in place; they’re faster and more reliable.”

A challenge, he says, is in dealing with multiple access points. “Netgear has done a great job of providing seamless roaming from one access point to another. One of the best advancements is in Netgear’s Orbi series, as well as mesh systems from other manufacturers. Netgear also offers a WAX620 wireless access point product for larger residential environments. You have that seamless roaming connectivity from one side of the house to other access points, creating a wire mesh-like network.”

Networks – Netgear
The Netgear M4250 Series switches were developed for the growing audio, video over IP (AV over IP) market.

His company started shifting to Netgear because its 24/7 customer tech support is “incredible,” Wexler says. “They offer huge support on both the residential and pro sides whenever we call them. It’s nice to have a robust product to rely on. Systems rely on having good networks, and most of our support calls involve networks. With their support we can troubleshoot the issue remotely before rolling out a truck.”

Cody Kleven, Netgear business development manager, has been a particularly great resource, adds Wexler. “It’s clear that Netgear is a company that truly believes customer service comes first; it’s not about slinging products out the back door.

“Our dealers and end users want stability and a reliable product that functions the same way over time,” Wexler notes. “On the distribution side of our business, of course, everything about networks is understood. But on the integration side, they rely on us. Having consistent coverage across the house, especially with the IoT and talking to Alexa, etcetera, demands that it must be robust.”

The Joy of a Good Network

“When a network is designed properly, comprises high-quality equipment, and operates to exceptional standards, a home is not only more efficient, but can be a lot of fun,” Flikkema notes. “The owners of the home exemplify this notion. From any iPad, they quickly connect to a streaming service of choice; select a movie, TV program, or music; and direct the content to displays and speakers. Guests can do the same, often turning their parties into a game of ‘pass the iPad,’ where everyone gets a chance to be the D.J.

“The ‘aha’ moment for the family was realized when they could grab an iPad and stream music, command multiple smart devices, and have the whole house running smoothly,” he adds. “Thanks to stable, fast, reliable Wi-Fi connectivity, living with technology feels as natural as flipping on a light switch.”

And because the network so ably handles multiple streams of entertainment content, should the owners ever decide to forgo traditional cable and satellite service, they won’t miss a thing. “This house is set up perfectly to facilitate cord cutting and transitioning the family easily to solely streaming media,” says Scott Abel, director of quality and customer, SAV.

Related: Need to Know — Home Mesh Networks

In the Future

Security of the home network is becoming a big issue for residential clients, and therefore is driving the demand for network security solutions, says Ed Buday, owner, Buday’s Home Electronics Simplified. “We are forecasting a need for better security, speed, and capacity from home networks going forward.”

What consumers will want, however, is the great unknown according to DeClemente. “There has been a definite shift in consumer behavior due to the pandemic,” he says. “Like the long-haul effects of Covid-19 from a medical perspective, we can assume that there will also be long-haul behavior changes. For example, consumers will continue to focus on their homes and the performance of the systems inside them. I think what we’ve learned during the pandemic was the importance of networks, realizing that networks will continue to generate projects and revenue. Trends I see shaping the networking industry are 5G, advanced monitoring, and self-healing artificial intelligence.”

And with the de-urbanization we’re seeing now, a kind of reverse migration, we will see different ways of providing internet to the home, Wexler concludes. “With Netgear’s Nighthawk M5, as long as there are cellular network providers, you can move to remote places on the planet and run your business. We’re seeing a large exodus from urban areas, and we need more creative ways to get the internet into homes. The options are getting better; think Starlink, the low latency, broadband internet system.”