The Small Home Office of the Future

The home of the future will be a combination of home automation (security, lights, heat, etc.), entertainment (video, music, etc.) and information (voice and computer information). This article addresses the information aspect of the home or small office of the future. We will refer to it as the "infostructure". In some ways, it may resemble the small to medium size offices of today, but not entirely.

The infostructure will grow dramatically in the near future, not only because there will be more small offices being operated from the home, but there will be more telecommuting and simply greater dependency on the home computers for shopping, information retrieval, research and homework in addition to entertainment.

The home of the future will have multiple computers in addition to the conventional requirement for voice sets, faxes and other analog devices. However, the reliance on standard analog telephone lines will probably diminish for these services.

Whatever higher speed service (ISDN, DSLs, CABLE, SATELLITE) may surface as the next high speed service provider of the near future is anyone's guess, but right now ISDN seems to be leading the pack, both for the home and for commercial office use. It is being used primarily to address data requirements, but it also provides for the analog voice/fax requirements. And these are the basic requirements of any SOHO home system. Any of these newer competing digital services will have to address the analog to digital requirement similar to the way most ISDN modems handle it.

The following is a theoretical scenario as to how these future, or present, information objectives may be achieved. It begins with cabling and addresses some of the equipment that is available to build the infostructure.

The days of running a continuous loop of four conductor cable from outlet to outlet are long gone. New homes wired in this manner are obsolete before the closing papers are signed. New homes must be wired in a star topology similar to 10BASE-T. All of the cables should emanate from a central point, which we will call the "Communications Center". This communications center is the place where the communications equipment may be placed and the interconnects, adds and changes are made. In fact, there is a standard similar to 10BASE-T for residential and light commercial telecommunications wiring, called EIA/TIA 570. See Cabling Business Magazine, May 1995. A standard 24 port patch panel may also be a great help in this area.

Some newer upper end homes are now being designed with cabling chases similar to those in multi-story buildings to accommodate this standard. Often these are adjacent to the heating chases that run from the basement to the attic and are centrally located.

The number of cable runs to each terminating outlet or wall plate in each room depends on the amount of equipment that may eventually be placed there. But, in the infostructure, there must be at least two; one for voice and one for data.

The equipment in the communications center should take care of switching the calls to the proper line when multiple lines are coming into the home; kind of an automatic mini PBX.

The wall plate terminations in each room should have a minimum of two RJ-45s jacks and probably one or more RG-6 connectors for the entertainment side of the house. Either or both of the RJ-45s can be used for voice or data when wired to the EIA/TIA 568A standard.

Several of the companies that manufacture wall terminations have a nice assortment. Some are also orienting some of their product line toward residential wiring. MOD-TAP has created another division to address the residential market and these types of products are starting to pop up in some of the building supply stores.

Now lets take a look at a typical home and see what equipment may be available to address current use as well as future expanded SOHO usage.

This home typically has had one voice line for several years, but has just added another because WEB surfing combined with teenage chatter was taken up too much of the previous line time. The two lines are pretty much dedicated to specific usage and specific locations. When a line is in use, you may go to another location to place a call on another line. Or, you may have used two additional wires in the current RJ-11 loop cable and installed a two line phone.

In addition, a fax might have just been added and the school has just made more of its library facilities available for dial access. There is also talk at the office about telecommuting and the company may put in another telephone line to accommodate this eventuality. Of course, if this happens the line will just be dedicated to office use only (ha ha). More than likely, it will replace the second phone line and you will put one or two extension phones on it.

The family members will be told not to pick up any of the extensions when the computer is being used or the connection may be lost. But, they will do it anyway to see if the computer is being used. With these parameters in place, lets explore the logical steps that can be taken along with the equipment available to support a typical theoretical growth curve.

Your first consideration may be to install a small LAN since this is the way that it is done at the office. However, upon further investigation, LANs are quite pricey and beyond the technical support capability of most home owners; besides sharing files and printers may not be as important in the home as it is in the office. And what about the voice requirement or would a computer telephony box (CT) also be required. This would surely be costly and complicated. So what to do? Possibly some of the following equipment steps may provide an alternative modular step by step approach.

STEP 1 - TSS ($495.00)

CAS Application Diagram

The TSS can serve as the basis of the cable distribution system referenced in the EIA 570 model. It is also a switching device that can accommodate from 1-4 analog telephone lines and provides eight station wiring ports to connect to the terminations in various rooms. These can be voice sets, modems, faxes or any combination of analog devices.

When an outbound call is placed from any terminating device, the TSS will search for an unused (non-busy) line and route the call to that line. Inbound calls on the various lines can be set to ring only a particular station port or on all of the lines, as might be the case if all of the lines had voice sets. The TSS also provides modem and voice privacy so that other extensions cannot listen to or interfere with other calls in progress.

If eight station ports are not sufficient, additional eight port slave modules can easily be added, now or later. The slave modules can expand the number of station ports all the way up to 64 or more. They are also available with provisions to add two more telephone lines.

The TSS has no complicated software and can easily be managed by the average homeowner.


SOHO STEP 2 Diagram

In a year or so as data usage increases, you realize that the analog lines are OK for e-mail and down loading text files, but those WEB pages seem to just crawl on the screen. The second step is to add an ISDN modem to your communications center.

Most ISDN modems provide at least two ports. One for data (digital) that you can connect to your computer and another analog line (POTS Port) that you can connect to the TSS. It can be used for voice, fax or modem when required, just like a standard analog telephone line. What's more, each of these ports can also have a separate phone number. You can either replace one of your analog lines at this time or add to them. If you chose to replace one of them you would still in effect have three lines, one digital for data and two analog for voice, fax or data.

Now the PC is connected to the ISDN modem via an RS-232 connection through the RJ-45 wall jack and chugging along at 128Kb, providing your serial interface card can handle it. If it can't, it will cost you about $50.00 for a good one with 16650 UARTs that can handle up to 230Kb. Those with 16550s are a little cheaper, but can only handle data rates up to 115Kb. By this time, 16550s will probably be standard in most PCs anyway. Still even at 115Kb, this is a marked improvement over the 28.8 Kb analog modem connection that most often connects at some fall back speed below 28.8Kb. If an analog call comes in or goes out while using the PC, the digital session will down shift to 64Kb and again up speed to 128Kb when the call is completed.

NOTE: The TSS discussed in this article is available from Computer Peripheral Systems, Inc. in Atlanta, GA.