Probably you. Whether you like it or not, the services of a professional installer will still be invaluable in establishing a stable home network of any significance for the foreseeable future. This may come as a disappointment to some who are dreaming of a Wonderland of home automation. Like Alice, you will soon discover your dream world makes about as much sense as a tea party with the Mad Hatter. Lest I be labeled as the Benedict Arnold of the Home Plug and Play (HomePnP) development task force, I must emphasize that I believe the HomePnP specification will open doors to a whole new era of consumer product interoperability. In fact, I believe we have witnessed at the first two plugfests the first rays of the dawning this new era. However, as I have pondered what I have observed and have attempted to extrapolate from these events what the future may look like, I envision a significant demand in the future for individuals having a specific skill set that enables them to orchestrate a symphony of HomePnP products. Like their musical counterparts, these gifted composers will develop their reputation through their creative expressions; providing a service to home owners by helping them develop and personalize their home network. Many of today’s professional installers will find themselves filling this valuable role in the future. More on this later…

Plugfest 2

AirVac Pers 3600
On November 18th ,19th and 20th , Smart Corporation in Las Cruces, New Mexico hosted the second Home Plug and Play plugfest. Approximately 30 individuals representing over 9 different companies brought their wares to participate in a festival of interoperability between products representing several areas of home automation. All of the products were developed separately by the different companies according to the guidelines presented in the CEBus Industry Council’s (CIC) recently-released HomePnP specification. Testing for conformance to the specification was a bit more rigorous at this event compared to the first gathering back in August. A couple of companies were seeking certification from the CIC and were dedicated to fine-tuning their applications based on the results of each phase of the testing program. Included amongst the participants were some new companies that were just beginning to develop HomePnP products.

Not all of the participating companies were ready to seek certification at this gathering. One of the reasons for their delay was that they were waiting on the task force developing the specification to finalize a mechanism for encrypting packets of information sent on “leaky” media such as RF, IR and the powerline. Some developers feel strongly that this mechanism must be established before they release products developed under this specification. Indeed, there was a consensus amongst the task force developing the specification that certification not be available for products using the house mode feature of HomePnP until the encryption mechanism was completed. It is through this house mode feature that products determine or establish an overall operating mode of the HomePnP products making up a home network. Typical information provided in the house mode is whether the home is occupied or not. As I am sure you can imagine, this is not the kind of information that should be recklessly passed around on a leaky medium. Encryption and authentication of packets will be combined in such a manner as to provide an appropriate level of security of sensitive information being exchanged amongst devices in the home network. The goal is to achieve this without overburdening devices with complex algorithms. This security mechanism should be in place some time in January or February.

HomePnP – Professional Installer’s Friend or Foe

Now back to our friend the installer. In a recent discussion with a member of our marketing division at Smart Corporation, it became apparent to me that some members of the home management/automation community have less than warm feelings for the effort being expended in the development of the HomePnP specification. At first I was surprised to learn of a lack of enthusiasm amongst some professional installers concerning HomePnP. However, the more I learned about their perspective on the subject, the more I understood there sentiments and the more I felt compelled to provide some insight on this topic.

Though the original intent of developing the HomePnP specification may have been focused on empowering the consumer by providing features necessary to install and configure as many of the products in their home as possible, only a short-sighted individual would equate this to obsolescence of the role of a professional installer. The same features that permit the average consumer to do basic installation and configuration will enable the installer to utilize his/her talents much more efficiently.

The HomePnP specification will provide the home automation industry with a much higher baseline of interoperability for professional installers to build from. The logical building blocks of a complete system will include subsystems made up of individual devices capable of automatically binding amongst themselves during the installation process. The installer will be able to utilize individual components or the subsystems themselves in establishing complex logical bindings in a network of cooperating consumer-electronic devices to provide the homeowner with a level of stable automation not available in the past. Maintenance and diagnostics performed on the home network will be simplified by logging capability built into some HomePnP devices. Home owners will benefit from the existing network resources as they purchase other future products developed to capitalize on the existence of shared resources on the home network. Many of the simpler devices can be added by the home owner themselves, thus expanding the utility of the network in the home. Both consumer and the installer will benefit from the proliferation of HomePnP devices available in the near future.

Updated Biography Mar/03 – Brian Baker is a software engineer at Raytheon Missile Systems located in Tucson Arizona. He was a contributing member of multiple committees and working groups of the CEBus Industry Council while employed at Smart Corporation previous to his joining Raytheon. His background includes development of home automation subsystems and over 15 years of embedded systems development in the defense industry. He was a core member of the developers of the Home Plug and Play specification. Brian can be reached at