Custom installers must prepare for changing customer demands, a multiplicity of digital home network standards, and new competition from the likes of home security installers, HTSA members were told during panels and presentations.
The pace of change "will become uncomfortable," said Panja sales VP Steve Alexander, and the change will include new competitors, such as security installers, who will get involved in home-network installations.
As a result, Alexander advised, dealers should "build your infrastructure and capabilities to ward off future competition." One way is to "be prepared to run wire for a customer's LAN when you do their home theater system, or Bell Telephone will do it for you."
Custom installers, he said, will also be "tasked with bringing broadband A/V content into the home."
Alexander also foresees a "quick and awkward change" for HTSA members "to embrace all of the digital [network] standards to come." Because a single installation will incorporate multiple standards, "where you'll make money is linking multiple types of networks: phone-line networks, power-line networks, Home RF [wireless] networks, and so on."
For consumers, he said, Sun's Jini technology and the Microsoft-led Universal Plug And Play (UPnP) initiative will connect multiple networks and "will mask this complexity."
Another panelist urged dealers to begin learning how to integrate legacy IR and RS-232 devices to future network standards such as IEEE-1394-based HAVi (Home Audio Video interoperability). This panelist also warned of the potential impact of wireless technology.
"In five to 10 years, a lot of this wire won't exist," the marketer said. "It will go wireless, and there will be new business models."
One risk is that future products will be commoditized, he said, although "everything will not go wireless overnight, and bandwidth needs to grow faster than the spectrum available." As a result, "for the foreseeable future, wire will still be king."
Wireless will be used initially to transmit control signals, then move to audio, but it will be at least 15 to 20 years before wireless delivers video throughout a house, Alexander later told TWICE.
After the panel, some dealers told TWICE that they aren't overly concerned about wireless's impact on their sales or profits.
Running wires "is the smallest portion of sales and profit" in the typical $30,000-plus custom install performed by Ensemble of Nashua, N.H., said Ensemble president John Rein. There are still screens to put in, in-wall speakers to install, custom cabinets to build, and system programming to do, he said.
HTSA president Jon Robbins said he has "concerns" about wireless's potential impact, but "customers will need our specialization for a long time." Higher-end customers, he continued, will "still want assistance setting up. These customers have a lack of time." In addition, a need for "software-driven assistance" will arise.