Walking the floor of Electronic House Expo here is a bit like watching old black-and-white newsreels of those "house of the future" exhibits.
Appliances turn on for you, even if you're not in the house, and they can tell you when something is wrong. Unlike the old newsreels from the 1950s, though, the products at this Orlando show are real--and they work. OK, and the show floor is a lot louder too.
The products integrate almost every facet of the house: computers, home security, telephony, entertainment, lighting and energy.
Say, for example, that you want to get up for a midnight snack. As soon as your feet hit the floor, a sensor under the carpet is triggered. A signal is sent to a central server that connects all the appliances in the house. The server turns on all the lights you'll need to find your way safely to the kitchen, and the lights can even come on at only 30 percent of their power so they don't bother others in the house. Also, if you wake up four hours later because nature calls, the sensor can be preset to light the way to the bathroom.
Even though home networking is not the heritage of many solution providers, they can take advantage of the burgeoning market, said Helen Heneveld, co-owner of The Training Dept., a Tucson, Ariz.-based company that specializes in the education of home networking technologies.
Heneveld held an orientation session at Electronic House Expo for home networking "rookies," an A-to-Z lesson on where opportunities lie and what is needed to get started.
Solution providers have the necessary PC skills and can learn from or partner with other companies to pick up complementary technologies. Home networking solutions can bring gross margins of 30 to 50 points, Heneveld said.
Solution providers attending the session see great opportunity in the market.
"We're going to modify our existing business," said Enrique Nieves, general manager of Techno Traders, a Daytona Beach, Fla.-based solution provider. "We've seen the need from customers to hook up their computers to browse the Web through their plasma TVs. We don't do that now."
A true "connected home" will be IP-based, and most appliances eventually will have their own IP addresses, Heneveld said. "In 10 years, you'll have 1,000 IP addresses in your home," she said. "Dishwashers, VCRs, TVs, coffeemakers, everything."
Much like those in the commercial market, customers in the home space are interested in total solutions as opposed to individual products, Heneveld said. "Sell services, not electronics. Your customers do not want to buy a black box; they want to buy the services you provide them to improve their quality of life."