- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Bytes. Bandwidth. Wi-Fi. These and other terms are part of the often confusing legacy of the information age. But what does all of this technobabble have to do with buying a home? The answer: The modern home buyer wants to be only a click away from the information superhighway.

Real estate agents and others who have their pulse on the local market say area buyers expect a home to at least have some high-tech wiring. However, many buyers demand much more — wireless service; a community intranet; and the fastest, most reliable network.

Builders and developers who want to maintain a competitive edge need to make technology a top priority in order to keep up with their customers’ high-tech needs.

The push for the latest service is driven by many factors, including buyers with multiple-personal-computer households and parents working from home who need multiple phone lines and reliable high-speed Internet access.

Ten years ago, buyers might have been content with dial-up service, using their existing telephone lines and a modem to dial out and gain access to the Internet.

Today they expect faster connection speeds and more dependable service.

Amy Blinkhorn, an agent with Century 21 House and Home Realtors in the District, says Category 5 or high-tech wiring is now considered a standard for new homes. This wiring has the capability to handle a digital subscriber line (DSL) and offer high-speed audio, video, security and Internet service.

“The majority would say it’s not really an option, it’s now a standard — especially for the price people are paying for homes,” Ms. Blinkhorn says. DSL is provided on copper lines that connect to your phone. DSL speeds can vary widely, but typical downloads might be at 1,000 kilobits per second, which is about 20 times as fast as a dial-up connection.

Ms. Blinkhorn says that although some builders in the District feel high-speed Internet access is not a necessity in this aggressive market, most realize its importance.

“It has become the expectation. When I take a listing, it’s always one of the questions buyers ask,” she says. Ms. Blinkhorn has recently shown two renovation projects that offer high-tech wiring in the District, including condos on 17th and P streets and at Calvert Place, both by Pegasus Development Group LLC.

Paul Sudano, sales and marketing manager with Builder’s 1st Choice, with offices in Maryland, says builders and developers are beginning to understand how crucial it is to integrate the latest technology into their projects.

“Absolutely, I think most builders are realizing the need for it,” he says. “They know that buyers are looking for places where they can just move in, plug in and go online.”

Builder’s 1st Choice consults with builders to help them understand what is most critical to their customers. Builder’s 1st Choice recently worked with the Elad Group of Florida, which developed the Fitz, a new condominium complex in Rockville, as well as the Colonnade at Kentlands in Gaithersburg.

Mr. Sudano says both projects are Category 5 and DSL ready. In addition, the Fitz offers a cyber cafe, where homeowners can gain quick access to the Internet. “Students can do their homework here, and residents can go online, make quick reservations or Google something,” he says, referring to the popular search engine.

Forward-thinking builders are considering technology upfront, in the planning stages, to meet each buyer’s individual technology needs and provide capacity for new service.

“If you don’t do it beforehand, it can be a construction nightmare,” says Sharon Hawkins, marketing director with OpenBand of Virginia LLC, based in Sterling. “It’s time-consuming and expensive to rerun your infrastructure.”

OpenBand is the technology partner for Lansdowne on the Potomac, in Loudoun County, one of the first neighborhoods to have fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) connectivity to each house.

The fiber-optic network uses hair-thin strands of fiber and optical electronics to directly link homes to the network, providing the fastest service with the greatest bandwidth capacity. Bandwidth refers to the amount of data that can be carried from one point to another and is usually defined in terms of bits per second (bps). This can be expressed in thousands of bits (kbps) or millions (mbps).

OpenBand’s service package includes 100 mbps community intranet, high-speed “glass mile” Internet service, extensive cable television services and such other advanced services as digital security. The term “glass mile Internet service” refers to the last mile, or the connection between the home and the provider. “The last mile determines the quality of service,” Miss Hawkins says.

New homeowners at Lansdowne meet with OpenBand representatives to plan the network in their home, mapping out where they want to put PCs, for example, or how many fax lines they need.

Laurie Schultz, director of marketing with Lansdowne, says this process gives homeowners the power to design their own home.

“Some just get the standard package; others spend $10,000 to $20,000 on security systems or have systems that allow them to control their home from anywhere,” she says. Ms. Schultz says one homeowner, for example, travels frequently and has set up his home to control the temperature, blinds and lights remotely.

Ms. Schultz says that although some buyers moved to Lansdowne for its golf course, many moved into the area because they want the latest technological advances as part of their lifestyle.

“As we look at future projects, technology immediately comes to mind,” she says.

Brambleton is a local development that offers an FTTP (fiber to the premises) network, with video, voice and data services transported through Verizon’s fiber technology.

The network provides a dedicated connection at the industry’s highest speeds, from 15 mbps for Internet download and 2 mbps for upload. The “master technology plan” for Brambleton was designed by the Broadband Group, based in Sacramento, Calif.

Tom Reiman, president of the Broadband Group, says the types of services available to Brambleton residents are not just for high-end homes.

“It is absolutely not just for the elite,” he says. Mr. Reiman says builders should embrace their customer’s needs.

“Many builders and developers don’t have a long-term view,” Mr. Reiman says. “The communities will be the losers — in resale price and in accessing new, advanced services,” he says.

He says developers need to understand how a community lives, and how it communicates outside its core, to connect with other regions, businesses and homes.

Technology is constantly changing, and, Mr. Reiman says, as bandwidth requirements continue to expand, developers need to mature and grow with them.

“We have only just begun,” Mr. Reiman says. “TV and Internet access is a great start, but it is not the endgame.”

Harry Mitchell, Verizon media relations director for the mid-Atlantic region, says Verizon is aggressively pursuing marketing pacts with developers to serve each home with Verizon’s new Fios fiber-optic high-speed Internet service.

“It certainly is one of the things that developers ought to look at,” he says. “It’s a transformational effort and will meet customer’s needs well into the future,” Mr. Mitchell says.

Verizon is bringing its fiber-optic network to 14 states, including Virginia. The company’s network in Northern Virginia will provide fiber-optic service to businesses and homeowners in Reston, as well as parts of Fairfax County, Arlington, Annandale, Falls Church, Herndon, McLean, Oakton and Springfield. Mr. Mitchell says fiber-optic service lines also are being installed in parts of Anne Arundel, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland.

According to the FTTH Council’s October 2004 report, other developments in Virginia that are served via fiber to the home include Southern Walk at Broadlands, Braemar in Bristow, Independence in Manassas and Leisure World in Leesburg. The Courts of St. Francis in Purcellville is also an FTTH community.

In a world that is becoming increasingly wireless, Miss Hawkins says, fiber is still the wave of the future.

“Wireless is getting better,” she says, “but wireless will never have the security and the capacity that fiber does. Wireless will always face these issues.”

She says fiber-optic networks have the bandwidth to support applications for many years to come. “Verizon wouldn’t be spending all of the money, putting in fiber to the home, if they believed it had a short life span,” Miss Hawkins says.

Mr. Mitchell agrees. “Wireless equipment … is not ready for prime time,” he says. He adds that fiber is “future-proof,” so that once the fiber network is in place, it becomes a matter of making changes to electronics to handle new technologies.

Some buyers might feel overwhelmed by the technological jargon and available choices, but Miss Hawkins encourages them to ask questions about the service they’ll be provided in their new home.

“Don’t take the term ‘high-tech’ for granted,” she says. She points out that high-tech wiring in the home is great if you have a good service package from your provider. “If you don’t have a good connection bringing services to your house, it’s almost pointless,” Miss Hawkins says.

OpenBand offers a checklist of questions for buyers.

On the Web:

• FTTH Council:

www.ftthcouncil.org

• OpenBand’s technology checklist: www.openband.net/pdf_files/Tech_Check_List.pdf


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