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Upselling the Connected Home

Jun 12, 2008 12:00 PM, By Paul Thurrott

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A decade ago, the notion of wiring a home for Ethernet was considered a luxury upgrade for the uber-rich. As is so often the case, however, over the past several years, prices have fallen and consumer understanding of the benefits of this connectivity has grown. As a result, Ethernet is often a standard component of new home construction—just like plumbing, electricity, and climate control—and is an increasingly common option for upgraders.

That’s probably not news to you. But what might surprise you is the wealth of upsell opportunities that present themselves once you’ve wired a home in this fashion. Yes, the first step will be pervasive Internet access throughout the home via both wired and wireless connection points, preferably through a high-speed fiber optic (FiOS) or cable-based connection. But look beyond the obvious, and you’ll see plenty of opportunity to add value. Here are a few recommendations.

Multiphone system

Microsoft and its hardware partners sell a small business-oriented phone solution called Response Point that should prove popular in the connected home. Don’t be put off by Response Point’s small business focus, however. It’s easy to set up and provides incredible functionality. Response Point consists of a small hardware base station and an expandable set of phone handsets that you can place around the home. The base station is essentially an embedded computing device with no moving parts. It includes storage for messages and the logic necessary to control the system; actual interaction with Response Point’s software occurs via simple PC software. What sets Response Point apart from typical business-based PBX solutions is cost and simplicity. Response Point is relatively inexpensive—about $1,800 for a four-phone system—and you can add phones as your needs grow. But it’s also super-simple because it works off your Ethernet network and broadband Internet access. Just plug a phone into the network, the base station will discover it, and you’re up and running.

Response Point is different from traditional phones or phone systems in that it provides a set of functionality that today’s fast-moving families will immediately appreciate. There’s a built-in voicemail system with automatic forwarding of calls to email or particular cell phones, so if you’re away on a business trip or out for the night, your calls will be automatically routed accordingly, while calls for others in your family will still ring at home. Everyone gets his or her own voice mailbox, and a voice control system means that callers and family members can be easily and quickly routed properly. So when your teenager daughter’s friends call, the phone will ring incessantly, as always, but only in her room.

Because it's a Microsoft system, Response Point integrates nicely with PCs. You can import contacts from Microsoft Outlook, for example, so you can voice-dial those people automatically. And if you're sitting at a PC in the home office, you can receive pop-ups when the phone rings, detailing caller ID, phone number, and, if applicable, Outlook contact information.

Response Point phone systems are made by companies such as Aastra, D-Link, and Quanta, and are available in a variety of styles and colors. You can also choose between multi-function handsets (such as those seen in a typical workplace) and simpler, home-style handsets.

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