Spokane Journal of Business

Fiber optics go residential here

Liberty Lake subdivisions will be among the first to showcase the technology

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Quite literally, the groundwork is being laid in the Spokane area for the in-home communication networks of the future.

Custom-home builder Sullivan Homes Inc. and start-up technology manufacturer World Wide Packets Inc., both of Spokane, are teaming up on a project at Liberty Lake that will provide both fiber-optic cabling and state-of-the-art neighborhood communications devices to new homes in a pair of Liberty Lake subdivisions. Such technology will enable capabilities not commonly available in the home, such as videoconferencing, long-distance voice-over Internet telephone calls, subdivision intranet home pages, and electronic local-area shopping.

Want a baby sitter? Check a list of entrepreneurial teens on the neighborhood intranet. Want to know where and when your sons Cub Scout packs Pinewood Derby is going to be held? Check the intranets neighborhood-specific calendar of events.

Eventuallylikely sooner rather than latera homeowner will be able to punch in a grocery order on a refrigerator console while peering into the chilly food-storage appliance, and a grocer will prepare the order and perhaps even deliver it.

Within a month, fiber-optic cable will be laid to the Liberty Lake home sites, and equipment to serve individual residences will be in place, though it will be a while before homes are hooked up. This summer, a model home is scheduled to be built, connected to the system, and ready to showcase all that can be done with the futuristic technology.

Spokane can really put itself on the map with communities that are fiber wired, asserts Robin Toth, a spokeswoman for World Wide Packets. It shows the community as progressive.

Sullivan Homes President Todd Sullivan says fiber wiring has the capability to provide television, telephone, Internet, neighborhood intranet, and other services through one bundled connection, which acts as a hefty pipeline for information. Because fiber-optic lines carry many channels, and information moves across them at the speed of light, more information can be transmitted in less time than with the copper wires that carry most telecommunications signals to and from homes.

Some businesses in the Spokane area are fiber wired, and though such cabling still is considered high end, its use is becoming more commonplace in the business world. Having such connections in the home, however, is virtually unheard of in most places, and it isnt believed to be available yet in any other subdivisions in Spokane or Kootenai counties, Sullivan says.

He says Sullivan Homes plans to install fiber wiring in new homes at two subdivisions its developing at Liberty Lake: MeadowWood Glen, which is in its final phase, and the newly established WoodBrook. Between them, the developments are expected to include just over 54 fiber-wired homes.

Brett Sullivan, the construction companys chief financial officer and Todd Sullivans younger brother, says more than $100,000 worth of fiber-optic lines, special switching equipment, and new communication devices currently are being installed in the Liberty Lake project.

Much of the fiber infrastructure is being installed by Sullivan Homes, but other builders in the Liberty Lake area will be able to tap into it, because we want to promote Liberty Lake as a fiber-ready community, Brett Sullivan says.

Toth says a couple of other new-home contractors plan to build in other Liberty Lake subdivisions houses that will be fiber wired. Sullivan Homes, however, will be the first contractor to install the new World Wide Packets products in a development, and its subdivisions will serve as flagship developments for World Wide Packets, which will bring prospective customers there to show them the equipment in action.

The company, which was launched by Packet Engines Inc. founder Bernard Daines last September, is manufacturing two devices, a community-distribution unit and a subscriber-distribution unit, that will be used in the project. The community-distribution device will provide high-speed access to about 100 homes over the fiber-optic cabling. A subscriber-distribution unit will be placed in each home thats linked into the service, likely in some sort of equipment closet, to receive data from the community device and transmit it to computers, telephones, televisions, and other devices in the home.

Fiber technology can provide instant, full-time Internet access and give homeowners the capability either to perform tasks they currently cant do at home, or at least cant do as well as they could if their homes were fiber wired. Some of those tasks, in addition to videoconferencing and talking long distance via the Internet, will include downloading music on demand and downloading movies on demand.

Information appliance

Fiber-ready homes also are equipped to work well with newly emerging devices called information appliances. Such a device, also called a residential gateway in this application, is a small computer with a touch-screen monitor that can connect not just to the Internet, but also to a neighborhood intranet that provides information catered toward a subdivision.

In Sullivan Homes subdivisions, the home page that appears on the information appliance would be accessible only to residents of the subdivision. Its expected that the home page would be designed so that the video image would be split into four squares, each of which would include different types of information. One square would feature an intranet service that would provide information specific to the neighborhoodeverything from a list of babysitters to a schedule of Cub Scout meetings. Another square would be dedicated to the Internet, and a third would display advertisements from local merchants. The content of the fourth square would be left to the developers discretion and could be leased to another company or used to provide news about the developers projects.

Ultimately, Todd Sullivan says, the merchants square would be used for electronic shopping. The homeowner would be able to link electronically with a grocery store and select items to buy. The grocery store then would prepare those goods for quick pickup or deliver them to the customers home. While initially envisioned as being used through a separate information appliance, such technology eventually could be integrated into an appliance in the home, such as the aforementioned console on the refrigerator.

While department stores and other retailers wouldnt necessarily be accessible through the subdivision intranet, they could offer electronic shopping services via the system.

Brett Sullivan says information appliances eventually will become a fixture in homes, possibly built into a wall in a heavily used room, such as the kitchen.

Upper-end homes

The Sullivan Homes subdivisions at Liberty Lake are located off Country Vista Drive and likely will include mostly upper-end homes.

The fiber-wired model home thats being built to showcase the new technology will be located in MeadowWood Glen. Construction costs on that home are expected to be about $350,000, though the sale price also would have to cover the extensive amount of communications equipment thats being installed.

Because it still is determining what all will go into the new home, Sullivan Homes isnt sure how much more the homes with the technology will cost. Homes in MeadowWood Glen, many of which front on the MeadowWood Golf Course, range in price now from $200,000 to $500,000.

WoodBrook is just west of Meadow-Wood Glen. Homes built in that subdivision are expected to sell for between $170,000 and $200,000.

Linn  Parish
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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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