By Simon Buddle, Future Ready Homes.
The sun is out and filling the air with that early spring warmth. The green shoots of new life are emerging across the country. The long grey of winter is receding and thankfully, so are the waters that have flooded and devastated so many lives and homes across the UK. And yet, this spring is unprecedented in our times. The global scale of the coronavirus pandemic and its consequences are staggering. Life will never be the same again.
I am number 79,411 in a virtual queue to buy and book a food delivery slot.
What to do? Well, the yucca plant could do with a clean, there is plenty of dusting to do and maybe we could cut the lawn with a pair of scissors. Settling into this new reality will take a bit of getting used to. We could be here for 12 weeks or more. It is reasonable to think that the mundane jobs we diligently avoid month after month, year after year will be mopped up over the coming weeks. Then what?
The data network is fundamental to daily living now. Whether it’s for work, buying food, communicating with family or simply passing the hours watching movies and old TV series. Video calls and video conferencing have completely replaced the face-to-face meeting. The requirement for bandwidth has increased exponentially, with every household now using video calling as the primary means of communication. Video, according to Cisco, constitutes more than 80% of Internet traffic.
Clearly you need to be able to connect to your customer’s network if you are to be able to help them remotely. But more than that, be sure that you are well-versed in issues such as contention ratio and bandwidth requirements for streaming services. BT and Sky no longer advertise contention ratios, but the problem still exists, and it is most relevant now. BT, historically, said that ADSL lines had a contention ratio of 50:1. This simply means that you are sharing your Internet connection with 50 other homes on your street. When nobody is online you get all the bandwidth. When everybody is online you get 1/50th of the bandwidth!
Just yesterday afternoon I had to fault-find a customer’s system for whom “The Internet has stopped working [sic].” It hadn’t, but it had slowed to such an extent as to be unusable for anything other than the simplest of tasks. Netflix bandwidth requirements increase massively if you’re streaming a 4k film at up to 25Mb/s. Four people watching 4K films means a minimum Internet connection speed of 100Mb/s.
For me, it is more important than ever to stay engaged with our customers, sending out a couple of Wi-Fi repeaters, talking them through setting up Zoom on a TV or iPad, and generally being available to help with any technical queries. Maybe grandparents need a smartphone or the like to be set up and sent, so they can keep in touch with loved ones. You know how to do it. You can help.
But even with the tech support being offered, we’re likely to have a lot of time on our hands. Unless you’re an elite runner or cyclist, there’s only so many miles you can do in a day. Eight-hour gym workouts five times a week aren’t feasible, and what will you do once you have counted all the ferrules at the bottom of your tool bag?
Thankfully we are seeing a huge uplift in online learning and webinars. If, whilst reading this, you are thinking, ‘I could really do with learning a bit more about how to ……’, or ‘How do I find out more about product X’, now is the time to contact distributors and manufacturers and ask them to put together a little webinar.
In recent days I have learnt about new products from Basalte, Jung and Gira from the Ivory Egg webinars and done free training with ComfortClick on its bOS software. With Light + Building now deferred until September, many manufacturers are still choosing to release the planned new products. With that I’m sure will come many webinars.
In addition, the KNX Association has a list of webinars and also offers free online training in the form of eCampus.
There is also KNX Virtual for simulating designs, and you can try out demo versions of any of the ETS software packages by pressing the ‘Download’ (rather than ‘Buy’) button in the price box.
Indeed there are various KNX training centres offering theoretical and practical online training. Amaiysis, Futurasmus, and Instaver are some examples.
CEDIA has also put together a comprehensive program of webinars for the next few weeks, as well as all sorts of other resources aimed at helping integrators.
There is, during these dark times, an opportunity to gain knowledge and expertise. After all, how often in your day-to-day business do you have time for personal development?
There is also much we can do during this time to ensure that our customers’ systems and networks remain running and stable, but this relies on our ability to connect, diagnose and repair systems remotely. Be there for your customers first but use this time to take onboard more knowledge that will serve you, your business and your customers well in time to come.
First-world problems I know, but I am now number 19,149 in the queue. I hope that for our next issue, we’ll be in better times, but for now, look after each other!
Simon Buddle CEng MIET, is a consultant for Future Ready Homes, a specialist in BMS and ELV services system design.