Cisco's iHome is just the beginning

Cisco's internet-run showhomes could soon lead to offices and factories operated in the same way.

Cisco's internet-run showhomes could soon lead to offices and factories operated in the same way.

The company's million-dollar three-storey iHome in Pyrmont in inner Sydney joins those in the UK, Singapore and the US in showcasing web-linked technology. Cisco says there could be iOffices, iFactories and perhaps iTransport in the future.

Cisco strategic and marketing alliances director Kip Cole says factory automation using the web “is a huge area” and Cisco has formed a joint venture with General Electric in the US to explore the area of factory networking. Cole also says the company is working with projects "that start on four wheels", but declined to say if this is an iCar, iRobot or iDog.

“Anywhere there is an opportunity to show where the net can be used, we are interested in,” says Cole. Cisco Australia is sponsoring an Australian Army expedition up Mt Everest to see if the net can be used for satellite communication. And in education, the company is involved in the East Cape CyberWaka project, reported last week.

Cisco insists its iHome is practical, saying everything bar the internet-operated fridge, due on the market this year, is already on sale. It is simply that it has linked it all together, including internet telephony, webcams, MP3 technology and humble devices like the kettle working through a web browser.

The permanent satellite-based internet link from AAPT into iHome can operate at 2Mbit/s, but Cole says general DSL, cable and satellite companies should be able to provide enough bandwidth of 512Kbit/s for the system to work. The wireless LAN within the house operates at 10Mbit/s. Typical internet cabling costs would be about 1% of house construction cost, with other costs depending on the equipment bought, Cisco says.

Even though the net link is permanent, Cole says power bills should be lower as things like air conditioning can be better controlled. Cisco says iHome uses firewall systems and few can access its DNS, while use requires encryption and authentication. If the system crashes or power fails, the house operates as a normal house, for example using traditional keys for entry.

The company envisions “home service providers” looking after the infrastructure and ensuring everything works, even down to checking the webcams and watering the plants.

A public auction for iHome is set for April. By 2005 Cisco expect some 10 million US homes alone will run on similar lines. Cisco’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Terry Walsh, says its research predicts that 50% of all Australian households will have broadband access by the same year.

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