“Alexa, I’m home.”
The command, given at the entry foyer of a model home in South Austin’s Enclave at Estancia, does a few things.
Amazon’s voice-recognition technology, which is in a variety of devices in many homes, in this case is triggering a set of family room blinds to rise at the same time that multiple lights are turning on.
If a homeowner wanted, it could also trigger some relaxing welcome-home music to play, to turn on the TV or to set the right evening temperature on the home’s smart thermostats.
For Charlie Coleman, Austin division president at Lennar Corp., the nation’s largest home builder, the Alexa experience is just one part of a connected home, “everything’s Included” package that is now a standard for 200 homes being built in a 400-home community off Onion Creek Parkway.
What’s really powering the technology, Coleman says, is that the new houses Lennar is building here, along with others in its 49 Austin-area home communities and projects in 21 states, will be Wi-Fi Certified. The designation for pre-installed Wi-Fi comes from the Austin-based Wi-Fi Alliance, which typically gives its seal of certification to products such as routers and smartphones, but which now has standards for the wireless connectivity in smart homes.
That means no Wi-FI dead spots, Coleman says, no matter what devices you’re using in the home or anywhere on the property.
“We think that’s important to our customers as we engineer and design the home,” he said. “It’s no different than you would expect a builder to design heat, air conditioning and plumbing.”
Lennar uses commercial-grade hardware from Ruckus Wireless, setting up one or two wireless access points in each home depending on its size, and placing them in the optimal locations to get the best Wi-Fi signal throughout. That wireless access should be accessible by multiple members of a family without speed slowdowns even if they’re, say, streaming 4K-quality movies or downloading files at the same time.
(Of course, that may depend on the Internet provider’s speeds; the homes come with networks that are expected to work with AT&T, Spectrum, or any other Internet service.)
The access points themselves can be upgraded eventually if new, faster Wi-Fi standards emerge as they tend to every five to 10 years.
With that kind of stable Wi-Fi in the home, all kinds of things are possible, Coleman says, and Lennar is throwing in Amazon Echo and Amazon Show devices (the Amazon Show is basically Amazon Echo plus a color screen), a Sonos smart speaker, a keyless-entry front doorknob, Ring video doorbell system, remote-control blinds and other Wi-Fi gadgets that all work in tandem and can be customized or added on to.
Kevin Robinson, director of marketing at the Wi-Fi Alliance, said his group put two decades of experience in Wi-Fi certification into thinking about residential Wi-Fi networking designs. “Homes with the Wi-Fi Certified Home Design designation provide pre-installed, whole-home Wi-Fi through professionally designed networks built for demanding applications so users can fully experience the promise of a connected lifestyle,” he said.
At the model home, Coleman demonstrated how someone cooking a meal with recipes displayed on an Amazon Show screen might view a visitor at the front door on the same device, then use an Alexa voice command to unlock the door for that person or to speak to them through the Ring doorbell device. Except for the lock, which wasn’t yet set up in the home for security reasons, it worked as expected.
The gadgets all end up meeting at a central control center (in the model home, it’s in the master bedroom closet) where more Wi-Fi hardware can be added on and powered behind a plastic case.
But the biggest pain point for smart-home gadgets: setting them up and getting them to work with each other, is another one Lennar is hoping to solve: home buyers will have an Amazon specialist come to their home and set up voice and automation features for them. That house call, meant to alleviate the hassles of setup, is included with the house purchase. Coleman said prices of homes at Enclave start at around $300,000 and the Wi-Fi Certified features and hardware are part of the base price.
“We think it’s the way people are living today,” he said. “It’s how people are going to want to live.”
Lennar started its Wi-Fi homes project in Seattle last year, with Austin as its second market. It plans to roll out more Wi-Fi homes throughout the country, Coleman said.
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