December 01, 2005 by Gordon van Zuiden
If you’ve been following home technology even remotely in the past year or so, you’ve probably encountered the term IP. Those two little letters are now the most important ones in home technology. Together, they stand for Internet Protocol, the de facto language that newer electronics products use to communicate with one another in the home and to the outside world.
IP is the way computers communicate over networks. With IP connectivity, you can distribute audio, video and data around the house. Without it, you have islands of entertainment or information in your home, accessible only in those selected areas. That’s not what 21st-century digital living is all about!
To understand the need for IP networking, just think of your water system. You probably don’t have a water heater in every room that needs hot water. It’s distributed through an infrastructure of pipes and fixtures that can transport and dispense it. Like the water heater service, we now have hard drives that can distribute their audio/video and data content over an infrastructure of high-speed computer wiring to IP-enabled devices throughout the home.
And just as you need to know a little about your plumbing system—such as where to turn the water off when the dishwasher starts leaking—you need to knowsome facts about the IP system in your home. It’s the lifeblood of your digital infrastructure.
- You can’t touch, see, feel or smell IP. But you can tell if it’s working with your computer by running what is called a “ping” test. On a computer running Windows XP, open the Run command to get to a DOS prompt. Then type: ping http://www.yahoo.com. If you get a ping reply, you know the computer is connected on your home network and to the Internet. If there is no reply, your IP is not flowing; either the problem is inside your home or with your gateway connection to the outside world. (In another column, we’ll review how to troubleshoot a “down” Internet connection.)
- IP network connections used to be only on computers. Now you can find them on printers, storage drives, thermostats, lighting control systems, audio/video receivers, speakers and even computerized player pianos.
- IP is the language of the Internet. It is part of the protocol TCP/IP (for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). Just as English is the international business language for verbal communication, IP has become the dominant form of data communication, primarily because of the Internet’s popularity.
- IP-enabled products can often be controlled over the Internet. This makes them potentially easier to use and upgrade. For example, a TiVo digital video recorder with an IP-network connection can display photos from your home’s hard drive or allow you to program it remotely from an Internet-connected computer. TiVo without an IP network connection is simply a digital video recorder connected to your TV.
- IP should be a feature you ask about before you buy your next consumer electronics product. Home-based IP networks that distribute audio and video will soon be the norm. This may be an important differentiator that can help you decide between similar products.
- IP can travel over wired or wireless connections. Over wire, it can travel up to 300 feet before it needs to be repeated or amplified by a hub or a switch. Over a wireless connection, it can travel 50 to 150 feet inside the home, but the farther it has to travel, the slower its data speed becomes. 7IP is a data language. You need to have a basic knowledge of IP addressing, static and dynamic IPs, and private and public IPs to successfully deploy and troubleshoot IP systems in your home. (See number 8 to help you build that know-how.)
- Read Cisco’s new book, Home Networking Simplified. It’s a good place to learn more about IP and how to “plumb” your home to best take advantage of IP’s capabilities.
- IP is a modern utility. Turn off the water to your home, and it’s an inconvenience. Turn off the IP in your home (read: The Internet connection is down), and you’ll have some very upset family members.
- IP is everywhere. A few years ago, I saw on the back of a Cisco shirt a picture of a little boy peeing on the floor with a caption that read, “IP Everywhere!” Never has that slogan been truer than it is today.
Gordon van Zuiden is the founder and president of cyberManor: www.cybermanor.com, a home integration company that loves IP.
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