MIDVALE — When's the last time you heard anybody talk about being at the tech forefront of their neighborhood by having a "wired" home? Yep, thought so.
Companies like Midvale-based Phonex Broadband are the reason. The little-known gem has been producing technology that for more than a decade has helped people eliminate the need for wires and cables clogging up the home. And its latest technology, expected to be part of a myriad of devices, will do more of the same, making the home "connected" but without the wires.
"If we can get the kind of traction we want, we're going to double and triple the company in the next few years," said Brad Warnock, marketing director. "We're very, very excited about the opportunity we have."
Imagine setting up a video camera to monitor a baby but being able to see the image on any TV in the house. Or playing your computer's MP3 music files but hearing them on speakers you've toted to your patio or deck, or listening to them on your home's intercom speakers.
And doing it all with the devices plugged in only at power outlets — no connecting cords between them. That's what the Phonex ReadyWire chip technology will enable.
"We'll build products so that you can just plug them into the outlets. They'll know where they are, they'll identify automatically and set up the network, and you can start pressing the buttons and having fun instead of messing around with it all the time," Warnock said.
ReadyWire, simply put, will connect devices with voice, streaming audio, Internet video and home automation control.
ReadyWire is an evolutionary step from existing Phonex products. The wireless jack for phones lets a person plug in a couple of units — with one at an outlet near an existing phone — to get a phone signal at any other power outlet in the home.
So far, 11 million units have been sold in the decade they've been available. A popular application has been to attach them to a satellite TV set-top box, enabling the satellite TV company to have a phone connection for its network communication. That allows it to coordinate pay-per-view offerings, check the status of accounts and fight fraudulent piggybacking of TV signals.
"As long as the set-top boxes can call the network, they can figure out anything they want to about that customer," Warnock said.
For the set-top box industry, ReadyWire will provide a digital version. "The satellite providers love this because they can now install a (Phonex) base unit and then plug in the set-top box, and it's automatically up and running. The phone connection is already there," he said.
"But we can also do MP3 streams; we can do full voice streams; we can do compressed voice streams, and we can obviously do modem and phone very easily. And we're less expensive than our competing technologies today with a processor that does a whole lot more. It's very reliable and has long range."
For audiophiles, ReadyWire will mean the ability to get streaming MP3 from the computer to intercom systems, remote speakers or whole-home speakers.
"We have enough bandwidth so you could do a single stream just about anywhere you want it, and you should be able to get multiple streams most of the time," Warnock said.
"You'll be able to walk around with a set of speakers and put them out on the back porch when you're working in the yard, or put them in the kitchen when you want to. It will have a little remote with it. You'll be able to control your play list and do anything you want, all through MP3, and get it any place you'd like to."
ReadyWire also will eliminate running cords to rear-channel surround-sound speakers. Just plug those speakers into a wall in the back of the room "and your rear channel will come up from across the room," he said.
Digital intercoms with ReadyWire? A breeze.
"Now I can plug an intercom into an outlet or into a light switch. The wiring problem is gone in the intercom world. A lot of people haven't upgraded their intercoms because who's going to pull all that wire?" Warnock said.
And the sound will be rich and clear. "We took just a little sliver of frequency range that is seldom used in the home and is so narrow that nobody wants it for home networking or high-speed audio or video, but we're going to use it for voice and modem and control," he said.
Home automation, lighting control and security applications also are in play for ReadyWire.
"There are all kinds of monitoring applications. Once you get into home automation, you can know if all your doors are locked. I have an engineering manager here that wired his whole house, and he has a little indicator in his master bedroom that shows whether the garage door is open or the doors are locked — all those things. Now you don't have to wire your house for that. You can just plug those things into outlets and have a little display.
"You'll be able to plug your Web cameras into an outlet and plug that into the back of your PC monitor from anywhere. I can set up a video baby monitor just by plugging it into the outlet and it will bring nice, clean video into any television in my home."
Phonex announced ReadyWire more than a year ago but has been polishing the chip technology since. Field tests will take place in April, and Warnock predicts ReadyWire will be in many products within two years.
The chip market — including lighting control, MP3 players, home security and the rest — is expected to be $5 billion by 2009. "We have an enormous market that we can expand out to," Warnock said.
The idea is to allow devices to talk to each other without connection cords. Sprinklers would turn on only when they get a signal that they're needed. Ditto for automated lighting, kitchen appliances, air conditioners.
"Right now, you have to pull a phone cord or pull a computer cord everywhere you go. These technologies give you the ability to just plug it into the electrical outlets. And for those items that don't move, like your set-top box and your appliances, your intercoms and your speakers, it's valuable technology, and the range and reach will be far better than anything else you have in the house today," Warnock said.
"There are lots of interesting little things that will come forward, just by having a good, simple communication system. We're excited to see what the market will bring."