The channel-industry association CompTIA and the Consumer Electronics Association have combined forces to create a certification program designed to increase the number of people and companies able to handle the increasingly sophisticated IT integration in the home networking market.
The partnership is, historically, an odd one. Traditional information-technology services have only rarely lopped over into consumer electronics or home automation, which have tended to focus on proprietary power-line networking protocols and controllers to automate heating and cooling, lights and home-entertainment centers.
"The connected home concept is becoming more mass market than it had been three or four years ago," according to Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) spokesman Steven Ostrowski. "That's where we see the opportunity and where our reseller members see the opportunity as well."
"For a long time what was considered fancy electronics in the home was only for the wealthy. That's not the case now," according to CEA spokeswoman Meghan Henning. "Technologies are very affordable, and more of the people we survey are interested in having it installed in the home."
ABI Research predicts the market for networked storage – not including the network itself, voice-over-IP networks, PCs, streaming-media servers or other parts of a networked home will go up from $305 million in 2006 to nearly $1.2 billion in 2011.
In a survey of 3,447 home Internet users, market-research firm Parks Associates Inc. found that simple networked functions are considered very important by large chunks of the connected public, especially sharing broadband (39%), sharing printers (37%) and centralizing files (19%).
Smaller, but significant chunks of those surveyed said more sophisticated functions were also important, including centralizing multimedia content (17%), streaming multimedia content from a PC to entertainment equipment (12%), streaming entertainment content from one consumer device to another (12%), easily connecting digital phones (8%) and easily connecting games to the network (6%).
The problem is that there are not nearly enough skilled integrators available to do the work, according to Ric Johnson, president of RL Johnson Construction Services, LLC, a "design/build electrical contracting firm specializing in total lifestyle enhancement."
"This market is growing in leaps and bounds, and right now we don't have enough qualified technicians to even pull the wire, let alone do the integration," he said. "If I went out today to find a baseline individual it would take between 90 and 180 days to find a qualified one."
The Parks Associates report agrees, describing a gap in the mid-range of the market that falls below the 5% of high-end houses that can afford custom installation of home-automation and entertainment systems, and the lower-end that rely on vendor phone support and similar services for single PCs or simple Internet connections.
The CEA-CompTIA Digital Home Technology Integrator+ certification ( DHTI+) certification addresses that with requirements for training in system infrastructure integration, network setup and support, Internet access, digital home entertainment and content distribution, telecommunications, lighting, energy management and security.
"We're calling it a fourth trade," Johnson said. "You already have carpenters, plumbers and electrical contractors in the home; this is the one that people are going to be getting used to having, too."
"You wouldn't want a plumber doing your electrical work; you should be able to have the right person doing this kind of work as well," Henning said.
CEA and CompTIA are promoting the certification and development of training classes to get IT-savvy contractors working in the construction trade. CEA's surveys show that only 60% of home-automation and 43% of home-entertainment systems are installed at the time a house is built.
CEA's analysis is that builders are leaving money on the table; CompTIA's is that IT VARs and resellers are missing out on a great market opportunity.
"When you think about it, if the PC is the heart of what you do in the home, and everything is connected over IP, it's not a great leap of faith to say that it might be a good market to be developed there, too," Ostrowski said.