Part Q will require housebuilders to install cable ducting from the street to each floor of a new home. The idea is to make updating data cables much easier as technology moves on. Ironically, the death knell for the proposed regulation has been sounded by technological change itself.
There has been an explosion in wireless networking technology and it is being taken up enthusiastically. The fastest growing technology is WiFi (wireless fidelity), a high-speed wireless link that connects computers within the home, out on site and, increasingly, in public places such as airports and shopping centres.
Pop into any department store with £150 to spend and you will emerge with a smoke alarm-sized device that will allow you to surf the net with no wires. The connection runs at up to 54 Mb per second, 100 times faster than current broadband speeds. It also wirelessly links up to 50 computers, all of which can share a printer.
Each computer needs a special wireless card to be inserted – they cost £80 each – but increasingly computers are being sold with these fitted, and computer chip giant Intel has just launched a laptop processor called Centrino with wireless connectivity built in.
Laing Homes has already responded to changes in home technology. It has been installing sophisticated category 5 data cabling in every one of its new homes – until now. Louise Everett, Laing Homes marketing manager for the Thames Valley region, explains: "Part Q is out of date. We have gone on to a wireless technology route and are replacing cat 5 cabling with a wireless capability instead." Laing Homes is currently implementing this strategy on a development in Chertsey, Surrey.
New wireless products and technologies are being launched almost daily, and by the time Part Q is due to come into effect in 2005, wireless technology will have moved on even further. The government has admitted that Part Q may never become a full Building Regulation, and may be just issued as guidance notes. The diagram on the right shows some of the technologies that will be on the market before 2005. Take a look and decide for yourself whether Part Q will be the Building Regulation that never was.
A single device connected to all home computers via WiFi link. Available now.
The smart display is a screen connected wirelessly to the main server. The idea is that all of a PC's functions can be accessed on a portable display that can be used anywhere in the home. Microsoft has already launched its smart display, which relies on a stylus to access functions. In the future, this type of screen will control domestic appliances, thermostats, the alarm system, run a bath …
Meter readers watch out! Wireless gas and electricity meters are linked to a utility-owned base station placed nearby; these are connected to the utility company via a telephone line. Alternatively, wireless meters can be read just by driving past. Available now.
The television is connected to a "network media receiver". This is wirelessly linked to a PC. People can gather round the television to look at digital photographs stored on the PC, surf the net or watch a video direct from the internet. Similar devices connected to the stereo enable CDs or MP3 files to be played. Sony is launching this later in the year.
Servers – no strings attached
The main computer server is the central point for other home devices. These are linked together wirelessly. The server will continue to be linked to the outside world via a cable, as the infrastructure already exists. Developing countries without cable infrastructure are using wireless links to connect local telephone lines to the exchange because it is cheaper. It looks as if the Thatcher government's drive to spread cable over Britain by digging up all those pavements was a waste of time and money.
Mobile phones can be used as cordless home phones once indoors. The mobile's "Bluetooth" capability is used to connect it to a base station just like current cordless phones. Mobile phones will be able to act as a remote control for appliances. These will be available in two years.
Searching for the hotspot
Laptops can connect to the home network via WiFi. Outside the home, it can connect to the internet in a WiFi hotspot, such as an airport or shopping centre. There are already hundreds of WiFi hotspots across the UK. WiFi could ultimately eclipse 3G, which would mean those billions spent by the mobile companies on 3G licenses were wasted. Doh!
Next-generation mod cons
Wireless light switches and thermostats will become the norm once a new wireless standard with the unlikely name of Zigbee is launched later this year. This should revolutionise building services as it is very cheap and can have up to 255 devices on one network. The batteries that send the signals will last for several years.
The washing machine can be controlled remotely on a smart display with a "Bluetooth" link. This connects it to the web so that if a part begins to fail, the machine notifies the maker, who sends an engineer out to replace the part before it fails. Domestic appliances with built-in Bluetooth are already on sale in Asia.