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Home network runs on telephone line

November 13, 1998
Web posted at: 12:00 PM EST

by Dan Littman

(IDG) -- Connecting office computers to a network makes them more useful -- that's a clear case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. But what about the computers in your home? Do you even have more than one home PC? If so, do you want to share a printer or a cable modem, swap files, or play multiuser games?

On the assumption that you'll answer "All of the above," networking companies are pushing several home-network technologies. There's scaled-down Ethernet, but installing those wires is a real hassle. And there's always radio-frequency, expensive though it may be -- and don't forget the encryption. This year has also seen the advent of networks that sneak data onto ordinary electrical lines. And now the work of an industry consortium called the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (known as HomePNA) is about to pay off with a spate of products that can connect PCs over the telephone lines hiding behind your walls.

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ActionTec Electronics expects to ship its ActionLink Home Networking system in December, making it one of the first HomePNA-compliant products. The PCI cards will list at $99 for one and $149 for a set of two; both packages include software for sharing peripherals. The system runs at 1 mbps, which is about 20 times as fast as the fastest modems, but only 10 percent the speed of ordinary Ethernet. It can handle as many as 25 computers and peripherals. A pass-through port on the card allows a telephone to share the line jack. The HomePNA standard does not require the central hub that most Ethernets rely on, and it is designed to cope with devices being connected or disconnected from the network.

PC World expects several more manufacturers to announce competing products next week at Comdex, and a white paper published by the HomePNA alludes to extending phone-line networks beyond computers to control a thermostat, a security system, and other home-electronics devices. Check PC World's Comdex coverage next week for details.

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