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PC World

Why you will network your home

October 22, 1999
Web posted at: 10:33 a.m. EDT (1433 GMT)

by Tom Mainelli

(IDG) -- Coming soon to millions of homes near you: easy, speedy home networks.

Just what, you may ask, is driving all these homes to get connected?

"Broadband," says Eric Benhamou, 3Com's chief executive, speaking at the Yankee Group's Networked Home Symposium here this week.

If a multi-PC home has one high-speed Internet connection, everyone will want a piece of it, Benhamou says. Today's broadband connections aren't cheap, but sharing the resource makes it easier to justify the cost, he says.

Yankee Group expects the number of residential broadband users to jump from 1.5 million to 10 million over the next four years.

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Playing MP3 Musical Chairs

For consumers, a home network has plenty of entertainment value.

The MP3 audio explosion makes home networks attractive to people who want faster and easier ways to share music, says Tony Zuccarino, senior director of business development and product marketing at Broadcom.

A 10-megabit-per-second home network is perfect for moving MP3 audio files among different PCs, Zuccarino says. While that's important now, it will be even more so when non-PC devices like stereos join the home network lineup down the road.

Phone It in, for Now

For a simple home network, today's phone line-based products let you simply plug your PCs into an existing phone jack and go. The first wave of these products, offering 1-mbps transfers, came out earlier this year. Diamond Multimedia's HomeFree 1-mbps PCI-based solution now sells for about $80 (the company also offers wireless- and Universal Serial Bus-based HomeFree bundles). Intel's AnyPoint PCI-based 1-mbps starter package now sells for about $79 (it also offers USB- and parallel port-based solutions).

In September NetGear announced 10-mbps Home Phoneline10X products, including a PCI-based package for about $150 (USB and ethernet products are also available). This week 3Com and Diamond Multimedia announced 10-mbps, PCI-based packages. Diamond's 10-mbps HomeFree solution sells for about $130; 3Com's upcoming 10-mbps HomeConnect package will sell for about $150.

Other home network options simply do not yet offer the same combination of pricing, convenience, and speed.

Conventional ethernet runs at 10 mbps or even 100 mbps, but requires special cables. Unless you're building a new house, or have all your computers in one room, it's not very practical.

Wireless is handy but still typically slower and more expensive than phone line nets. Researchers expect it to play a much larger role in the future as consumers bring home more mobile products and vendors increase transfer rates and lower prices.

You can also create a home network using the existing power lines in your house. Intelogis has developed power-line networking products (a start-up kit for two PCs and a printer costs $80), but at 350 kilobits per second, the network speed lags far behind alternatives.

This technique offers some advantages, as power outlets are even more plentiful then phone jacks in most homes. However, it's tough to achieve dependability because power lines are a "hostile environment," Zuccarino says.

Daniel Sweeney, general manager of home networking operations at Intel, says his company has found power line-based networks work well in the lab, but simply do not work in every home. "The reliability may not be there," he says.

Wanted: Simple and Secure

Whatever the network hardware, it must be reliable and easy to install, or people won't buy it, Benhamou says.

"People aren't buying pieces; they want the total solution," agrees Sweeney. Customer support is especially important with home nets, he adds.

Customers also need to understand the risks of creating a network that is connected to the Internet, Zuccarino says. Sweeney agrees, saying that this is not a case in which the security threat is more hype than reality.

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No-brainer home hookups
(PC World)
Phone line networks speed up tenfold
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Wireless home LANs get cheaper
(PC World)
Installing DSL in your home office
Philips unveils home of the future
(PC World)
Do you need a home network?
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Top 10 home PCs
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Ownership of a home PC does not equal usage
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Diamond Multimedia
Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HomePNA)
Home Radio Frequency (HomeRF) Working Group
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