The shape of the home network of the future became clearer at the just-completed Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and it will look, in general, like the enterprise network of the present.
For instance, Wi-Fi has dominated the home for years. But the expected surge in high-bandwidth streaming media, such as high-definition TV, will mean the future home network will also need wired networking, many believe.
"We believe the networked home will be a hybrid with wired and wireless," a spokesperson at networking vendor Linksys, Trevor Bratton, said.
Similarly, network-based storage and servers, long staples in corporations, will be needed to store and manage media in the home, if the vision of industry heavyweights like Microsoft, HP and Cisco prove true. They stress, however, that there will be at least one key difference between home and work: These media-focused devices won't require technical knowledge to use.
Still, the home network of the future shown and discussed on the floor of CES recently will be strikingly familiar to IT managers.
Wireless still key
While corporations are always reluctant to use non-standardised equipment, routers and other Wi-Fi gear based on the 802.11n draft spec are becoming the de facto standard for the home. That's because, even though the ratification schedule for 802.11n remains hazy, its Ethernet-like speed and quality of service are essential for streaming media through the home. Adoption of the "n" spec is happening, though, only after a shaky start more than a year ago when draft-N equipment showed very little interoperability.
At least one vendor places the blame for those initial problems on overzealousness by chip makers when draft-N equipment first appeared.
"In the beginning, the chip set manufacturers were all trying to differentiate themselves," product deliver marketing manager at Netgear, which is best known for its Wi-Fi networking gear, Philip Pyo, said. "Now, they're working together."
Companies on the CES show floor claimed that interoperability was not a problem now and, in any case, this summer the Wi-Fi Alliance, the trade group of Wi-Fi vendors, is expected to start certifying equipment based on the draft standard. While some believe certifying non-standardised equipment may seem like an oxymoron, the industry obviously feels it is essential, given the potential growth of home networking used for media dissemination.
As a result, a flood of new draft-802.11n equipment from all major vendors and many smaller ones was shown at CES. And to handle the bandwidth demands that many expect in the media-centric home, much of the new equipment has gigabit-class capabilities.