Fast new home networks sprouting

Home network technologies taking off overseas

Wi-Fi put home networks on the map when it emerged several years ago as a fairly fast, reasonably easy-to-use technology that didn't make consumers pull wires under their carpets or along their walls. It still dominates the market and will for the next few years, according to Gartner analyst Paul O'Donovan, but he sees some wired network types rapidly gaining market share on the strength of service providers offering them to subscribers.

Here are three of the most prominent "no new wires" networks:

HomePNA: The Home Phone Network Alliance was formed in 1998 to offer a fast home network that used existing phone lines. HomePNA 3.1, the current version of the specification, can also use coaxial cable -- the wires that carry cable TV -- and doesn't stand for anything, according to the HomePNA Alliance.

The latest version offers a top speed of 320M bps (bits per second) and guaranteed quality of service. Among the products already available outside Australia are set-top boxes from Motorola and Cisco Systems's Scientific-Atlanta subsidiary as well as residential gateways and HomePNA-to-Ethernet bridges.

For connectivity in rooms where there isn't a phone jack or coaxial hookup, users can attach a Wi-Fi access point to the network in another room using a router or Ethernet bridge. Most equipment is provided by service providers, according to Rich Nesin, president of the HomePNA Alliance. All subscribers to AT&T U.S.'s high-speed U-verse service get HomePNA networks, and users of other AT&T broadband services can also get one.

HomePlug: Promoted by the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, this technology sends data signals through the electrical wiring inside a home. In many cases, this gives users more places to plug in, because more rooms have electrical sockets than phone or cable jacks.

Any Ethernet device can be plugged in to the network through an adapter about the size of a cigarette pack that plugs into the socket, said Jed Johnson, chief technology officer of the group. HomePlug hit the market in 2001; the latest specification, HomePlug AV, will deliver about 30M bps from most sockets in a home, he said. It has three levels of service quality, the best of which reserves bandwidth for an application. HomePlug is offered by France Telecom, Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom Co. and other carriers.

MOCA: This coaxial-only system, promoted by the Multimedia Over Coax Alliance, delivers more than 100M bps of real throughput from 97 percent of coaxial jacks, according to Rob Gelphman, chairman of MOCA's Marketing Work Group. A system of reservations and scheduling ensures quality of service, said Anton Monk, CTO of MOCA. MOCA is an entertainment network designed to complement data networks such as Wi-Fi, which can be attached to the consumer's broadband router separately from the MOCA connection, Monk said. Shipping and planned products include MOCA-to-Ethernet bridges and set-top boxes. MOCA is popular in the US where cable dominates. Verizon Communications sets up MOCA networks for subscribers to its Fios fiber-to-the-home service.

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service

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