New home networks may constrain IT

HomePNA, HomePlug and MOCA (Multimedia Over Coax Alliance) will spur growth in home networking, says research firm

The growth of IPTV (Internet Protocol television) and other network-based entertainment services is likely to change the face of home networking and could affect enterprises, according to Gartner.

Although wireless LANs will remain the dominant form of home network, emerging wired technologies such as HomePNA, HomePlug and MOCA (Multimedia Over Coax Alliance) will grow quickly over the next five years, according to Gartner analyst Paul O'Donovan. His predictions will be presented this week at the Gartner ITxpo in San Francisco.

Many service providers and cable operators will promote these emerging networks as easy-to-use, high-bandwidth pathways for the multimedia content they're starting to sell, he said.

Both DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable Internet providers are investing in new wide-area networks and services to deliver a "triple play" of voice, video and data or even a "quadruple play" that includes mobile phones. The telecommunications carriers are making the biggest overhauls, building FTTH (fiber to the home) or FTTN (fiber to the node) networks at a cost of billions of dollars. Bundled services should benefit them through higher monthly bills and more loyal subscribers.

Home wireless LANs can't reliably deliver performance-sensitive content such as high-definition IPTV around a home, say proponents of the new technologies, and service providers are listening. For example, AT&T in the U.S. is starting to offer its subscribers HomePNA networks and Verizon Communications is offering MOCA gear to customers of its Fios FTTH service.

Gartner expects these new kinds of networks to grow rapidly over the next few years. Coaxial cable, the kind of wire typically used to deliver cable TV to set-top boxes, will be used in only about 7 percent of home networks this year but rise to about 12 percent by 2011, according to O'Donovan's presentation. Powerline networks that use home electrical wiring will also jump up, while Wi-Fi use flattens at about 25 percent. And by 2011, counting all technologies, about half the home networks in the U.S. will use gear from service providers, Gartner predicts.

With more employees working at home either occasionally or full time, enterprises should know what kinds of home LANs they're using, O'Donovan said. This will be especially important when service providers let entertainment content, VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) and productivity applications share the same infrastructure, he said.

Simply connecting to the home network may not change much. With their new home networks, for example, both AT&T and Verizon, are providing routers that include Wi-Fi and some Ethernet ports. (Adapters for hooking up Ethernet in another room are not as easy to come by, yet.) But O'Donovan warns that enterprises should make sure their business applications and VOIP calls don't get crowded out by high-definition TV or video-on-demand.

Judging from what service providers and proponents of the new technologies say, there isn't much to worry about in this respect. Standard priority mechanisms used by applications will establish the appropriate status on both MOCA and HomePlug, according to executives of the groups backing those technologies.

The picture on HomePNA is less clear. With that technology, there are a variety of ways to determine priority, said Rich Nesin, president of the HomePNA Alliance and vice president of marketing at Coppergate Communication Inc., which makes chips for HomePNA gear. Coppergate chips can filter IP packets based on any field in the packet header, and it's possible a service provider could use some of these fields to prioritize its own packets, he said.

Gartner's O'Donovan still fears problems.

"There has to be a really strong temptation for the cable companies to instigate some form of [quality of service] for their video services, which by its very nature must put some cap on the bandwidth available for data on the network," O'Donovan said.

As a result, employers may want to work out deals with particular service providers to ensure a high quality of service for what they care about, he said. Then they could direct employees to work with whatever provider they've partnered with in a given area.

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