Home wireless networking spec approved

A group that includes dozens of leading IT firms is expected to announced this week it has agreed on a wireless networking specification designed to allow a range of computing and consumer electronics devices to be linked together throughout the home.

The Home Radio Frequency (HomeRF) Working Group, which includes Intel, Microsoft and 3Com, was formed in March 1998 to develop a technology platform that manufacturers can use as a basis for a range of interoperable devices for carrying voice and data traffic around the home.

The working group was due to announce yesterday that it has ratified version 1.0 of the specification, known as the Shared Wireless Access Protocol (SWAP), according to a draft statement leaked by the group on Monday.

The group will also announce 13 companies that have started to develop SWAP-based products, including Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Motorola. The first of those products, which could include PCs, cordless phones and printers, are expected to be released before the end of 1999.

SWAP-compliant products will contain technology that allows them to "talk" to each other without being tethered by wires. A mobile display pad in the kitchen, for example, could be used to access recipe information downloaded from a PC in the next room. Or a low-cost, wireless handset could be used to access e-mail from a PC located elsewhere in the house.

The SWAP 1.0 specification must now go through a final testing stage, in which prototype devices will be built and tested for compatibility, the group said.

The announcement has been timed to coincide with the Consumer Electronics Show, which kicks off Wednesday in Las Vegas, and where home networking products are expected to feature strongly.

A number of firms, including Share Wave and Proxim, are developing their own wireless networking products, getting started before the specification is set. ShareWave and Proxim are both members of the HomeRF working group, and plan to bring their products into line with the SWAP specification when it is finalised, a spokesman for the working group said.

Meanwhile, a group called the Home Phoneline Networking Association, or HomePNA, is busy developing a separate standard for products that will make use of existing copper telephone lines to link appliances in the home.

HomePNA includes many of the same members as the HomeRF Working Group, and the groups believe their technologies will exist side by side, with customers using a combination of wireless and wireline technologies for their home networking.

The first HomeRF Working Group Adopters Conference is scheduled for February 22 in San Jose, California, preceding the 1999 Wireless Symposium at the San Jose Convention Centre.

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