Home networks were a hot topic at the Consumer Electronics Show here this week, with a raft of products on display that let users share an Internet connection and transfer voice, data and video between PCs, televisions and other household appliances.
The products use wireless technology, telephone lines and even the electric power lines behind your living room wall to shunt data around the home. Analysts and industry executives here said all three technologies will likely coexist for the next few years.
While home networking has yet to gain much of a footing in the real world -- especially outside the U.S. -- as many as a third of US households with PCs are interested in building a digital network in their home, according to a recent study from the Yankee Group.
Demand will increase with the growing availability of high bandwidth Internet connections -- thanks to cable, ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) and xDSL (Digital Subscriber Line) modems -- and as more homes acquire a second PC, said Ed Arrington, manager of Intel Corp.'s Anywhere in the Home division.
Also seeding the potential market is a growing number of new digital appliances. Those on display here this week included TV set-top boxes, digital televisions and digital video players.
-- Mountain View, California-based Proxim Inc. announced the availability of its wireless Symphony Cordless Networking Suite, which offers data transfer rates of up to 1.6 megabits per second (M bps) and operates up to 150 feet, the company said.
The Symphony family includes a cordless ISA card and cordless PC card for linking desktop and notebook computers together, priced at US$149 and $199, respectively. Internet sharing can be achieved using a 56K bps cordless modem for $299 that plugs into a standard telephone jack and can be used by two or more devices simultaneously, Proxim said. The company also offers software that turns an existing PC modem into one that can be shared.
For users with ISDN, cable or xDSL, Proxim plans to release later this month the Symphony Cordless Bridge, which links via an Ethernet connection and will be priced at $399, the company said. Proxim is on the Web at http://www.proxim.com/.
-- ShareWave Inc. announced Cresta Digital Radio, a set of chipsets and software that it sells to manufacturers to embed in a range of electronics appliances to provide wireless connectivity. Philips Electronics NV uses the technology in AMBI networking system, which was on display here and is due to debut in some North American markets early this year, priced between $500 and $700.
ShareWave also announced a reference design for a "television terminal" that can be linked wirelessly to a PC. The terminal effectively creates a large-screen PC where users can watch multimedia content downloaded from the Internet or playing on a DVD. The device can also be used as a second PC when coupled with a wireless keyboard, allowing two users to simultaneously run two different Windows sessions, for example, one on the PC, the other on the TV. ShareWave is on the Web at http://www.sharewave.com/.
-- Diamond Multimedia Inc. announced availability of its HomeFree wireless home netwoking products, which it says can connect notebook and desktop PCs at up to 1M bps spaced up to 150 feet apart.
The product comes in two versions, for Windows 95 and Windows 98. The Desktop Pac includes one ISA card and one PCI card (one for each of the two desktop computers to be connected) and is priced at $199.95. The Combo Pac features one PCMCIA card and one ISA card to connect a laptop and desktop computer, and is priced at $229.95. Additional single-node cards can be purchased for $99.95 for the ISA card or the PCI card and $129.95 for the PCMCIA card. Diamond has an online store at http://www.diamondmm.com/where-to-buy/online-store/. Its Web site is at http://ww.diamondmm.com/.
-- Epigram Inc. showed products based on its iLine10 chipsets, which use a home's existing telephone wiring to offer Ethernet-fast transfer rates of 10 M bps. The technology is used to transfer voice, digital video and computer data between phones, digital TVs and PCs.
Networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. picked Epigram as a technology provider for its home networking demonstration here at the show. 3Com Corp. in November said it will use Epigram's technology in shared-access cable, DSL, and analog modems. 3Com said it plans to release the first of its Epigram products early this year under its HomeConnect brand. Epigram is at http://www.epigram.com/. 3Com is at http://www.3com.com/.
-- ActionTec Electronics Inc. showed its ActionLink line, which also uses existing telephone lines to connect PCs and peripherals together. Its products include networking cards priced at $99, and the Introductory Home Networking Kit priced at $149, which includes two cards, a multiplayer game, and the company's DynaSyGate software for sharing peripherals.
The company also demonstrated a new software product called DynaNAT which allows multiple PCs in a home to surf the Web with a single Net connection and one ISP account. The software determines which system on the network is best suited to act as the Internet gateway, and dynamically reassigns that function as PCs on the network are turned on and off. Pricing and availability were not available. ActionTec, in Sunnyvale, California is on the Web at http://www.actiontec.com/.
-- Avio Digital Inc. demonstrated products based on its MediaWire technology, which uses telephone wires to offer an effective throughput of up to 88Mbps -- fast enough to distribute up to four MPEG2 video channels, as well as audio, voice and data, the company said.
Avio hopes to license its technology to electronics manufacturers for incorporation into their products. Users will also be able to upgrade existing electronics products using an adaptor, the company said. The Pricing and availability were not available. Avio Digital, in San Carlos, California, is funded in part by investor Paul Allen. Its Web site is at http://www.aviodigital.com/.
-- Enkia Inc. demonstrated technology that turns electrical power lines into a home network that can carry data at Ethernet speeds -- up to 10M bps per second. The platform can be used to connect numerous appliances that plug into an electrical outlet, the company said.
In a demonstration here, Enkia showed how a security camera can be plugged into a wall and then accessed via a Web page from anywhere in the world, as well as Web-based lighting controls and a kitchen "Web pad" that delivers real time news broadcasts.
The company expects to deliver its first commercial products during 1999. They will center on an Ethernet-compatible transceiver that works with off-the-shelf Ethernet controllers, said Enkia, based in Piscataway, New Jersey.
-- Intelogis Inc. said its PassPort Plug-In Network now supports Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT. Priced at $199.99, PassPort Plug-In Network allows users to network several PCs together using existing AC electrical outlets, Intelogis said. To use the product users plug an adapter into an electrical outlet and then connect the adaptor to a parallel port. The updated software with Windows drivers will be available Jan. 31, the company said. The company's Web site is at http://www.intelogis.com/.
-- Philips Semiconductors, in Sunnyvale, California, announced a new wireless radio evaluation board targeted at electronics manufacturers who want to build home networking applications. Supporting data rates of up to 2 M bps with a range of more than 300 meters, the evaluation board is compliant with the HomeRF (Radio Frequency) Working Group's Shared Wireless Access Protocol specification, Phillips said. The evaluation board is available now priced at $250, Philips said. The company's Web site is at http://www.philips.com/.