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Monday, May 31, 1999 Published at 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK


Sci/Tech

Network computing comes home

New US homes are increasingly being wired for computer networks

By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

The local area network of the office is becoming a lot more local as computer networking moves into homes in the US.

In 1999, the home networking market will be relatively small, dominated by early adopters and unused equipment now shipping on computers from Compaq, Dell and IBM, said Mike Wolf of market research group Cahners In-Stat.

But Mr Wolf's research indicates the US home networking market will expand greatly, from $230 million in 1999 to $1.4 billion by 2003.

Several factors are driving this market.

"There is a direct correlation between the rapidly falling price of PCs, the number of households who have multiple PCs and _ home networking," said Dave DeVries, a spokesman with networking equipment manufacturer 3Com.


[ image: Ever cheaper computers are a driving factor]
Ever cheaper computers are a driving factor
According to Dataquest studies, there will be 17 million multiple PC homes in the US this year and the number is expected to reach 26 million in the next four years.

In addition to multiple PCs, "the killer app" that is driving home networking is shared Internet access, especially broadband access, Mr DeVries said.

The wired home

Greg Farmer of Bell Atlantic has been involved with several of the company's high technology trials including switched digital video, digital satellite services, and digital subscriber line services.

But after the new services were installed, home owners often found they had perform expensive upgrades to the wiring in their homes to take full advantage of these new digital communication technologies.

It is far cheaper to build the wiring into new homes and this is now happening in technological corridors across the country and in large metropolitan areas.

Computer giant IBM is working with companies such as regional telephone operator Bell Atlantic to sell wiring systems that will provide a broadband, multimedia network for new homes

The IBM/Bell Atlantic system consists of a multimedia network hub installed in the basement of the home.

The backbone of the system is two coaxial cables, a Category 5 Ethernet cable and advanced multi-line phone wiring. These cables are connected to multimedia "ports" or outlets, which come in several configurations.

Audio-visual signals and computer data can be sent across the system, and the network supports multiple telephone lines.

The network is designed to support future home theatre, computer network and Internet applications, Mr Farmer said, adding "we're future-proofing the home."

Bob Banner works for Hemingway Homes, which builds 20 luxury homes a year east of Washington, DC. All of the homes have the Bell Atlantic wiring system installed, although the configurations vary.

All of the home owners opt to have at least one room equipped with a multimedia port that supports multiple phone lines for a home office, but about 20% of the home owners choose to have the full computer networking option installed.

Rewiring homes

In Silicon Valley and other high-tech corridors, computer professionals and hobbyists are installing Ethernet hubs in their basements and installing cabling, said Mr Wolf.

But it is a technically complex and expensive option. For existing homes, installing Ethernet cabling is four times that of building it into a new home, Mr Farmer said.

Owners of existing homes have an increasing number of options to network their computers and peripherals, including wireless systems and technologies that send data using telephone or electrical wiring in a home.

Computer industry giants such as Microsoft, Compaq, Intel and 3Com have joined the Home Phoneline Network Alliance (HPNA).

The alliance backs a technology developed by Tut Systems that uses the phone lines to provide 1Mb per second throughout.

But Intel has announced its support for a new 10Mb per second phoneline technology from Epigram. The chip giant said that it expects to ship products using the new higher speed technology by the second half of 1999.

Cahners In-Stat predicts that phoneline technology will capture 50 to 70 percent of the market and wireless will capture a third. Powerline, which uses existing electrical wiring, will win less than 10 percent of the market.



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