Cable Had Better Prepare for Home Nets

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Anaheim, Calif. -- Home networks and the interconnection of
household devices and appliances through wired and wireless applications are gaining
momentum, pushing technology deep into customer homes.

Consequently, the cable industry is scrambling to
understand the complex and varied applications of home networks, the standards driving
them and their impact on customers, according to Rich Annibaldi, senior manager of
technical research for Pioneer New Media Technologies Inc.

"Home networks are becoming very important to the
cable industry, and cable will increasingly want to find ways to connect devices like
cable modems. And it better be ready," said Annibaldi, who delivered the "Home
Networking Fundamentals" pre-conference tutorial at the Society of Cable
Telecommunications Engineers' Conference on Emerging Technologies here last week.

Four key applications are leading the way for delivery of
home networks to the home, Annibaldi told the engineer-laden session: communication of
data and voice via computer; control of security and energy-management devices;
entertainment, including audio/video and games; and information and education via the Web.

"Information via the Web as part of a home network is
the future. And many devices will be able to do self-diagnostics and literally call for
repairs by themselves," Annibaldi said.

For home networks to reach their potential, however, the
standards of networking need to be sorted out by the cable industry.

Two common standards -- the Institute for Electrical and
Electronics Engineers' 802.3 and 802.5 -- are most prevalent today, he said. Several
others -- including new protocols such as IEEE 802.11, Wireless Local Area Association
standards, EIA-600-CEBus and "de facto" standards -- are also slowly gaining
recognition.

"With so many protocols and standards in existence,
it's very important that they each be examined closely -- especially the network layers,
which include data link, network, physical layers and several others," Annibaldi
said.

Home networking will eventually include a sophisticated
system of interconnections between home devices creating one single unit, or a
resource-sharing environment with multiple users.

"By the year 2002, 24 million homes will have at least
two personal computers. Imagine walking by your PC with a cell phone and personal
organizer with all of them connected by an RF link," Annibaldi said.

Those homes are expected to include wiring, hubs and
gateways as basic network components.

To get a full home network up and running, however, four
key areas must be addressed first. "Hardware, software, standards and network
components are the keys," Annibaldi said.

Software protocols are most important. "There must be
agreed-upon rules for data communications so devices can talk to each other," he
added.

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