Excite@Home Explores Wireless LANs

Author:
Publish date:
Updated on

New York -- Excite@Home Corp. is preparing to offer its
affiliates a way to expedite installation of data services in cable households through the
use of in-home wireless-networking technology.

The company is sorting through various premises-networking
options with the aim of picking one that it can use on a nationwide basis as a way to get
beyond the "jack-add" problem, chief technology officer Milo Medin said last
week.

"[A total of] 75 percent to 80 percent of the rooms
people have their PCs in don't have cable outlets, which means operators have to send
out installers to make the connection," Medin said. "We would like to give them
the option of avoiding that step by using wireless technology."

An example of what Excite@Home has in mind was on display
last week at a "home-of-the-future" demonstration in a Manhattan apartment. The
wireless-networking technology supplied by ShareWave Inc., a strategic partner of Cisco
Systems Inc., linked PCs and other devices to a centrally positioned cable modem, which,
in turn, was connected to the cable wire leading to outside network facilities.

Medin stressed that the use of ShareWave in the demo was
not an indication of where his company was going in terms of its vendor selection.
"We're talking to three companies with the intention of making a decision by the
end of the year," he said.

"We'd like to have this option in the marketplace
by the third quarter," Medin added. "We're looking at proprietary systems
and at systems that are designed to the [Institute of Electrical and Electronics
Engineers'] 802.11 standard. Whichever way the technical selection goes, the goal is
to create a volume-purchasing environment that will drive the costs of the wireless home
network down to cost parity with the cost of sending out a cable installer."

He noted, "If we can offer this option to the cable
operator at the price of a truck roll, we might go a long way toward speeding up the pace
of service penetration."

Wireless local-area networks for the home are already
entering the marketplace with the shipment by Lucent Technologies of its 802.11-based
"AirPort" system for use with Apple Computer Inc.'s "iBook"
computer. The connection is made via a card that plugs right into the laptop.

ShareWave plans to have its product in the market by the
first quarter, director of business development Don Apruzzese said, adding,
"We're demoing at 4 megabits per second, but we expect to be at 11 mbps when we
go commercial."

The 802.11 systems are currently specified to operate at 2
mbps. But there will be a second version next year that will operate at 10 mbps, noted
Wendy Lee, a marketing executive at Cisco.

"We're working on some relationships right now
with vendors supporting the 802.11 standard," she said, noting that a partnership
might involve joint marketing, or it could lead to integration of the technology into
devices manufactured by Cisco.

"We believe 802.11 will be the first wave into the
home," Lee said. "It's rapidly getting to the level where it will be
available on a mass-market basis."

Nonetheless, Medin said, Excite@Home's selection of a
wireless-LAN platform would not be dictated by whether the technology is a standard.
"We'd prefer to work with a standardized system, of course, but the more
important criteria are costs and ease of use," he said.

Moreover, he added, the system has to support data rates of
at least 10 mbps and, preferably, 20 mbps. Systems under study operate in unlicensed
spectrum segments between 2.4 gigahertz and 5 GHz, he said.

Such systems currently cost in the range of $250 to $300
for a single link involving a radio transmitter/receiver positioned at the modem and one
positioned at the PC, Medin noted, adding, "We want to get that down to $70 or $80,
which we think we can do if we can generate sales of a couple of million units."

With the strides the company has made in setting up online
ordering and self-installation via the use of USB (universal serial bus) technology in
current-generation computers, it feels that giving the cable operator an option to provide
the wireless LAN as a cost-equal alternative to installing new cable wiring and outlets
should begin to eliminate the need for service calls in the installation process.

Moreover, Medin added, operators that choose the
wireless-LAN option are providing customers with the added value of having home-networking
systems in place that can be expanded over time to connect other online devices.

Related