Home-Net Vendors Eye MSOs That Remain Wary About Apps

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Riding the wave of popularity for PC-based home-networking applications, vendors are beginning to target the cable industry with new products and services to make home networks more palatable for uneasy cable operators.

While early fears about introducing unwanted noise into cable networks have largely been defused, supporting and provisioning home networks are added chores that the cable industry is trying to avoid.

Sensing this fear, companies such as NDC Communications Inc.'s SOHOware, Zoom Telephonics Inc. and 3Com Corp. are crafting strategies to give cable-modem consumers home-networking options without placing the unwanted burden on cable operators to support those home networks.

SOHOware has launched a broad initiative focused on broadband-enabled home networks. Its "Broadband Internet Gateway" is a four-port 10BaseT Ethernet hub that allows for multiple-PC connectivity and includes embedded network-address translation that the company said translates a set of Internet-protocol addresses into a single public IP address.

Future versions of the gateway will support the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers'802.11b wireless standard, specifying an 11-megabit-per-second direct-sequence spread-spectrum data rate, according to Andy Chang, vice president of marketing and channel development for SOHOware.

Chang said gateways supporting the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (Home-PNA) 2.0 10-mbps spec are being developed. The Home-PNA spec allows PCs to be connected via a home's existing phone outlets.

The firm also sells a wireless connectivity device, "NetBlaster," which employs the IEEE 802.11 spec (2-mbps throughput) and has a range of close to 250 feet.

Completing a full line of networking gear, SOHOware is scheduled to introduce its "CableStar" cable modem today (May 8). That modem is packaged with a CD-ROM that contains an installation tutorial and troubleshooting information to determine if a subscriber's computer meets specifications as outlined by a cable operator, if the computer's Ethernet network-interface card is configured properly and to display the modem's provisioning status.

The modem is designed to link with SOHOware's gateway. "We're providing a common support platform to MSOs and their customers that accelerates service deployment through the combined resources of software and SOHOware direct telephone assistance," Chang said.

He added that SOHOware is forging relationships with MSOs-including MediaOne Group Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp. and Cogeco Cable Canada Inc.-to co-brand and market multiple-PC services with home-network products and modems.

Zoom-which demonstrated a modem with both wireless and wireline connectivity in December-plans to release a gateway product with both Home-PNA and 802.11b interfaces in the fall.

Zoom vice president of engineering Dana Whitney cited two reasons for uncoupling the network features from its cable modem, which has yet to win certification from Cable Television Laboratories Inc.'s Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification program.

CableLabs restricts the addition of network features in uncertified modems, Whitney said. And while broadband cable modems are not widely available at retail, Zoom analog modems and local-area-networking products are.

Whitney and other vendors said they realize that cable operators "don't want to become [a home's network] tech support." Zoom draws the demarcation point of responsibility for operators at the cable modem instead of at a modem-gateway device.

Zoom's tech support-open 80 hours per week-is "quite adept at supporting customers," Whitney added.

Another analog-modem pioneer, 3Com, recently struck a deal to bundle its "Home-Connect Cable Modem Self-Installation Kit" with Inter-NetShare.com Inc.'s home-networking install software. Dave DeVries, spokesman for 3Com, said the MSO-targeted kit is the "first step" toward self-provisioning and self-installing cable modems and home networks.

Most home-networking devices are meant to distribute Internet connections to multiple PCs and enable file and printer sharing. In the future, networks will also distribute voice and video. But for that to happen, a quality-of-service scheme needs to be established to prioritize traffic, like video, that requires real-time or near-real-time transmission rates.

ShareWave Inc. has addressed that problem. The provider of integrated semiconductors and networking software for multimedia gateways and wireless home networks added a time-division multiple-access element to the 802.11b standard.

ShareWave's technology is proprietary, although most home-networking standards groups are looking to incorporate QoS schemes into future iterations of their specifications.

The company will demonstrate the wireless transfer of a 6.5-mbps MPEG-2 clip between two devices at the National Show this week, according to director of corporate marketing David Smith.

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