The vision of a cable broadband-enabled wired home is
inching closer to reality, as several developments push home networking further up the
industry's wish list of advanced services.
On the vendor front, Motorola Broadband Communications
Sector broke the ice March 9, when Cable Television Laboratories Inc. certified its latest
modem, equipped with a Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HomePNA) interface. This is the
first home networking-capable device to receive CableLabs certification.
"The sharing of the broadband access point," said
Terry D. Shaw, senior adviser for network systems for CableLabs, "is the killer
application that the home networking industry has been waiting for."
Motorola's modem includes an RJ-11 connection and Broadcom
Corp.'s iLine chip set. In a statement following Motorola's certification, Broadcom said
its iLine10 chipsets support the quality-of-service capability to enable the real-time
traffic requirements of VoIP and streaming audio or video applications.
HomePNA is a standards group promoting technology that
allows users to connect devices in various locations of the home using existing phone
wiring and jacks. Silicon-based signal processing technology, such as that used by
Broadcom, allows data to flow through a home's phone wiring.
Other prominent home-wiring technologies capturing in favor
today are the HomeRF (which employs the Shared Wireless Access Protocol), 802.11, and
Bluetooth wireless standards.
The estimated 15 to 20 million U.S. households with more
than one personal computer would serve as the potential market for home-networking
products and services.
To further whet vendors' appetites, the rapidly growing
numbers of cable broadband and digital-subscriber-line subscribers, many of whom will
presumably seek to extend the functionality of their high-speed connection to more than
one device, are creating a ripe market for home nets.
In January, MediaOne rolled out a multiple-IP (Internet
protocol) address service to subscribers in Minneapolis, allowing up to three computers to
be linked to the broadband coax connection. The move complements similar offerings in New
England launched late last year. According to Richard Hertz, director of MediaOne Labs'
technology intelligence and strategy group, the MSO will offer multiple-IP service
nationally by the end of the second quarter this year in all of its systems in which
high-speed-data services are available.
"We understand that there's a lot of demand for home
networking capability," said Steve Lang, vice president of external communications
for AT&T Cable Services. "We're looking at ways to meet that demand," he
added, pointing out that no firm plans have been made on how and where to implement a
The company figures that almost 30,000 of its AT&T@Home
customers have already set up home networks on their own.
HomePNA's 2.0 specification, which Motorola has adopted for
its modem, allows for a 10 megabit-per-second data rate, which puts it on par with the
speed of most business' local-area networks.
Motorola chose the HomePNA spec for a number of reasons
said Buddy Snow, the company's senior director of marketing for cable modems. "We've
been tracking that technology for a long time," he said. Across the rest of the many
divisions of Motorola, HomePNA and home networking "have been the topic of much
Providing a one-box solution that combines modem and
home-networking interface was also a factor in bringing a HomePNA-enabled modem to market,
said Snow. Today's off-the-shelf networking products usually require a "dongle"
or connection cable linking a PC to a modem, then to a network hub.
"Most customers don't want a two-box solution,"
While Motorola opted for HomePNA for its first home-net
cable modem, Snow said the company is aggressively moving to marry home networking
technologies. Expect to see a Motorola device with both HomePNA and HomeRF connectivity.
"We believe all home networks will be heterogenous," deploying a hybrid of
wireline and wireless technologies, said Snow.
A HomeRF connection, which now delivers up to 2 megabits
per second, would theoretically extend a network beyond the reach of a phone jack, for
example out onto a porch or into a room without a jack.
Add in Ethernet and universal-serial-bus connectivity
(CableLabs certified three vendors' products with USB this month), and the variety of
devices that can be connected becomes vast. More exotic home-net applications, such as
MP3-formatted music interfaces to stereos, could be forthcoming. Expect other modem
vendors to follow Motorola's lead.
Over the last year, both industry analysts and
home-networking vendors have churned out aggressive numbers, indicating that
home-networking technologies have been widely adopted in U.S. homes.
What's been lacking has been real-world data about not only
the demand for home networks, but also exactly how such networks will be used.
The broadband innovations group at MediaOne Labs concluded
a series of home-networking studies in late January, offering home-net services to a group
of existing and new high-speed data customers in seven towns served by its Needham, Mass.,
Technical, field and ethnographic studies were conducted
within small groups of customers outfitted with predominantly wireless networks. Some
households were equipped with HomePNA wireline networks.
The ethnographic study involved 28 existing Internet-access
customers in 11 households, with a majority of the MediaOne-provided networks based on
HomeRF and 802.11 wireless technologies.
Qualifying some customers for HomePNA nets proved
difficult, said Greg Fisher, an engineer with MediaOne Labs' technology intelligence and
strategy group. That's because the older homes in the Needham area contained
less-than-optimal phone wiring, some of which had degenerated over the years. Also, the
same physical pair of copper wiring had to be present in each room to establish a wireline
network. Often, a home was wired for more than one phone line and employed more than one
pair of wires.
Additionally, customers' computers had to be located near a
phone jack to be wired with a HomePNA hub. Wireless-net users, using gateways by NDC
Communications (now SOHOware Inc.) and Proxim, could use their computers anywhere within
the general 150-foot spherical radius covered by the gateways. The coverage area, said
Fisher, easily spanned a 2,000- to 3,000-square-foot home.
While home nets have been touted to enable rather
sophisticated and exotic applications, Anne Page McClard, design anthropologist for
MediaOne Labs' broadband innovation group, found that participants in the enthnographic
study were "unanimously positive" about their new capabilities. They found joy
in simple tasks such as printer, file and program sharing over their networks, she added.