Interconnection Gizmos Abound for In-Home Products


Engineers who were worried that there aren't enough
protocol options available for interconnecting in-home gadgets can rest easy.

SWAP, the Shared Wireless Access Protocol, can now be added
to the list that already included IEEE 1394 "firewire," the power-line path
known as "C-Bus," IEEE 802.11 wireless data, the Shareware Inc. system and

A total of 10 companies from the computer, semiconductor
and telecommunications industries comprising the Home Radio Frequency Working Group have
come up with a plan to use unlicensed frequencies at 2.4 gigahertz for providing a means
to interconnect cordless phones, personal computers, set-top terminals, VCRs and any other
device that anyone can think of.

The idea is that a standardized approach to wireless
interconnection will allow people to use their PCs as central-control units, manageable
from any point on one's property via hand-held devices.

"A lot of the time, PCs in the home are tucked away in
the study or the bedroom, unused," said Ben Manny, engineering manager for
residential networks at Intel Corp.

"To enable PCs to provide users with more
capabilities, we felt that development of a means of wireless connectivity was a good
place to start."

The group expects to complete the SWAP specification,
supporting connections of devices at 1 megabit per second to 2 mbps, by late in the second
half of the year. Products with SWAP interfaces built in should be in the market by the
second half of 1999, they said.

While specifications abound for wireless connectivity in
offices and over public networks, the group believes that these systems aren't what
the consumer market needs. "We want to enable a new class of devices that delivers
true benefits to the end-users at prices that the consumer can afford," Manny said.

At the same time, the system is not meant to replace
wireline interconnections, such as the firewire specification that the cable industry is
pursuing as a point of linkage between modems, TV sets, VCRs and other appliances.

"The 1394 connection is meant to support much higher
data rates, so this is a complement to that," said Stephen Whalley, manager for
connectivity initiatives at Intel.

One example of the purported benefits of the new spec would
be low-cost cordless phones that, through the SWAP interconnection with the PC, could
access e-mail or allow users to input information that would be stored in the PC, such as
addresses and phone numbers, said Mike Medina, lead architect for the Internet and home
networking at Compaq Computer Corp.

"As new applications are written in software, there
could be new functionality added, such as a home PBX [private branch exchange] that would
route calls to the kids' phones," Medina said.

Another important application would involve the use of
laptops brought home from the office in conjunction with in-home appliances such as
printers and fax machines, Medina said.

To speed development, the group is combining off-the-shelf
capabilities linked to the IEEE 802.11 wireless-data standard and the European Digital
Enhanced Cordless voice standard, he added.

Group officials said the links would be secured using
40-bit encryption algorithms, and they would consume only 100 milliwatts of power,
ensuring long battery life. Multiple antennas in conjunction with a single base station
would be used to maximize the reach of the signals at low power, Whalley said.

Other companies spearheading the initiative include Compaq,
Ericsson Enterprise Networks, Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Microsoft Corp., Motorola Corp.,
Philips Consumer Communications L.P. (a joint venture between Philips Consumer Electronics
Co. and Lucent Technologies), Proxim Inc. and Symbionics Ltd.

The group also claims support from semiconductor
manufacturers including Rockwell Semiconductor Systems, National Semiconductor and Harris

"We're in discussions with several other entities
in all of these fields that we expect to join the effort," Whalley said.