Powering the Home Network

There are a growing number of networked devices, such as Xbox, Network receiver appearing in different rooms around the home contributing to digital lifestyles. There’s also a need to have them talking to the network that doesn’t involve re-cabling the house.

The current buzz is about using wireless networking such as WiFi. Unfortunately most network-enabled entertainment devices only have an Ethernet port on them, not PCMCIA. This could be solved with an adaptor with a RJ-45 (Ethernet) plug at one end and a PCMCIA sheath at the other, enabling WiFi access for any device that has an Ethernet port.

I’ve been running my wireless network around my house for while now and it’s been great having the liberty of not being restricted to only places where there is a cable. The reality of it is that I don’t get top speed connection all around the house, as I’ve found that WiFi doesn’t really like walls all that much. It does work everywhere (even the garden), but just not super fast.

Streaming music, video and playing broadband-enabled games need decent flows of data and low lag times.

There have been a number of standard to address networking in the home using existing, what I’m sure they would call, resident assets. HomePNA uses the phone wiring around your house. This might make sense in some newer countries where there houses where designed to have a phone point in every room, but that is never going to be popular in places like the UK.

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance method of distribution is the electrical mains circuit, you know the one with all of the outlets in every room in your house. BTW – the average US home has 45 power outlets.

Pretty much every entertainment device that will be used in a home, be it gaming console, DVR, network receiver, enhanced DVD, will be plugged into the mains, why not use it as the network connection. The benefits of HomePlug are graphic demonstrated here .

The headline speed is 14Mbps but reading further into it, the yield was actually 5Mbps+ in over 80% of 5000 test cases carried out in 500 homes in the US. That sounds pretty healthy to me – WiFi’s headline of 11Mbps is pretty unachievable anyway. They claim that older wiring does not seriously affect bandwidth loses.

There are quite a number of companies making products that are for sale now.

The kind of solution that Phonex Broadband offers in their NeverWire 14 makes a lot on sense. One area that they might win on is the apparent ease of installation and use of their product as their datasheet claims only their product needs no drivers installed on the device that you connect to the network. Pretty essential when you may be plugging and amplifier into it.

The big boys are also there. NetGear’s offering looking pretty sexy and LinkSys’s functional version.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying WiFi is no use – just that it will coexist.

I was thinking that you could actually use the HomePLUG to enhance the reach of your network, when I came across the Corinex Wireless 2 Powerline Access Point (AP) which will do exactly that, starting in February, 2003. Siemens do a more discreet version, the SpeedStream Powerline 802.11b Wireless Access Point, which is not much bigger than a plug. They also win for longest product name.

Corinex appear to be a forward looking company, blending their two strengths of Wireless and HomePlug to provide last mile solutions for service providers. For the distribution within the home they have coined a great phrase ‘last foot’, playing on the old telco ‘last mile’ phrase. They also look like the only company to have the foresight to manufacture UK compatible products.

I notice that Asoka have a SIP module mentioned – perfect thinking, enabling people to plug in VoIP phone handsets into the mains to make low cost calls.

The HomePlug Alliance has now started work on their next generation version, HomePlug AV with ten times the capacity, enabling the network to be used, they claim, for multi-stream entertainment including High Definition television (HDTV). They think it will take them 18-24 months to complete.