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Feature Article
August 2001

The Practical Uses Of Home Networking -- Bringing The Sophistication Of The Future Into Everyday Living


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>>The Future Of Home Networking
>>From ADSL To Cable To Wireless: My Five Years Of Home Networking

The meaning of home networking is changing due to the introduction of new technologies that are allowing for more advanced applications. Today, the term home networking means much more than having a house wired with a phone line, Internet connection, and the latest computers. At the very least, families want the ability to share a printer or free themselves from the jumble of wires and cords that typically plague home offices.

The technology available in home networking today is much more sophisticated and practical than most families realize. It can help them simply and affordably create a home that evolves with their ever-changing communications needs, networks their entertainment and computing devices, and actually increases the level of safety and security at home.

Transforming a Home
Almost every house in America comes equipped with a standard phone line that runs throughout the structure on twisted pair copper wire, delivering reliable voice and data service to users. But this same, inexpensive, ubiquitous wiring can also be used to network a home's printer and entertainment devices and to add a new level to home security.

By simply installing this twisted pair wiring to all rooms in the home, you can virtually provide any type of service required to each room. These services include 75 -300ohm video feeds for cable, satellite, VCR, and DVD; 550kHz - 108mHz audio feeds for AM/FM and CD; 300 - 3400kHz telephony feeds for phones, conferencing and intercoms; and 10/100BaseT data feeds for computer networking, Internet access, printer-sharing, and fax machines.

This home networking setup is of a simple design. By terminating these different media into a sophisticated multiplexing device which can split audio/video and voice/data input signals without degradation, a home owner will have the ability to branch these signals across the twisted pair wire to any location in the home. Home networking will allow central location of satellite and cable receivers, AM/FM antennas, computer resources, etc., which plug into these multiplexers. Then by simply making patch cord changes to a small rack, located in a closet, the homeowner can control what piece of information is fed to each room.

By implementing this new technology, homeowners will no longer need sloppy expensive coaxial cabling, generally used for video. Nor will they need to install new cabling to meet the changing needs of a particular room in the home. By simply making a change in the small patch panel rack, families can deliver access to a single, centrally located device, such as a DVD player, stereo, or printer, to any room in the house. Instead of buying expensive equipment for every room where they desire access to movies, music, and printers, this technology allows families to share just one unit.

Home networking essentially transforms the home into a flexible series of rooms that can easily be readapted as the family unit changes over time. For example, the same standard RJ 45 outlet that can be used for an audio/video baby monitor when the child is young can then be easily used to network the room for a computer and Internet and DVD access when that child grows up. That bedroom can later use the same connectors and be turned into a home office when the child leaves home.

Safety and Security Features
These same twisted pair wires and RJ 45 outlets can be used to increase the level of safety and security in a home. By sending a standard 75ohm video stream signal from a camera outside or inside the home to the multiplexer, any TV in the home can become a surveillance monitor. This can also be set up to provide surveillance to a pop-up window for TVs equipped with P-I-P. Once installed, families can see images of anyone standing in front of their homes via their television sets.

Security features can also be accessed from outside of the home, via the Internet. While away, parents can use features such as the baby camera to check up on their child and the baby sitter, making sure that everything is going well.

Market Outlook
The future of home networking is strong. In fact, the Yankee Group estimates that at least 21 million households in the United States are interested in home networking and that 12.4 million would like to implement systems within the next year. Of those interested, the most popular uses for a home networking system include using it to communicate with friends and family and for entertainment purposes such as viewing movies and listening to music from any room in the house.

Because most families want to use a home network for communication and entertainment, several different types of companies will be able to break into this burgeoning market. The companies include cable and infrastructure manufacturers such as ITT Industries and Avaya, home automation and home theater installers such as AVS and Panja, and computer and networking manufacturers such as Dell and IBM.

Eventually, this market will expand to include the use of smart appliances and controllers, but most analysts and industry professionals agree that popular use and acceptance of these technologies is still several years away. In the meantime, families can still enjoy some practical uses of home networking today -- bringing the sophistication of the future into everyday living.

Anthony Cicero is director of technology at ITT Industries, Network Systems & Services -- Americas. ITT provides the connection that forms the infrastructure for the future of communication..

[ Return To The August 2001 Table Of Contents ]

The Future of Home Networking


People have been talking about the connected home for years now, so why hasn't home networking finally penetrated the market on the broad scale? There is not one answer to this question as a number of factors have contributed to the gradual adoption of home networking. Home networking has had to overcome expensive technology, limited access to broadband connections, and consumer confusion. Now, with the lowering costs of technology, the increase in high-speed connections, and the proliferation of easy-to-use devices, consumers have a real need for home networking.

Step One: Following Broadband Adoption
The adoption of high-speed Internet connections may have gotten off to a slow start, but most industry analysts agree that broadband is the next true killer app. With the increase of Internet usage, consumers do not have the time for anything but broadband. Broadband and home networking go hand in hand because a user can maximize their single high-speed connection and share it with all the connected devices, which enables access to bandwidth-intensive applications and files like multimedia streaming, VoIP and multiple-player gaming. In fact, according to Parks Associates, of the 30 million U.S. households predicted to have broadband Internet connections by 2004, 17 million of them are projected to have home networks.

The number of multiple-PC homes is growing at a similarly astounding rate. The number of households with more than one computer will grow at double-digit rates through 2002, while the growth for single-PC homes remains the same. Home networking adoption depends not only on the penetration of broadband and multiple PCs but also the pervasiveness of devices that drive consumer demand for networking technology. As more and more appliances penetrate the market, consumers are interested in a way to simplify and coordinate the abundance of products.

Step Two: The Proliferation of Devices
The second factor driving the demand for home networking is the vast market penetration of devices. In fact, according to Strategy Analytics, 85 percent of U.S. homes will be online by 2005 with at least 75 percent of that group using multiple devices. Home networking enables all devices -- PCs, stereos, household appliances, TVs, printers, PDAs, electronic games, etc. -- to operate together, sharing data over one unanimous information source. By enabling these devices to communicate, users can perform the networking basics like sharing peripherals and Internet access. They also can utilize the network to enable the printer in the office to print documents stored on the computer in the bedroom, while the bedroom PC is supplying the MP3 files that are played on the stereo downstairs.

Tomorrow's Home Networking Solution
At the convergence of these trends, there is a clear demand within the technology industry for a home networking solution. Currently, there are several ways to network the home:

Phone line networking uses the existing home phone wiring connections to transmit information. This technology has been around the longest. Phone line connections are compatible with other networking technologies and require no additional networking.

Ethernet enables flexible networks, meaning a user can simply use two network interface cards and a Category 5 cable to create an Ethernet connection, or the user can set up multiple hubs, routers, and bridges to create a multifaceted network. With this flexibility, there is room to select the speeds at which the network runs, which range from 10 Mbps to 100 Mbps. Yet Ethernet requires new wiring to be installed, often requiring reconstruction of homes. It is also hard to use and often requires a lot of technical support.

Wireless networking enables computers and appliances to communicate through radio signals, providing added mobility, which is particularly convenient when using laptops and handheld devices.

Powerline networking uses the home's existing powerlines to send data at Ethernet-class rates to and from computing and household appliances. Powerline networking can coexist with already-popular devices that use residential powerlines to communicate, including X-10, Cebus, and LonWorks.

Step 3: Choosing The Best Home Network
It is evident that there are a number of viable home networking solutions from Ethernet to phone lines. The most effective network depends primarily on the products being connected. Each solution presents unique benefits, but some of the available networks do not provide a comprehensive solution that meets all of a consumer's demand, which is why using powerline and wireless simultaneously makes sense in many cases.

One networking option may lie in the marriage of wireless and powerline networking. This solution combines the ubiquity and pervasiveness of powerline with the utility and mobility of wireless. With powerline as the backbone of the network, consumers can plug in their appliances to any power outlet in the home. Users can then set up a wireless network that allows the mobile appliances to communicate with the static appliances.

Ensuring the interoperability and coexistence between networks are the industry alliances that have brought companies together to develop standards-based networking solutions. One alliance that is bringing powerline to the forefront of home networking is the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, which is comprised of more than 80 companies that are developing an open specification that leverages the wide availability of residential powerlines. Industry alliances, like HomePlug, help reduce consumer confusion by creating one industry standard for its specific home networking solution. Operating with one industry standard helps bring the vision of the connected home to a reality by ensuring compatibility within the proliferation of home networking products and services.

While home networking is in the early adopter stage of its lifecycle, this is one market that will experience substantial growth. Today, several networking
solutions are being developed by industry alliances, which have brought companies together to create home networking options that represent all segments of the technology market. With an increasingly tech-savvy population using multiple appliances, users will demand a way to organize the mass of information stored on their computing and household devices, and as the technology continues to advance, more devices will be developed that help people add practicality, leisure, and efficiency to their lives. With the broad adoption of home networking, we all may be living in that futuristic home where our appliances are part of the family in the near future.

Alberto Mantovani is HomePlug president and division director, Small Business and Consumer Networking with Conexant Systems, Inc.'s Personal Computing Division. The HomePlug Powerline Alliance (HomePlug) is a not-for-profit corporation formed to provide a forum for the creation of open specifications for high speed home powerline networking products and
services. Conexant is a worldwide supplier of semiconductor solutions for the personal networking market.

[ Return To The August 2001 Table Of Contents ]

From ADSL To Cable To Wireless: My Five Years of Home Networking


It was the fall of 1995. It came looking like my normal Bell Atlantic phone bill. My wife opened it and passed it to me saying that I might be interested. I am rarely interested in bills but this was not just a bill. I was being invited to participate in Bell Atlantic's trial for a new service called ADSL. I felt as if I had won the lottery. I quickly signed up and in a matter of weeks I was surfing the Internet from home with what was in effect my own private T1 line. I had 1.5Mbps coming to my home and 256Kbps leaving. The cost for all of this was $29.95 per month plus $25.00 monthly to CAIS, the local ISP who was participating with Bell Atlantic in the trial.

The data service worked wonderfully right from the start but I had a problem with my POTS telephone service. The levels on the phone would drop if the ADSL modem was on. Of course it was always on. Aside from the speed that's the point of broadband service. It took three visits by Bell Atlantic to rectify the problem including one visit where new wires were installed between the NID and the modem. (The NID is the little gray box outside the house where the phone wires terminate.) It seems that there was a second pair of wires attached to my main telephone line in the NID. The extra set of wires ran inside my 35-year-old house but were not connected to anything. They had the effect of adding a big antenna to the phone line. Once the offending wires were removed my DSL service was everything I could have hoped for.

I learned a lot about the DSL configuration from the service technicians who visited me. The trial configuration used a pair of Westell modems, one at my house and one at the Central Office. At the CO was an Ethernet hub that interconnected the other ADSL modems used for the trial with a router. The router had a T3 link to CAIS who, as a TIER 1 ISP, was OC3 connected directly to the Internet backbone. I figured this was the most direct connection to the Internet that any individual could get.

Being inquisitive I began experimenting with the DSL service. My first step was to add an Ethernet hub to the Westell modem. I began attaching additional PCs and discovered there appeared to be no limit to the number of PCs I could activate. I enabled Novell Networking (IPX) on one PC and began to see file servers. I am not sure if others in the trial or by Bell Atlantic were running them itself. The lack of security was obvious. I resisted the urge to become the neighborhood ISP and reverted to using a single PC on the network.

All went well with my ADSL service for the next two years. Then we moved. The primary determinant in selecting our new home was the school district but the fact that we were able to keep the same Central Office was a real plus for me since it led me to believe we could maintain our ADSL link. Not true. Since we were buying a new house the actual distance could not be calculated until the neighborhood was built out. Our new house was 14,400 feet from the CO while our old house was 11,000 feet away. Bell Atlantic cut off ADSL service at 12,000 feet. We reverted to the dark ages of networking and began to access the Internet using a V.90 dial modem.

I began a monthly e-mail campaign to my local Cable Company begging for cable modem service. COX Communications was rolling out cable modem service all around me, yet it never got into my neighborhood. This went on for 2 years. Once again relief came in the mail. Telocity, an alternative to Bell Atlantic as a DSL provider was more liberal in its DSL reach. Telocity said they could give me DSL service up to 18,000 feet from the CO. I signed up and began the six to eight week wait for the service to be turned up.

The very next day COX Cable called and said that Cable modem service was now available in my neighborhood. It is as if they were listening to my conversations with Telocity. Cox could install in 3 days so I cancelled the order for DSL with Telocity and signed up for Cable Modem. I now live in one of the few neighborhoods in the world where there is a choice of broadband services.

The cable installers took about an hour to run the cable into my home office and hook up the modem to my PC. Things were starting to look good, but for some reason they were unable to get the modem to sync up with the network. This problem took 3 weeks and 5 truck rolls to resolve. The problem it turned out was that a chip in the neighborhood pedestal that enables upstream transmission on the cable network had been installed upside down. At least that is what they told me. Finally, after a 2-year hiatus we were back on-line.

My kids were now in their mid teens. Internet access for homework (right, that is what they are always doing!), Napster, and Instant Messenger took on high importance. We now had multiple PCs and it was time for a home network. I really wanted to use wireless technology since my company is considering using wireless nodes for laptop users at our new building. I didn't want to pay too much of a premium since I was spending family money for this. I considered Ethernet and HPNA but after paying $1,000 to have speaker wires installed for my TV surround sound system I was not about to use anything that involved new wiring. Both of these technologies offer deceptively low cost interface cards and home gateway routers, but if you assume over $100 per node to get the wires where you want them, both Ethernet and HPNA lose their attractiveness. In late February several new wireless home gateway products appeared on the market. There was a resulting price drop that made wireless a "no brainer" when compared to the alternatives.

I choose to use wireless products from 3Com for several reasons. First, with a $50.00 rebate they were priced competitively with all the other products on the market. Second, their wireless home gateway included a three-port Ethernet switch and a packet filtering firewall. During my research I discovered that many of the home products claim firewall capability but what they really offer is the ability to hide your home IP addressees behind their NAT (Network Address Translation) feature. The Ethernet ports allowed me to connect my office PC directly to the gateway. Remember that it was already connected to the cable modem using Ethernet. It also allowed me to bring the laptop up using Ethernet before trying anything wirelessly. I now had two PCs sharing the cable modem's broadband connection to the Internet. I verified that the VPN feature allowed me to connect to my office network. My connection via the home network and VPN was nearly as fast as the LAN at the office. Straight Internet connections in fact were much faster. The extra layer of VPN encryption and a slow VPN server at the office reduced my VPN connect speed. Despite this speed reduction for the first time I felt I had the performance that would allow me to work from home. I now stay home four out of five days saving me an 80-mile round trip commute. Sweet!

I was now ready to tackle setting up the wireless connections. To my surprise this was a non-event. To keep things simple I decided to set up everything using the default settings. This included the wireless network interface cards in my laptop and a second desktop PC and the wireless settings in the gateway. Everything worked flawlessly right out of the box. The fact that all the networking equipment was manufactured by 3Com likely facilitated this.

The next step was to install Microsoft networking to enable printer sharing and file sharing among the home PCs. I started with the newest PC, which runs Windows ME. The networking wizard walked me through the set-up and at the end suggested I make a disk that would auto configure additional PCs on the home net. Skeptically I did this. I then took this disk to my laptop and desktop, which were both running Windows 98. The configuration Wizard copied the appropriate settings to each machine and I was ready to go. All that remained was to identify the resources (folders and printers) that were to be shared. Within an hour of the start I was printing from my laptop via the wireless network using printers attached to my Windows ME PC. Cool!

Over the next few weeks I read several articles about wireless security that caused me to rethink my decision to accept the default settings. I changed the internal name of my wireless network and turned on encryption. I also looked at my firewall log, which showed no intrusion attempts.

Over all, my home networking experience has been excellent. I have had to reboot the PCs on occasion in order to restore printer connections. I have also had a few outages on the cable network but these have never lasted more than a few minutes and are similar to my experience with DSL. In closing I would say that the choice between Cable and DSL is a toss-up in terms of performance and in my area the pricing is the same. The bottom line is get broadband however you can. In my opinion wireless is the only way to do home networking. It is fast, convenient, secure, easy to install, and cost effective. It also allows me to work from my porch and patio on these beautiful Virginia spring days. What could be better?

Tom Flanagan is Director of Business Development at Telogy Networks, a Texas Instruments company, which develops integrated silicon and software solutions leveraging TI's market leading DSPs and Telogy Software products for Voice, Fax, and Data over IP.

[ Return To The August 2001 Table Of Contents ]

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