Linking Home Computers Without Shelling Out For New Wiring
By Lawrence J. Magid
SAN DIEGO -- The 700 or so Internet industry insiders who attended
Upside Media's Internet Showcase conference in San Diego last month
are hardly typical home PC users. Yet I was amazed at the response
when a speaker asked the attendees to raise their hands if they had
more than one personal computer at home. Virtually all hands were
raised. Most had three or more, and one attendee had 13.
Homes with more than a dozen PCs are, of course, extremely rare.
But a growing number of families now have two or more. For these
families, finding ways to share data and resources among their
machines can be a challenge.
It's one thing to buy an extra PC or two, but it could break the
bank when adding extra printers, modems, phone lines and peripherals
for each computer. What's more, there are times when you may want to
move programs or data files from one PC to another. So it's no wonder
there is a burgeoning interest in home-based local-area networks, or
Most LANs require special wiring and other equipment to link PCs.
But a couple of companies at Internet Showcase demonstrated products
that link computers using wires that are already in your home.
HomeRun from Tut Systems will allow you to link computers using standard
While LAN products that use ``twisted pair'' phone wires to carry data
aren't new, HomeRun lets computers piggyback onto the same wires
without interfering with phone service.
The system is expected to cost $149 per machine when it becomes
available in mid-1998, according to a company representative.
Each HomeRun adapter has a standard (RJ-11) phone jack and (RJ-45)
Ethernet connectors. Each PC or Mac on the network would also need an
Ethernet card; these are widely available for as little as $20. The
cards cost more for notebook computers.
For each machine on the network, you plug one wire from the HomeRun
adapter into the computer's Ethernet card using standard (10Base-T)
@Ethernet cables. Another wire plugs into any telephone jack in your
home. Data are carried at 1.3 megabits per second, which is 45 times
the speed of a 28.8-kilobit-per-second modem and about one-seventh the
speed of a standard 10-megabit-per-second Ethernet LAN. Special
software may be required to allow PCs and Macs to exchange data on the
InterQuest Communications of Walnut Creek, Calif.,
markets a version of the product
for apartment complexes, condominiums, hotels and campus environments
that need networking without the expense of special wires.
Passport from Intelogis
uses standard telephone wiring. The $249 starter system, which is
expected to be available in April, will come with two external
adapters that plug into the parallel port of any IBM-compatible PC.
Additional PC adapters are $99, and printer adapters are $49 each. The
devices plug into standard electrical outlets and use the electrical
wiring in your home to carry data from one machine to another. Data
are transferred at 350 kbps, about 12 times faster than a 28.8-kbps
modem but much slower than a typical office LAN. The system is
designed for three to 10 machines and is currently available for
IBM-compatible computers only.
Using electric current would create security issues because it's
possible for a neighbor who shares a power transformer with you to
access data that travels via your house's current. Intelogis software
includes security features that allow you to create a secure network
that eliminates the possibility of other PCs accessing data, according
to Intelogis Marketing Director Todd Green.
HomeRun and Passport allow you to share a single modem and Internet
connection with every computer on the network. That means you log on
once, and each machine can access the Web, e-mail and other Internet
resources without having to make a separate phone call and tie up
another modem and phone line. In both cases, one machine on the
network logs on to the Internet and shares that connection with other
machines. Passport will include software for modem sharing; HomeRun
will require users to purchase additional software.
Although these devices will eliminate the need to install special
wires, they don't solve all problems associated with installing and
maintaining a network.
HomeRun, for example, still requires you to buy, install and
configure network-interface cards, which -- under Windows 95 -- can be
Although the Passport product doesn't require additional hardware
for the PC, it does require installing and configuring network
drivers. Ultimately, both companies and Microsoft want to make
networking ``plug and play.'' But whether that will happen soon is a
matter of speculation. There are already plenty of hardware products
designed to be auto-configured, but it's more like ``plug and pray.''
Before salivating over either product, remember that neither is
currently on the market. I've learned never to trust any product until
it's been tested by real, paying customers.
Besides, if you want a home-area network, there are already
low-cost ways to wire your home. I didn't need to spend too much to
set up a 10-mps Ethernet LAN at my house using the same technology
employed by most businesses. You can buy Ethernet hubs for as little
as $40, network cards for under $20 per machine and the necessary
wires for about $35 per 75-foot length. Add about $100 for
installation, and the cost is still lower than what you'd have to
shell out for the HomeRun or Passport systems.
(c) 1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate
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