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Comdex coverage by CNN and

Home networking goes mainstream

Want your kids to share your ISP connection, or duke it out in multiplayer games? Your options are plentiful and often inexpensive.

November 18, 1998
Web posted at: 2:01 PM ET

by Dan Miller

(IDG) -- LAS VEGAS -- Judging from the flood of product announcements here, home networking is moving from geeky fantasy to mainstream reality.

The reasons are simple: Some 15 million U.S. homes now have more than one PC, according to Dataquest, and that number is expected to grow to 35 million by 2000. Home networks let users in those households simultaneously access the Internet over a single modem, using a single service provider account. They also let the kids play multiplayer games (both within the house and online) and give everyone access to the color printer in the den.

Many vendors are using the phone lines that already exist in every home to connect those PCs, typically with street prices well below $100 per PC.
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Boca Research and ActionTec both announced products based on Tut Systems' 1-megabit-per-second phone line design. Boca's HAN Card Kit (HAN stands for Home Area Network) gives you two PCI cards, cabling, and software for about $160. It should start shipping before the end of the year. ActionTec's ActionLink Combination HomeNetworking/V.90 56k Modem, as the name implies, pairs the home networking hardware with a V.90 modem. It will ship in December with a list price of $99. ActionLink automatically detects which PC on the home network has the fastest modem and defaults to that when dialing out. If that PC is turned off, the software looks up the next fastest modem that's still online and dials out on that.

But phone lines aren't limited to 1 mbps. Epigram has a chip design that supports speeds up to 10 mbps over those same lines (the company says 100 mbps is possible). Netgear, a spin-off of networking giant Bay Networks, has licensed Epigram's technology and by the middle of next year plans to release a device combining 10 mbps phone line networking with Internet access (either V.90, cable modem, or Digital Subscriber Line-a highspeed connection that works over normal phone lines).

Look, Ma, no wires

Some of the earliest networking products targeted specifically at home users -- such as Proxim's Symphony wireless network adapters and modems and Diamond Multimedia's HomeFree kit, both of which came out earlier this year -- use 2.4-GHz radio frequencies to transmit data at speeds up to 1.6 mbps.

Proxim is extending the Symphony line with a new Cordless Ethernet Bridge. Retailing for just under $400 and shipping in December, the device will connect the rest of Proxim's products to DSL and cable modems, as well as to traditional Ethernet networks.

Sharewave has developed technology that transmits data over radio waves at speeds of up to 4 mbps. The first product based on the Sharewave design, Philips Electronics' Ambi, is a pair of set-top boxes that connect your TV to your PC, allowing you to run applications, play games, or surf the Web on both devices at the same time. Unfortunately, the data travel only from PC to TV, not vice versa. (Panasonic's upcoming MicroCast will perform similar tricks -- see the link for "Broadcast from Your PC to Your TV" below.)

Sharewave expects other licensees to use its technology to interconnect PCs, home electronics, appliances, and new devices similar to Cyrix's WebPad.

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