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Home networks surging in popularity

Study finds a third of U.S. PC owners want home networks.

January 6, 1999
Web posted at: 2:36 p.m. EDT (1436 GMT)

by Nancy Weil

(IDG) -- A third of U.S. households with PCs are interested in connecting PCs, printers, televisions, and other devices to create home networks, according to a new study from the Yankee Group.
Home wireless networking spec approved

The 30.5 percent of households with PCs that expressed interest in home networks represent 13.4 percent of all U.S. homes. Although it will be a few more years before home networking hits the mainstream, early adopters will probably push the trend this year, said Karuna Uppal, an analyst at the Boston-based market research firm.

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PCs priced less than $1000 are "flying off the shelves," Uppal said. For many buyers, these PCs are the second home computer, fueling the rapid rise in Internet use and creating demand for high-speed data access. Increased availability of high-speed access also pushes the home-networking trend.

"We see a lot of families who want one PC exclusively for surfing the Web and one for other things, so the idea that people would connect them together is a logical extension," Uppal said.

Exactly how to make the connections is still in the air, as the nascent home-networking market takes shape. Vendors of all sizes tout various methods -- from simple cables and connectors to complicated systems -- that turn homes into havens for technology-crazed consumers.

While Uppal isn't yet predicting which methods will dominate, she sees a place for both phone line and wireless home-networking technologies. Wireless could supply all or part of the connectivity in the networked home, she says.

"Whether it will be the backbone or not, I'm not sure," she says.

It's also too early to anticipate which device will become the control center. Some vendors are pushing products that link TVs to PCs, allowing users to check e-mail while watching TV. But many users will not be comfortable with that kind of interactivity with their TV, Uppal said.

"The TV has a lot of baggage. It hasn't had much interaction in its history," she said. "The PC is something people have always viewed as changing and able to do a lot of things. I think early on, people are going to migrate toward the PC (as a home-networking control center)."

To start, people will use home networks primarily to share printers, files, and Internet access, the Yankee Group study found. The company polled 2000 families nationwide about their use of consumer electronics and telecommunications services.

Home networking is expected to remain in the spotlight at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, as it was at the recent Comdex trade show and other conferences. Analysts and other industry observers predict that most digital devices inside of homes will eventually be connected. That day is in the distant future, Uppal said, but vendors are crafting the tools. For example, manufacturers are developing microwaves that can access the Internet to find recipes.

Those who want to connect multiple PCs or other devices now probably aren't fussy about the technology that enables them to create home networks.

"Honestly, I don't think a consumer really cares," Uppal said. "What a consumer cares about is: Is it easy, is it inexpensive, does it do what I want it to do?"

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