Home networking takes shape at CES
January 11, 1999
LAS VEGAS (CNN) -- Home networking -- the idea that a home's computers can be interconnected so that multiple users can share data and peripherals and log on to the Internet at the same time -- has taken tangible shape at the Consumer Electronics Show.
The broader, Jetsons-like view of the home network, in which conceivably all electronic appliances in a home are connected, was a hot topic at CES. But the pressing issue of fighting for Internet time in households with more than one PC has been addressed with the release of several new products.
Those products, in stores now or being shipped in the near future, aim for simplicity by using a home's existing phone line or electricity as the backbone of the network.
Compaq is offering a new line of "Internet PC" Presarios that need only to be plugged into a power source and a phone line, after which the consumer must follow a handful of simple software configuration steps to set up a network at home.
A number of other companies have similar "plug-and-play" products networked using a phone line. While these products were designed for ease of use and simplicity of setup, they require the insertion of networking cards into the computers.
Compaq has received positive response from CES visitors. "It's been phenomenal," said Rick Reseller, director of product marketing. "My prediction is by mid-year every major manufacturer will have phone networking."
Electricity as a backbone and wireless networks
One manufacturer uses a home's electrical wiring as its network nerve center. Intelogis' PassPort Plug-In Network connects through adapters that are plugged into AC power outlets. Intelogis designed the system on the premise that there are more electrical outlets than phone jacks in the average house.
Manufacturers offering wireless home networking were also popular stops at CES. Utilizing radio transmissions, users can place their desktops or laptops anywhere in the house without having to be tied to a phone jack or AC plug.
Proxim and InnoMedia offer a cordless modem in addition to their PC-to-PC software that allows consumers with households already wired by cable modem or ISDN line to have access to the wireless network.
Sharewave also uses radio transmission for its digital network and has software for simultaneous access to the Internet on a TV as well as a PC. A keypad lets users surf the Web on a television "from the comfort of their living room."
Sharewave also displayed a kitchen monitor that connects to the Internet through the network. Unlike other manufacturers, Sharewave is a content supplier and currently does not have a hardware product in the retail market, though it has partnered with Philips to bring devices to retailers in the future.
Will home networking sell?
As a catch phrase, home networking is similar to DTV. It's a confusing new concept for many consumers who are unsure of exactly what both mean and how they relate to their needs in the home.
Whether these new products will see significant sales depends largely on their ease of use and effectiveness. Will customers be able to call a network administrator or tech support service that operates 24 hours a day, as many can when they use a network at work?
Judging from reaction on the showroom floor, consumers like the idea.
"This whole home networking concept is really starting to take off," said Todd Green, director of product marketing for Intelogis' PassPort. "We've been enthused with the response. It's been tremendous actually."
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