Another, perhaps more appealing, networking option is to use the existing wires in your house. In the coming months, two solutions should become more widely available: power-line networks and phone-line networks.
The first method uses the power lines, or AC wiring, that are already in your home to transfer data. Although this solution has actually been around for years, it never caught on due to sluggish transmission speeds, high costs and poor functionality. Current power-line networking technology transfers data at less than 1 Mbps, and initial products have offered unreliable performance due to inherently noisy power lines. However, with companies like Intelogis (www.intelogis.com) currently looking into developing products that overcome these barriers, new electrical-line networking solutions should be heading your way soon.
The main advantage to establishing a power-line network is that electrical outlets probably already exist in every room of your house. Because this solution requires each PC to be connected to an AC adapter in the electrical outlet, the outlets' widespread availability in homes makes power-line networking a very attractive solution.
Phone-line networking, on the other hand, involves building a network by using the copper wiring used by phones. On the plus side, this solution eliminates the need for extra wiring--and initial products are expected to offer acceptable speed and performance levels. Phone-line networking is expected to be "the first home networking technology deployed on a large scale," says Dan Sweeney, business unit manager for Intel's Home Networking Operation.
To spur the growth of this type of network, computer companies have formed an association called the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (Home PNA) to work on technical standards. Key players include Intel, IBM, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard and Tut Systems.
Phone-line networks require each computer to be modified with a device that plugs into a phone jack, which allows it to communicate with other computers in the house that are similarly equipped. According to Home PNA specifications, data would then be carried over phone lines at 7.5 MHz. Because this hits a higher frequency range than voice transmissions, the data is transmitted on the wiring above Plain Old Telephone Signals (POTS). Therefore, one person can conduct a phone call while another e-mails a file over the same phone line. Initial products share data at 1 Mbps, with 10 Mbps solutions expected by year-end.
Tut Systems (www.tutsys.com) has released a line of HomeRun products that use telephone wires to network. Plug the HomeRun device into a phone jack, and it allows a PC or related device to share a 1 Mbps Ethernet-compatible network with other devices. It supports up to 25 PCs and peripherals, and connects equipment within a 500-foot range. The HomeRun product line also includes the HR1000T Home-Run Ethernet Adapter and the HR1000PCI NIC for desktop PCs.
By the end of this month, Intel plans to release its first phone-line network product, the 21145 Phoneline/Ethernet LAN controller (which employs Tut's HomeRun technology). This 1 Mbps solution offers traditional file and peripheral sharing, as well as shared Internet access. It also contains a 10 Mbps upgrade path to take advantage of faster cable modems and xDSL technologies expected in the future.
One real downside to phone-line networking: You're limited to the areas in your home with existing phone jacks. Also, because this solution is based on phone-line technology, it's not appropriate for laptop users who want to work untethered from anywhere in the house.