Home automation generally refers to a variety of automated
functions, which, like surfing the
Internet from your TV or controlling security and air conditioning through one centrally automated system, don't even involve desktop computers.
Still, particularly in the infancy stages of the home automation
revolution, the PC plays a very
integral role. That's because the growing trend of more homes having multiple PCs is driving a sharp need for home networking solutions, generally considered the first step in automating the
This year, home networking (connecting two or more PCs for the
purpose of sharing files or
Internet access) has taken off. Considering the growing pervasiveness of the Internet in our
lives, many home owners are connecting their computers to allow multiple users simultaneous
access to the Internet. This, coupled with home users' growing desire for faster, high-speed Internet access technologies like xDSL, ISDN and cable modems, is essentially the framework for the new fully automated home.
"Distributed Internet access is the vision [of the Internet] in the home of the future," explains Mark Schmidt, director of marketing for IBM home networking solutions. "Just like other [home automation] components that are easily distributed and controlled throughout the home, Internet access available anywhere in the home is extremely important to the home automation movement."
To date, home networking solutions, which have largely centered around traditional "wired" Ethernet-based products, haven't been largely adopted. That's because they're very complicated to implement, involving the routing of cables around the house and installing network interface cards and hubs. However, faster adoption is a near certainty, thanks to the recent release of less invasive solutions that work with the home's existing infrastructure.
New power-line networks take advantage of power lines, or AC wiring, that are already built in to home. The widespread availability of AC jacks around the house makes them a very attractive solution. One downfall: The latest technologies transfer data at a sluggish pace, less than 1 Mbps. Two leading power-line networking products are the PassPort Plug-In Network by Intelogis (http://www.intelogis.com) at $150 and Enikia's Information Appliance Network (http://www.enikia.com; pricing not available).
Phone-line networks, which use the telephone lines in your house to build a network, are another option. Tut Systems' Home Run product (http://www.tutsys.com; pricing not available) and Intel's new AnyPoint Home Network product line (http://www.intel.com/anypoint), which starts at $189, offer several ways to establish a phone-line network with speeds up to 1 Mbps.
In addition, wireless solutions allowing for completely untethered network access are now the most flexible solutions around. When equipped on your notebook, that makes checking sports scores on the Internet from bed, or accessing files off a home office computer while lying on the couch a blissful reality. Wireless LANs use an RF band (2.4GHz) to transmit data or offer shared Internet access wirelessly. Proxim's Symphony Cordless Networking Suite (http://www.proxim.com/symphony) delivers wireless data rates of 1.6 Mbps. 3Com's new AirConnect Wireless LAN (http://www.3com.com) lets users send and receive information at speeds up to a whopping 11 Mbps.
As home networking solutions evolve, expect to see data distributed throughout the home at much faster speeds, possibly up to 100 Mbps. In addition, home networks will also support entertainment-related media like video-on-demand (think: movies stored on a central server in your home, accessible all day, any day), music-on-demand and more.