Can't get enough home networking

Homes with multiple PCs and multiple adults wanting to get on the Internet at the same time have sparked the frenzied home-networking market, which a panel at Comdex/Fall '98 this week in Las Vegas predicted will explode in the coming months.

"I believe home networking and applications support to be the next major segment of the (IT) market to take off, very soon," said Hyeon Lee, general manager of residential networks for Lucent Technologies, who also said attempts to predict where things will stand a year or more from now are pointless.

What is known is that consumers are going to be bombarded with a range of inexpensive options for connecting PCs to PCs, PCs to TVs, and either one to every other digital necessity or toy in the house. Run for cover. The blitz begins within the next couple of months and will last through 1999.

Comdex wouldn't be Comdex without the Future World angle and Tim Bajarin, president of the aptly-named Creative Strategies has hosted two home-networking sessions in two days. Both times he spoke of the distant day when that great American home focal-point -- the refrigerator -- will be a digital device, with Internet access and the ability to scan barcodes to keep an inventory and automatically order food online.

It's not farfetched to imagine moving the couch into the kitchen and surfing the fridge all day. Futurists here have predicted that such a time will arrive, and vendors are showing networks with flat-panel TVs hooked to PCs so that after a long day of writing code, users can watch a little digital TV and during commercials check e-mail and Web surf with a remote. Such hyper connectivity will allow new approaches to home security and monitoring, and, if vendor theatrical presentations are to be believed, make us all feel closer to our loved ones, connecting us digitally room to room.

Simple card adapters are already available that will link two PCs together so that both stay connected to cyberspace without, vendors swear, an appreciable drop in speed. The networked computers can share files, allow humans to play video games together, and print when they get the urge.

Bajarin also said that after it became known he was hosting two home networking discussions at Comdex, he was contacted by a stream of companies either with products available or close to market.

Some companies connect home networks through power lines, others through existing phone lines. Some have simple plug-and-play devices, others are wireless, a few contain elements of both, and the top-tier of pending home-networking possibilities will require ripping walls open.

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