IEEE-1394b to rev up multimedia networks

The IEEE 1394 multimedia networking technology will get a big boost to speeds as high as 1.6G bps (bits per second) later this year, as vendors begin using an updated version of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. standard, introduced last week by the 1394 Trade Association.

The new 1394b specification, an update of a technology sold today as FireWire from Apple Computer Inc. and i.Link from Sony Corp., will at least double its speed from the current maximum 400M bps, and provide for more flexible networks by increasing the feasible length of a physical connection, according to a statement by the association.

The specification still needs to be approved by all members of the IEEE 1394b committee, according to the statement, but the group of 170 vendors this week introduced the proposed standard as one that could be found in some products this summer. The design of 1394b products should accelerate in the fall, it added. The standard has been in the works for more than 18 months.

The architecture of the new specification supports future speeds above 3.2G bps, but initially allows networks to transmit data at a minimum 800M bps and as high as 1.6G bps, according to the association. It will be available in a version that allows backward compatibility with the current 1394 standard.

IEEE 1394 network connections are sold by Apple Computer Inc. under the FireWire name and by Sony Corp. under the name i.Link, as well as by other makers of PCs and consumer electronics. The networks can be used to link PCs, storage devices and electronic devices such as camcorders and home audio equipment.

At the same time as it offers more bandwidth, the new technology should also open the door to less expensive components because it uses a simpler design, according to the association. The 1394b specification also may lead to additional applications of the technology, such as for automotive in-vehicle networks that would let riders plug consumer electronics devices into a car entertainment system. It will also allow users to plug PCs into hard drives and mobile storage devices on the fly, the association said.

The new specification also extends 1394 networks over greater distances by supporting additional media. Over plastic fiber-optic cable or Category 5 copper wire, the typical wiring used in corporate LANs, 1394b networks can span 100 meters, up from just 4.5 meters called for the current 1394 specification, according to a paper by researchers Peiya Liu of Siemens AG and David Thompson of Bell Labs, in the IEEE publication IEEE Multimedia. Over glass fiber, 1394b can transmit data over kilometers, according to the paper.

The speed boost will put 1394 products ahead of another emerging high-speed network technology, USB 2.0. That standard will boost the popular USB (Universal Serial Bus) to 480M bps from its current 12M bps. The first products using USB 2.0 were shown off at a developers' conference earlier this month, according to a statement on the Web site of USB Implementers Forum Inc.

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