Data Powered by Power

BOSTON (06/12/2000) - The vendor alliance trying to create a standard way to pump data across home powerlines took a step forward last week when the group adopted technology from Intellon as a baseline on which to build its specification.

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance hopes to finalize the spec in the fourth quarter, so you might see products available for your teleworker needs in early 2001.

How these products will fare against existing home network technologies is anyone's guess. That's why the big vendors are placing bets on multiple horses.

Compaq Computer Corp., for example, is a member of the HomePlug Alliance but also backs HomePNA, a group trying to popularize the use of household phone lines for data networking. Intel is part of HomePNA but also sells wireless home network gear.

I like powerline technology for its ubiquity and capacity - with HomePlug every outlet in the house becomes a 10M-bps Ethernet port. The technology the alliance is basing its specifications on can already support 14M-bps and can apparently scale up from there.

That compares to 1M-bps supported by the HomePNA 1.0 standard today (which will jump to 10M-bps when Version 2.0 emerges in the third quarter), and 1.6M to 2M-bps for many wireless technologies (although 11M-bps wireless technologies are emerging).

The enduring rap against powerline networking is that motorized household appliances play havoc with the medium. Elliott Newcombe, director of product marketing at Intellon, says throughput drops when appliances are turned on, but unlike older powerline technology, the network won't die outright. Intellon and the 37 other companies in the alliance seem to think the pros outweigh the sporadic cons.

Intellon says the technology will work fine with the popular flavors of DSL - DSL Lite and asymmetric DSL - because the frequencies used to carve out data paths are different. And it won't even interfere with powerline technologies such as X-10, which some people use to control household devices.

Of course wireless goes powerline one better by letting workers roam anywhere within the home, but the problem has been with capacity. The relatively new 802.11b 11M bit/ sec wireless products will give powerline a run for its money.

Given the promising new advances, maybe it's best to simply forgo the home network discussion now and tell teleworkers to make do with a simple Ethernet hub.

- John Dix

Editor in chief

jdix@nww.com.

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