NetGear's Phoneline Goes USB

SAN FRANCISCO (04/07/2000) - One of the hassles of setting up a home network has been installing network cards. No more. NetGear Inc. this week began selling a Universal Serial Bus version of its Phoneline10X, which allows you to set up a home network that runs over your phone lines without opening up your PC.

The company joins 3Com Corp. and Intel Corp. in offering phone-line network kits that run at near-Ethernet speeds while offering USB's plug-and-play convenience. Several companies introduced 10-mbps products last fall that required installing PCI cards.

Phoneline10X USB has a list price of $120 but will likely sell at retailers such as Circuit City and CompUSA for about $99, the company says. To install it, plug the adapter box into a USB port on a PC that's running Windows 98, Windows 98 SE, or Windows 2000 and insert the CD after Windows recognizes the hardware. The PC will reboot and launch FirstGear software that configures the network protocols and asks you which resources (such as modems, printers, and drives) will be shared and which PC will be the Internet gateway. The other end of the adapter plugs into a phone jack but doesn't disrupt phone service, according to NetGear.

"It's very much like Ethernet speeds--at least 10Base-T speeds," says Babashis Pramanik, project manager for home networking at NetGear, a Nortel Networks subsidiary spun off in March. But he admits that USB slows down the network's effective speed, offering an average of 6 mbps versus 8 to 10 mbps with the PCI version.

Rather than employing a proxy server as some products do, Phoneline10X USB uses a software router to tighten security by preventing outside access to the network, Babashis says.

Standard Comes Together

Phoneline10X USB, like its direct competitors, conforms with a 10-mbps standard unveiled by the Home Phone Networking Alliance last December. HomePNA 2.0 succeeds a standard that supported only 1 mbps. Products made for version 1.0 were criticized as too slow for most users, and NetGear waited for version 2.0 before entering the market, according to a company spokesperson.

NetGear plans to release by the third quarter the Phoneline10X Ethernet Bridge for linking Ethernet and HomePNA networks and allowing Digital Subscriber Line or cable modems to connect directly to the network instead of through a PC, Pramanik says.

Other types of home networks run over electrical wiring, and some newer homes are fitted with Category 5 wiring expressly for standard Ethernet or have extra cable TV wiring that makes it easier to share cable modems.

But Ron Westfall, senior analyst at Current Analysis, predicts HomePNA will become the most popular standard because of its comfort factor. Easier, plug-and-play installation will help. "The USB interface is something that's going to be requisite for home networking products," Westfall says.

NetGear also competes against D-link and Linksys, but neither has yet offered a USB version of its 10-mbps HomePNA kit.

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