SAN FRANCISCO (04/07/2000) - Supporters of the HomeRF standard for wireless home networks have reason to celebrate this week: At the Internet World trade show in Los Angeles, two companies announced the first HomeRF-based products to hit the market.
Not bad for a standard some analysts dismissed as an also-ran to the faster 802.11B wireless standard--even before HomeRF products hit store shelves.
On Tuesday, Cayman Systems Inc. announced an Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line gateway called the 3220HW that will ship in 30 days. On Wednesday, Intel Corp. announced two HomeRF-based products that will join its AnyPoint home network line in about a month.
The Cayman product offers users the ability to share a broadband connection via a HomeRF network, says Richard Korzeniewski, vice president of business development.
The product also includes a four-port Ethernet hub, built-in firewall security, plug-and-play installation, and Web-based manageability. Cayman sells the product for $998, but most service providers such as cable companies will offer it for less to users who sign up for service, he says.
The new Intel HomeRF-based products include an internal PC Card model for mobile PCs and a Universal Serial Bus model for both desktop and notebook computers. The company says the PC Card model will have a suggested price of $129, the USB model a suggested price of $119. Users connect their PCs via a peer-to-peer network.
In This Corner
A handful of vendors, including Apple and Dell, already offer wireless home networking kits based on the 802.11B standard. While early 802.11B products appear slightly more expensive, critics of HomeRF question why anyone would choose its slower 1.6-megabit-per-second transfer rate over 802.11B's speedy 11-mbps rate.
Ben Manny, chair of the HomeRF Working Group, a vendor consortium, says the 1.6-mbps transfer rate is more than enough for most home broadband users. Plus, HomeRF has built-in technology that will let service providers offer high-quality voice functions via broadband in the near future. The 802.11B standard--which was initially geared for wireless networking in the office--currently can't provide the same voice features, he says.
It's that voice capability that convinced Cayman to add HomeRF to its gateway product. "Built-in voice has huge appeal to service providers," Korzeniewski says.
Too Soon to Write Off HomeRF
Mike Wolf, manager of LAN and Enterprise Services with research firm Cahners In-Stat Group, says analysts who have already dismissed HomeRF are taking the easy way out.
"It's too early to write it off," he says. "It has potential vulnerabilities," he concedes, but it also has some interesting technologies that make it attractive.
Chief among those is HomeRF's built-in voice capabilities. And he agrees that the 1.6-mbps speed is probably fast enough for even broadband home users today.
But if HomeRF is going to enjoy a long life, it's going to have to work faster, because down the road home users will need more than 1.6 mbps.
The HomeRF Working Group is trying to get the Federal Communications Commission to approve changes that will let future versions of the standard operate at 10 mbps, he says. If the FCC doesn't approve those changes, "HomeRF is dead in the water."
What Goes With What?
Regardless of which standard is deemed superior, wireless products using either will suffer if manufacturers don't do a better job of educating consumers about the differences, and about which products work together, says Schelley Olhava, a research analyst for IDC.
"I look at the home networking market and I get confused," she says. "Imagine how the average consumer will feel when they go to the store and look at the choices. They just want to connect their desktop and portable PCs, but they're going to get confused and frustrated trying to figure out which products work together."
It's hard to tell if even Intel's various AnyPoint products will work together, she says. Will an AnyPoint product based on the HomeRF standard work with an AnyPoint product based on the HomePNA standard? (HomePNA is a standard for home networks that utilize existing telephone lines.) Wolf says despite the potential for confusion, it's likely both standards will stick around for the short term, and he expects wireless networking to take off over the course of this year. In 1999 the wireless home networking market totaled about $26 million in revenue. That could reach as high as $180 million in 2000, he says.