Wireless home network wars

By Becky Waring, PC World |  Networking

Both approaches offer decent speed: HomePNA is rated at 10 mbps, and HomePlug at 14 mbps--both comparable to older 10-mbps ethernet and 802.11b (Wi-Fi) wireless networks. The hardware is eminently affordable, too--as little as $40 for a HomePNA PCI card, versus $100 to $175 for Wi-Fi cards. And supporters say that they handle streaming media and telephony better than wireless networks. So why do so few of the newer gateways--none in the case of HomePlug--support these standards?

There are three main reasons. First, the HomePlug standard is late out of the gate. It has only just reached draft certification (using Intellon's PowerPacket technology), and the first products won't hit store shelves until later this year.

Second, both of these wired standards are designed for homes: You won't find them in corporations or public spaces. In contrast, some companies and a handful of airports and hotel lobbies already offer Wi-Fi access.

Finally, a wireless network offers compelling convenience, and the extra cost is hardly prohibitive. You can go anywhere in the house--or outside it--without losing your connection. Sipping an iced tea on the patio while checking your e-mail is hard to beat.

But don't count the Homies out yet. Their much lower per-node costs will attract users who'd like to add non-PC devices such as game consoles and MP3 players to a network without spending a lot of extra money. SonicBlue (a founder of the HomePlug alliance) and Dell have MP3 systems in the works that feature HomePNA connections for transferring files to and from PCs and playing them back through home stereo systems. Other HomePlug Powerline Alliance founders include giants 3Com, Cisco, Compaq, Intel, and Motorola. Most of these are founding members of the HomePNA alliance as well--evidence that vendors are hedging their bets until a clear winner emerges.

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