How many homes have more than one PC or Macintosh computer? How many have access to high-speed Internet? And how many people would like to be able to share the access among their computers to printers, high speed Internet, digital music and to be able to play network and internet games?
According to research from CIMs/Intelliquest, this description fits most of you. More than 6.7 million individuals, and 3.1-3.3 million households have broadband Internet access and 2+ PCs in their homes.
So given this prevalent need, what are the leading options to achieve these home-networking goals? For a small home network, there are several: 1) Wireless, 2) Powerline, 3) small traditional cat5 local area networks, and 4) HomePNA is a standard overseen by the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance, a non-profit industry group dedicated to fostering a single phone line networking standard. Given that 90% of home network users are unwilling to string new cable, let alone purchase and install a traditional network, and that HomePNA networks have proven to have limited viability, this article will take a look at the more practical home network alternatives of Wireless and Powerline LANs.
The pros and cons of wireless are fairly well known. The greatest advantage of wireless is its obvious plus: For a notebook user, particularly when you’re running on battery power, it’s hard to beat the convenience of moving about freely with no cords or wires attached. But for all of its popularity, wireless carries some disadvantages, too. Wireless connections and throughput can be spotty or nonexistent in various parts of your home. Installation can be difficult and tricky, and the user must load special software onto each PC on the net. Security set-up is a notorious problem as well. Not only can it be tricky, but a surprising number of users are oblivious enough to the security challenges of wireless that they don’t bother to set up the security at all.
For these reasons, it may be interesting to look at the less well-known alternative of Powerline networks. The concept of the Powerline is simple: a powerline carrier product makes use of the unused bandwidth in the home’s standard electrical wiring to create an instant network “backbone” to connect any device in the home with an RJ 45 Ethernet port.
Increasingly, game consoles, set-top boxes, DVDs and even household appliances are coming to the consumer complete with networking cards or at least with network card compatible slots. Most PCs and Macs arrive network-ready. In these cases, to create a powerline network, all you have to do is plug the powerline device – which is about the size of a modem – into the RJ 45 Ethernet port, and then plug the powerline device into the wall. That’s it. Your home is now equipped with a potential network connection at every outlet.
As an example of how this concept can work, let’s look at the new NeverWire 14 product from Phonex Broadband. This device, which has just begun availability in retail outlets and through www.phonex.com, requires no software installation at all. Consumers can just open the box and plug the NeverWire in. You would use one NeverWire, which currently sells for $129 per device, in any room where you want to connect a computer or peripheral. It takes a minimum of two NeverWire devices to create a network. If you plug one of the NeverWires into a router, however, you can connect as many devices as you like to a single NeverWire unit-there’s no limit to the number of nodes the network is able to support.
The NeverWire unit includes push button security, meaning that to enable the security (to be sure a neighbor or hacker couldn’t hop onto the net), all you need to do is push the security button on the first NeverWire, then push the security button on the other units within a window of five minutes, and the NeverWire network will automatically put its own encryption system in place. The units also include a self-diagnostics button. In the event that anything should go wrong with the network, this self-test will let you quickly rule out the possibility that anything in the physical network connection has gone wrong.
In short, for homeowners who aren’t up to the complexity of stringing cable or installing a wireless home network, or whose wireless networks aren’t reaching the critical areas they need to support, the powerline concept is quickly emerging as a robust and viable alternative that is also inexpensive and exceptionally easy to use.
For more information about powerline technology and products, readers can contact Phonex at www.phonex.com, or can visit the Home Plug Association, the industry network for advancement and standardization of powerline network technology at www.homeplug.org.
Phonex Broadband, of Midvale, Utah, is the world’s largest supplier of powerline-based voice and data products. Phonex has sold more than 9 million powerline products worldwide and was the first company to market a broadband networking device that turns any electrical outlet into a 10Base T Ethernet port.